Carlos Falcó, Innovative Spanish Vintner, Dies at 83 of COVID-19

Aristocrat, engineer and entrepreneur, the Marqués de Griñón was a leader in wine and olive oil

Carlos Falcó, Innovative Spanish Vintner, Dies at 83 of COVID-19
Carlos Falcó y Fernandéz de Córdova, Marqués de Griñón, fell in love with farming and put his passion into making wine and olive oil. (James Rajotte)
Mar 26, 2020

Updated: March 27, 10 a.m.

Carlos Falcó y Fernandéz de Córdova, Marqués de Griñón, an innovator in Spanish wine and olive oil, died March 20 in Madrid. He was 83.

The cause was COVID-19, according to his daughter, Xandra Falcó Girod. "It was so quick," Xandra told Wine Spectator. "He was in perfect condition, then four days later, he was gone.”

"Yesterday we brought his ashes home to our estate in Valdepusa. Because of the restrictions, there were only the five of us, his children. We laid him to rest in his chapel, overlooking his vineyards, and raised a glass of wine to his memory."

The wine world paid tribute. “The wine industry in Spain is mourning the sorrowful passing of Carlos Falco,” said Pablo Alvarez, owner of Bodegas Vega Sicilia. “A man who fought all his life for the wine industry. He was ahead of his time.”

Miguel A. Torres, fourth generation of the Torres family, told Wine Spectator, “We will all miss Carlos Falcó, a noble, tireless, elegant, science-driven, down-to-earth vinegrower and winemaker, who very much contributed to put Spanish wines on the world map.”

It was a sudden end to an extraordinary life. Falcó was born in 1937 in Sevilla at the Palacio de las Dueñas, where his parents were sheltering from Spain's Civil War. The fifth Marqués de Griñón, his noble genealogy dated to the 13th century; he was a childhood playmate of the future king of Spain.

But Falcó was not content to be an aristocrat. He was born to be an entrepreneur. As a young man, he turned to agricultural engineering and in the 1960s studied at the University of California at Davis, where he became fascinated by winegrowing. He settled on a family property called Dominio de Valdepusa near the small town of Malpica del Tajo, about 60 miles from Madrid.

In 1974, with counsel from renowned French enologist Émile Peynaud, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, then forbidden in the region, later adding Syrah and Petit Verdot. His first vintage was 1983, and the wines caused a sensation in Spain and beyond.

The wines received enthusiastic reviews from Wine Spectator, and three times earned spots in the Top 100 Wines of the Year, in 2004 (for his 2001 Syrah), 2010 (for his 2006 Syrah-Petit Verdot blend) and 2014 (for his 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon). Falcó also became a familiar figure at Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience, presenting his Syrah twice in seminars.

Frank Paredes, president of Now Wine Imports, worked with Falcó as his importer at Winebow for seven years. "He was in many ways the Godfather of modern winemaking in Spain," Paredes said. "He was debonair, passionate, optimistic and driven to produce world class wine. He greeted everyone with a warm smile and was quick to share a story and some wine. He was a man from a bygone era that will be sorely missed."

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Falcó was also a leader in olive oil. The family estate had produced oil from its trees for centuries, but Falcó was dissatisfied with the quality. He was also displeased that Spain, which produces half of the world's olive oil, was lost in the shadow of Italy.

In 1989, he traveled to Tuscany and enlisted the services of Marco Mugelli, a groundbreaking researcher. They made their first oil from Valdepusa in 2002. It caused a sensation at Madrid Fusion, a gourmet food convention, and kickstarted a new wave of high-quality producers. "We changed the way olive oil is made in Spain," Xandra said.

"Thanks to his mind and his land, one of the first luxury Spanish [olive] oils was born," said Ferran Adria, the innovative chef behind El Bulli. "He knew how to turn an everyday commodity product into an elite, luxury oil; he conceptualized and elevated it."

Though he was at heart a farmer, he also lived a high-profile life, with famous friends and unceasing travel. He married four times. A tall, powerful man, he generally towered over the crowd, but his natural curiosity, wry sense of humor and unfailing courtesy won friends wherever he went.

"He came to El Bulli on many occasions; he loved to eat," remembered Adria. "He always was very gentle, polite, and able to convince and seduce with his words: an aristocratic gentleman."

I last saw Falcó in early February, when we crossed paths in Barcelona. He had just returned from Brussels, where he had attended a meeting of the European Cultural and Creative Industries Alliance (ECCIA), a group of national associations that represent luxury products across many fields, including wine. We spoke about the tariffs that the U.S. had just imposed on many European wines; Falcó was determined to organize a group to oppose them. He was as energetic, cheerful and enterprising as always.

"My father treated everyone with respect," Xandra recalled. "He was generous with his time and his knowledge. He was always optimistic and he was never tired. I remember we traveled from Spain to San Francisco for a Wine Spectator event and when we arrived it was evening in California but 6 o'clock in the morning for us. He insisted on going out for dinner! He loved his life and shared it with everyone."

Falcó is survived by five children and six grandchildren.

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