In Catalonia, Spain, where the observance of saint's days and holidays is often centered around specific gastronomic traditions, one celebration tends to be rather free-form: New Year's Eve. As I discovered on my visit to the Huguet family at their wine estate, Can Feixes, this particular evening can be an occasion of unstructured elegance. According to patriarch Josep María Huguet, New Year's Eve at Can Feixes can be a time for opulent dishes like lobster salad, leek soup and roasted sea bass (recipes follow) accompanied by the estate's bottlings, especially its signature cava, a remarkable sparkling wine that sells for nearly the price of Champagne. "On this night," Josep María Sr. explains, "everything is possible."
This could easily be the Huguet motto, one which follows the Catalan emphasis on independence and individuality. The story of the Huguets' entry into the world of high-priced cava starts about 20 years ago, when two of Josep María Sr.'s sons, Josep María Jr. and Joan, were young men faced with career decisions. Though their father had a successful construction business in Barcelona, the sons found their thoughts turning instead to the family's weekend home, the 500-year-old Feixes estate, which the Huguets purchased in 1940. Although grapes had been grown at the estate for centuries, they had been sold without fanfare to a local winery, and had provided the Huguets with little income. The brothers resolved to produce fine estate-bottled wines, specifically great sparkling wines. Such an ambition in a part of Spain famous for its inexpensive sparklers (Freixenet and Cordoníu are two neighbors) was audacious--but then Catalonia is where the word quixotic was coined, so why not?
"My father was a bit nervous about moving into winemaking," says Joan (pronounced schwan). "You know, starting a winery is expensive. But he trusted us--and the vineyards." Joan decided to learn viticulture. "I knew that in the vineyard I wouldn't have to wear a tie," he admits with an easy laugh. Josep María Jr. is organized, meticulous and at ease with science, so he studied winemaking.