Vicente Gandia — a giant with a heart as well as a brain

It is all too easy to look askance at giant producers of branded wine. Perhaps the 34 million bottles a year produced by Bodegas Vicente Gandia can make the bodega seem overly corporate, as opposed to the romance and the quirkiness of the out of the way or the heroic individualistic tends to make for an attractive story. This week I went to a tasting of one quirky individualist whose wines were at best peculiar, the organic Enólogoca Oleana, and it served to put into relief the solid virtues of Vicente Gandia, with its “mission” to

“combine tradition with internationalization, to back innovation and quality, to promote wine culture, and to contribute to the welfare and progress of the society.

The values related to wine are also unchanged: premium quality, reasonable prices, and consistency from one harvest to the other.”

I can vouch for their success in penetrating international markets, as I have in my time bought Vicente Gandia wines in Moscow and Mexico City, all part of my boosterism of Valencian wines on my travels. They are in fact present in some 90 countries, and are the largest winery in the Comunitat Valenciana and one of the fifteen biggest in Spain.

In recent years they have opted to add to their comprehensive range of Valencian wines by adding wines from other leading regions of Spain. So, they have a Ribera del Duero (Dolmo), a rioja (Raiza), a verdejo from rueda (Nebla), an albariño from Rias Baixas (Con un par, a disconcertingly macho name — With a pair of” — referring to the Spanish expression associating testicles and courage).

So, this is not a bodega that needs to have its profile raised, and I confess that the very ubiquity of their wines has me often looking elsewhere to bottles that I may not come across too often. Still, despite the scale of its operations, this is very much a family bodega. Founded by Vicente Gandía Pla in 1885 as a bulk exporter out of the port of Valencia, it was the founder’s grandson and current company president, José María Gandía, who set up the first production line of bottled wine in Valencia in the early 1970s with Castillo de Liria, still going strong. The fourth generation is firmly esconced now, with Javier Gandía de Cecilio in charge of marketing and his brother José in charge of exports.

I have been to a few events dreamt up by the ever-imaginative Javier since I first arrived in Valencia. I remember the launch of the Hoya de Cadenas Bobal Viñas Viejas in the port in full America’s Cup mode back in October 2006, the special chocolate created by the late-lamented Choclatl with the Gandia sweet moscatel Fusta Nova, the “art by the barrel” at their stand at the first Vinoélite, also in 2007 (and now quite a fine collection in Hoya de Cadenas).  I am particularly grateful to Javier for introducing me to the really excellent Restaurante Pelegrí in Chiva. I later went back with my father, and I think it is the only restaurant I’ve ever taken him to that has received his approval, both in terms of food and the atmosphere and the attentive friendliness of the service.

So, when I received an invitation to a tribute to José Vicente Guillem for his 25 years’  contribution to the development of Valencia’s wine quality and industry, I was quick to accept and be on the bus up to their fine Hoya de Cadenas finca on the morning of Friday 25 May 2012. When we got there, the tasting hall (with its eye-catching art barrels) had been set out for a tasting of ten wines, plus a surprise eleventh. Dr Guillen took us elegantly through the wines, without telling us exactly what they were, beyond grape variety. Readers of Spanish can see the full list and photos I wish I’d taken in this post by José Luis Contreras of Verema.

That was fine, but I was most impressed by the warmth and emotion of the prize-giving. This is carried off so well by the Spanish, without the verbal and emotional tongue-tied quality that characterizes the UK versions of this sort of thing that I’ve been present at. The presents, including a trip to South Africa, were delivered and received with open affection and sincerity. José María Gandía himself, president of the company and the very same who saw the company grow from that first bottling of Castillo de Liria to today’s international powerhouse, was overcome with emotion and simply enveloped José Vicente Guillen in a bear hug. There a nice sound-and-vision collage, and then we were on to the canapés.

It was then that I saw Rafa from Pelegrí, and I knew that these were not going to be your ordinary function canapés. They were simply superb, beginning with bright red and bright green cold thimbles of soup, then an endless supply of little concoctions, larger meat things, and small yet lavish puddings in a little glass. With the choice of a Vicente Gandia white, their cava and their Generación I, with the great main doors wide open showing the vineyards and countryside beyond teeming with life, it was really quite magical.

It was a privilege to be there, and reminded me that just because a company is big and successful, it doesn’t have to be soulless. I was reminded of Joan C. Martin’s poetic sign-off to his entry on Generación 1 in his Valencia Land of Wine, from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass

“…bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth.”