Freixenet sale: Can Germany’s Henkell do justice to quality wine like Segura Viudas, Rene Barbier, and Gloria Ferrer?
Freixenet, the Spanish cava producer whose brands include the $10 Hall of Fame Segura Viudas, the $5 Rene Barbier red and white blends, and the top-notch Gloria Ferrer California sparkling, has sold itself to a German bubbly maker called Henkell. Do the Germans understand what they have? Or, after the Freixenet sale, will they run the company as a cash cow, as often happens in these situations – to make money and not quality wine?
This is not good news for those of us who care about cheap wine. We’ve been battered and bruised over the past couple of years as wine quality has declined and wine prices have increased. Gone are Big House and Osborne’s Solaz; to lose Segura Viudas, which costs about $8 and delivers at least twice that much quality, would be a devastating blow.
A quick caveat: I went to Spain on a Freixenet media trip (and even got a certificate for making the best cava blend in a silly competition with my colleagues) and count several people associated with the company as friends.
The good news is that “Henkell is not a company to be underestimated,” says the blog’s unofficial European correspondent. “This merger makes them one of the biggest sparkling wine players in the world.”
Henkell does business in the U.S. now, mostly through Mionetti Prosecco – a $10 Italian sparkler aimed at the same audience as E&J Gallo’s La Marca. Its U.S. portfolio includes Champagne like the $50 Alfred Gratien. Intriguingly, it has had success with the I Heart brand (complete with a heart on the label) in Britain, where wines like I Heart Merlot and I Heart Rose cost the equivalent of $10.
Having said that, there’s a big difference between selling Champagne, entry-level Prosecco, and cute label wine and the Freixenet products. The latter, and even the Freixenet grocery store cava, always deliver. I buy the Rene Barbier white by the case; at that price, there is very little else that compares in value. And it’s almost embarrassing how many medals Gloria Ferrer wins every year at the Critic’s Challenge competition. I buy that, too, when I need a quality $20 wine.
So hope for the best, and don’t be surprised if that’s not what happens. Which, unfortunately, is the state of cheap wine in the U.S. today.