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  • Obituary: Carlos Falcó, a great pioneer of Spanish wine
  • Obituary: Carlos Falcó, a great pioneer of Spanish wine
1. Carlos Falcó -photo by Abel Valdenebro. 2. Carlos Falcó and his daughter Xandra -photo courtesy of Grandes Pagos de España.

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Obituary: Carlos Falcó, a great pioneer of Spanish wine

Amaya Cervera | March 22nd, 2020

Carlos Falcó, 5th Marqués de Griñón, Marqués de Castel-Moncayo and Grande de España, died of coronavirus on March 20th at a hospital in Madrid. He was 83. 

A pioneer in Castilla-La Mancha, he always thought that this area boasting the country’s largest surface under vine, could follow the steps of California and Australia. Falcó was a leading advocate of wine culture and wrote several books and articles (Entender de Vino, (Understanding Wine) is on its 13th edition). His curious, restless mind led him to travel and learn from experts in his quest to place Spanish products, notably wine and olive oil, among the best worldwide.  

A classmate of King Juan Carlos I, he was a multifaceted man who was involved in numerous activities. Falcó was co-founder of Club Siglo XXI and president of the Fortuny luxury-focused association. In the wine industry, he enjoyed a reputation as a cultured, generous and infectiously optimistic person with a passion for the land. “Wine is a way of living, it is passion and roots,” he said in an interview in 2011. His hobbies included history, gardening, travelling and classical music. 

Most Spaniards will remember Carlos Falcó as the former husband of Isabel Preysler, the queen of celebrity magazines in Spain -their daughter, Tamara Falcó, also appears regularly on gossip media. Falcó had four additional children from two other marriages. His daughter Xandra, born from his first marriage to Jeannine Girod, was the only one to follow his steps in wine and worked with him at the family winery Dominio de Valdepusa until 2018.

From California to Toledo

Born in Seville in 1937, Falcó got interested in wine while studying agricultural engineering. He completed his studies at the University of Davis in California, where he discovered Mediterranean-style cabernets and New World viticulture and winemaking techniques. Ten years after returning to Spain in 1964, Falcó put into practice what he had learned in the United States and planted the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines at Dominio de Valdepusa in Malpica del Tajo (Toledo, Central Spain), the family property. “Unorthodox practices like trellised vines, drip irrigation and even foreign grape varieties were forbidden at the time,” he told journalist José Peñín in 2004 when his wine magazine Sibaritas crowned him as Man of the Year. 

Carlos Falcó had sweet childhood memories of the ancient underground cellar with clay jars where Garnacha wines were produced. This property had remained in the hands of the family since 1292. Bulk wine and olive oil had always been produced there, but he wanted to shift to bottled, high-quality produce. 

It wasn’t easy to work in an area with a reputation for low quality wines. As José Peñín noted in his article, “the best-selling wine in the Marqués de Griñón range at the end of the 1980s was a Rueda he made with local winemaker Antonio Sanz rather than the ones he produced in his property in Toledo.” Later on, a shareholder agreement with the Arco group allowed Falcó to promote the Valdepusa wines while developing a range of wines under the Marqués de Griñón brand.

The best consultants

In the early 1990s Carlos Falcó pioneered Syrah and Petit Verdot plantings in Spain. Ten years later, his Syrah was always present in tastings of this grape variety organized by international wine magazines. His Petit Verdot also left its mark in the wine industry in Spain. In 2006, the Syrah was chosen to feature in the first tasting of Spanish wines organized by Wine Spectator on the occasion of the Wine Experience held in San Francisco.

Falcó found inspiration in successful family ventures like Mondavi and Antinori. His restless, pioneering spirit led him to introduce the latest viticulture techniques in his vineyard in Malpica del Tajo. He worked closely with Richard Smart, the vineyard guru at that time, to match quantity and quality by using the Smart-Dyson or lyre systems. But he was also capable of evolving with the times. His last endeavour, meant to face climate change challenges, was a vineyard planted with the Graciano variety following the philosophy of French microbiologist and soil expert, Claude Bourguignon
 
He seeked the advice of Émile Peynaud and Michel Rolland in winemaking matters. He also contacted expert Marco Mugelli to produce a ground-breaking olive oil with unprecedent levels of finesse and aromatic intensity in Spain.

Carlos Falcó also attracted investors to the wine industry such as Marcial Gómez Sequeira (former owner of health insurance company Sanitas) and former president of Repsol, Alfonso Cortina (both purchased neighbouring properties in the Montes de Toledo area), as well as Alfonso de Hohenlohe in Ronda (Málaga) or the late José María Entrecanales, a businessman whom he encouraged to set a wine business in his estate of La Verdosa in Méntrida (Toledo).

Single-vineyard wines

A great advocate of single-vineyard wines following the model of the Bordeaux châteaux, he launched the association Grandes Pagos de Castilla in 2000 (pago can be translated as cru) which was renamed some time later as Grandes Pagos de España when it opened up the scope to single-vineyard ventures across Spain. Carlos Falcó was its honorary president since 2017.

As a public figure with excellent connections in business and politics, he had a major influence on wine laws in Castilla La Mancha. The introduction of the geographic indication Vinos de la Tierra de Castilla in 1999, which allowed the region's table wines to indicate the vintage and grape variety on the label, made the area more competitive and attractive to outside investment.

Falcó also played a role in the Decree 127/2000, which established the DO Vino de Pago in Spain. In doing so, Castilla-La Mancha anticipated the 2003 national law and set a precedent that was followed by many other Spanish regions. Dominio de Valdepusa, in fact, was the first estate to be awarded the DO Vino de Pago in Spain (it received this recognition from the EU in 2003). 

Although Vino de Pago has failed to achieve the status that was expected at the time (a major setback is that, except in Catalonia, there are no links between the estate and the wine region where it is located), the pioneering work of Carlos Falcó, a great ambassador of Spanish wine, is widely acknowledged. His death, however, raises doubts about the continuity of his legacy.

“In my wines”, Falcó pointed out in 2011, “I try to convey the soil, the microclimate as it changes every new vintage, the particular features of each harvest, so unpredictable and unique. All these elements are part of a passionate job where you are never able to make the perfect wine. It is like a mechanical hare that you never catch.” RIP.

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