Carlos Falcó, Marqués de Griñón RIP

The late Carlos Falco, Marques de Grinon and Ferran Centelles tasting wine

Carlos Falcó, a major figure in Spanish wine, passed away last Friday, a victim of the coronavirus at the age of 83. Richard Smart adds his own tribute below Ferran's.

The Marqués de Griñón was well known in Spain as an aristocratic celebrity. But wine people were less interested in his private life (he married quite recently for the fourth time). We knew him as a tireless worker, a great ambassador for Spanish wines, and a wine writer. His book Entender de Vino is now in its thirteenth edition.

I have beautiful memories of him; he came to elBulli where I used to work as a sommelier several times. Always elegant and gentle, he had impressive skills of persuasion. On our elBulli wine list we had almost all the varietal wines from his Dominio de Valdepusa estate in addition to Emeritus, his renowned blend of Syrah, Cabernet and Petit Verdot.

I fondly remember the Grandes Pagos de España tasting I participated in in 2014 with Carlos (the picture above was taken there). This association of privately owned estates with particularly high standards was founded in 2003. It was promoted by Carlos himself, Paco Uribe of Bodegas Calzadilla, and the Madrid-based journalist, wine writer and Manchuela wine producer Victor de la Serna of Finca Sandoval.

Victor was a great friend of Carlos (and of Jancis) so it is appropriate to quote him. Victor highlights ‘the great example that he gave us in the mid 1980s when he established one of the first wine estates in Spain in the image of a French château: its own grapes in a single-estate model that was almost non-existent [in Spain] then. And even less in an isolated place like Malpica del Tajo, in Castilla La Mancha, where his Marqués de Griñón estate was located.’ Victor describes him as a ‘charming and very convincing’ person.

Carlos Falcó was the driving force behind modern viticulture in Spain. Toni Sarrión of Bodegas Mustiguillo has pointed out, ‘in 2001 he came to Utiel Requena to give a talk about what he called the viticulture of sunlight, together with Richard Smart (the famous viticulturist). He brought the double trellis system, the lyre, and started working with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, with green cover crops and without ploughing. He was a visionary, because this style of viticulture was revolutionary then. I remember how after him, all the wineries wanted to make a great Cabernet.'

Toni highlights above all Carlos’s willingness to help. ‘He was a wine gentleman. Without knowing me, he came to my winery and said that I was the Christopher Columbus of Bobal.’ His statement came out in the press next day. He was a generous person, travelled around the globe and, according to Toni, ‘I never saw him trying to sell his wines above anyone else’s. He always spoke well of all Spanish wines. And he was a great drinker.’ His vitality stood out; in meetings he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Pedro Ballesteros MW also has good memories. ‘He was a visionary. He knew how to give value to the land through quality viticulture and applying the modern technology he had learned at Davis.’ In addition, he actively promoted quality in wine. ‘He fought to get the appellation of Vinos de Pago approved, and finally the legal framework for them was created. Later he created the Grandes Pagos de España association.’ Although Carlos was such a famous and aristocratic personality within Spain, Pedro was impressed by his ‘capacity for work and effort. He decided to modify his heritage to bet on and promote high quality viticulture.’

Joaquin Parra, journalist and expert in La Mancha wines, comments, ‘he told me about the orange plantations he had seen in Israel, with a drip irrigation system. I'm talking about the 1980s. He adapted it to install it in his vineyard. It has been said that he was one of the first in Europe to do so, perhaps in the world.’

But if anyone shared adventures with him, it was Don Rafael Ansón, a notable Spanish businessman who is president of the Royal Academy of Spanish Gastronomy. Loved by the entire gastronomic sector, he was like a brother to Carlos, and enjoyed a friendship dating back more than 65 years. ‘He was a gentleman in the aristocratic sense, educated, wonderful and with a great interest in gastronomy. He loved to eat.’ Furthermore, he was an important person within the luxury sector in Spain and was named president of the Círculo Fortuny, an association designed to enhance the image of European luxury goods.

‘Together with Carlos we managed to make Spanish gastronomy the second most important luxury sector, behind cars and ahead of fashion. Today, eating angulas (baby eels), caviar or visiting El Celler de Can Roca is considered a luxury.’ Rafael professes great affection for him: ‘He was a good man, in a good way. He never wanted to hurt anyone, he got along with everyone. He has great children. We are going to miss him a lot.’

In the wine sector his daughter Xandra, one of his five children, is particularly well known in her capacity as manager of the Marqués de Griñón winery. To her and her entire family we send a heartfelt hug and our sincere condolences. Wine in Spain has lost a great gentleman and one of its great promoters. Rest in peace, Carlos.

Viticulturist Richard Smart adds: I was deeply saddened to hear from Jancis of the death of Carlos Falcó. He was a good friend and an enthusiastic client.

Carlos had a vision of creating a 'new viticulture' in Spain, a vision which he considered desirable for development and growth. Carlos learned of alternatives to traditional Old World viticulture at the University of California, Davis. My first visit with Carlos was in January 1992, and they continued until 2005, by which time the revolution of the new viticulture was well established, and is continuing.

The enthusiasm of Carlos for innovation knew no bounds. New technologies from Australia and elsewhere were applied by Carlos, often before they had been applied in their country of origin. He was one of the first to install drip irrigation (before my visit) to to his vineyard estate at Malpica near Toledo. My specialist advice was regarding trellising and canopy management. Carlos had the first Smart–Dyson trellis in Europe, and he also introduced it to out-of-balance vines in Rioja. He had one Malpica vineyard of Syrah trained to this system where he also used the partial rootzone drying (PRD) irrigation system developed by my Australian colleague Dr Peter Dry. 

Carlos thrived on novelty, on the idea that there may be some new ideas out there which could improve the quality of Spanish wines. He was especially interested in new varieties which may do well in his little corner of La Mancha, then the world's largest vineyard region. La Mancha is a hot region; Carlos thought to try Syrah and Petit Verdot, and more recently also Graciano, a minor variety from Rioja. (I have recently suggested it in a warming Barossa Valley in Australia!)

Carlos had to pay a fine for introducing drip irrigation to Spanish vineyards; he also experimented with buried drip lines, as some are only now doing elsewhere. Carlos and I were in agreement about the need to monitor irrigation; he used a computerised weather station to predict irrigation need, and was one of the first to use dendrometers to help with irrigation decisions. These instruments are able to measure microscopic changes in vine trunk diameter, which is related to moisture content. Other clients around the world were surprised when I told them of the Malpica vineyards, the most technologically advanced I knew of in the world!

Carlos was anxious to spread new technology to other Spanish wine producers. He wrote in national newspapers of the advantages of irrigation, and arranged for me to give lectures on his estate and elsewhere. 

The Spanish wine industry has benefited from the ideas and inspiration of Carlos Falcó by accepting modern ideas and vineyard technology. He shall be long remembered, as I shall remember him as a kind and thoughtful vineyard owner and client, and especially as an esteemed friend.

Jancis adds Nick and I were lucky enough to share several meals with Carlos, both in Spain and at our home in London. He was so much the opposite of the stereotypical haughty Spanish grandee, being warm, interested, thoughtful and open-minded. Just like the late Mauricio González of González Byass in Andalucia.