Legend of wine Carlos Falcó loses life to coronavirus

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

24 March 2020

The wine world has lost one of its most famous names to coronavirus. Carlos Falcó – better known as the Marqués de Griñón – died in a Madrid hospital this weekend at the age of 83 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

Falcó inherited his Marqués de Griñón title (along with several others) in 1955 on the death of his grandfather. After graduating in agronomy from the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium he went on to study oenology and viticulture at UC Davis in California and took over running the family’s wine business in the mid-1960s.

Always open to new ideas, Falcó’s Californian education had a big impact on his thinking, and he rapidly introduced elements such as night-picking and non-indigenous grape varieties to the Dominio de Valdepusa estate in La Mancha, owned by the family since 1292.

He was also, he claimed, the first person to introduce drip irrigation to wine.

He was a true pioneer of world viti-viniculture. A true gentleman and a friend

Wine writer and journalist, Harold Heckle

Talking with Madrid-based wine writer and journalist Harold Heckle, he said: 'I had been in Israel and had seen the drip irrigation they had invented for the occupied territories. I said to myself that if it worked with the orange trees it would also be good in the vineyard. Without knowing it, I was the world pioneer in making drip-irrigated wine, something then prohibited and now very common in California or Chile.’

The new technology might have been enthusiastically adopted by winemakers, but it went down less well with the Spanish authorities, who slapped him with a hefty fine. Coupled with three costly divorces and four marriages (his private life was a source of endless fascination to the Spanish gossip magazines) it meant that Falcó’s bank account was rarely as well-stocked as his lavish lifestyle might suggest.

‘One thing that’s often not recognised is how much he had to struggle,’ said Heckle. ‘His brother got the big bucks – he inherited all the loss-making bits of the business and became an agronomist to make money out of it.’

A tireless advocate of the French estate concept, Falcó was rewarded for his efforts when Dominio de Valdepusa became the first Spanish winery to be awarded ‘Pago’ (estate) status in 2003. With colleagues he went on to establish what eventually became the Grandes Pagos de Espana, a network of privately owned estates.

Cultured, urbane, open-minded and hugely personable, in his classic ‘uniform’ of jacket and flat cap he was a figurehead not just for the family estate, but Spanish wine as a whole, his work for the greater good recognised when he was inducted into the Gran Orden de Caballeros de Vino in 2002.

‘He was a true pioneer of world viti-viniculture,’ said Heckle. ‘A true gentleman and a friend.’

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