For years, the Virgili brothers — identical twins, Alex and Albert, 27, and their older brother Jordi, 32 — hectored their father to modernize the family winery, Casa Berger. It had long churned out mass-produced, undistinguished wines, to be shipped over the border and folded into table wines bearing a label that fetched money, “Product of France.”
The brothers had visions of bottling their own wines. But their father rejected their entreaties as foolhardy. He and his own father had done it the same way for a half-century. The business had sustained them.
Yet even before the crisis, Casa Berger’s sales were slipping. The crisis threatened bankruptcy. For the brothers, here was an opportunity.
They conceived an idea that seemed at once ridiculous and sublime. They would bottle white wine made from the xarel-lo grape, a local varietal of no particular distinction. They would label their bottles with a crude Catalan pun, calling it El Xitxarel-lo, which roughly translates to “young, stupid guy.” They covered their bottle with six dozen other Catalan insults.
“When we told our father and our uncle that we wanted to launch a bottle with 77 different Catalan insults, they said ‘O.K., but please don’t put our brand on the bottle,’” Albert recalled.
Today, El Xitxarel-lo, marketed through a homespun and irreverent social media campaign, amounts to the blockbuster that has saved the family business. Starting with 3,000 bottles in the fall 2013, it now sells 85,000 bottles a year.
The brothers recently opened La Festival, a retailer of organic wines set up in a Barcelona neighborhood full of hardware stores turned into gastro pubs. One wall is devoted to taps that draw from tanks full of wine. One tap offers wine from Finca Parera, the work of Rubén Parera, a 37-year-old vintner who persuaded his own reluctant father to chop down cherry, plum and peach trees at his struggling orchard to make room for grapes.
Customers at La Festival bring in…