Will changes to D.O. Cava help improve quality and sales ?
By Santiago Jimenez - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 31 January 2022
Cava has become a household name across the globe in recent years, providing consumers with an affordable sparkling wine that can be enjoyed on numerous occasions. But faced with increased competition, the appellation’s authorities have been prompted to make some major changes to regulations, aimed at enhancing quality and provenance. We ask a range of Cava producers what the changes imply for them.
Most people situate Cava vineyards in Catalonia, specifically in the Penedés region, with Sant Sadurní d'Anoia at its epicentre. And indeed around 90% of total production is focused in Catalonia. In 2020, a series of changes were made to Cava D.O. regulations, including a new classification that includes zones (Comtats de Barcelona, Valle del Ebro, Zona de Levante and Viñedos del Almendralejo) and sub-zones, as well as a new category (Cava de Guarda and Cava de Guarda Superior). All these modifications will be gradually introduced in the near future. Cava is not only produced in Catalonia, there are also Cava wineries in Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, Navarra, the Basque Country, the Valencia region and Rioja. We have selected a raft of sparkling wine producers to find out how the appellation changes will affect them and what impact they will have.
Alta alella - A game-changer
This winery, located to the North of the city of Barcelona, is distinctive in that it lies next to the Mediterranean. It is a personal project of the Pujol-Busquets Guillén family, which began with Josep Maria and Cristina and continues with their daughters Mireia and Georgina, who have been intensely involved in growing wine and Cava since they were children. For some 30 years now they have been farming organically, and the results are very satisfactory. They are quite rightly proud of their products, especially two of them, both of which come from a designated vineyard site (Paraje Calificado), Vallcirera: Alta Alella 10, a new release, whose first vintage was launched in 2021. This Cava is matured for 10 years and is elegant with great ageing capacity. The other is Mirgin Opus: a limited edition Cava that, like the previous example, also has a long ageing period, in this case 36 months, before being released for sale. Both are the winery’s super-premium Cavas.
Regarding the changes to appellation rules, Mireia claims that “these changes were absolutely necessary. We have been talking about zoning for some time now, and we needed an identity that was more specific to each zone. Our Cavas already have their own identity, but the consumer will receive more information with these changes and it will allow us to safeguard our product better”. The winery supports the idea that in order to sell your products, you have to be able to tell a story, something that the changes will not alter. What it does feel, though, is that they “provide us with new tools, so we will be able to talk more specifically about our origins. Defending our terroir in a more concrete way makes us more unique”.
Clos Montblanc - The Cu4tro Projet
Clos Montblanc is a winery located in Barberá de la Conca, in Tarragona. At domestic level, its still wines and Cavas are very well known, but it also nurtures a project designed for exports: Cu4tro Project. The project, which has been ongoing for some years now, has been very well received outside Spain, with Japan and South Korea, together with the United States, being the main export markets. Brazil, however, stands out above the rest, along with other markets such as China, Taiwan and, of course, the European market, where Germany, Belgium and Holland are prime destinations.
As with Alta Alella, it is important to differentiate between different zones. “For us it is very important to highlight the origin. Cava was born specifically in this area, where the main varieties we use in our blends are perfectly adapted to the soil and weather patterns, which bring out the qualities we seek”. When it comes to selling their products beyond Spanish borders, being able to specify exactly where their Cavas are produced “allows us to supply the most genuine Cava. Apart from quality, which in our view is the basic premise, we can ramp up arguments like genuine origin and tradition”.
In terms of winemaking procedures, Clos Montblanc clarifies that “this does not involve any changes since for Cavas in this profile (Guarda Superior) we already select the oldest vineyards, always older than 10 years, with maturation exceeding the minimum required. All the vineyards used to produce our Guarda Superior Cavas come from organically certified vineyards”.
Bodegas Valdeorite - Ongoing adaptation
Who would have thought years ago that one day Cavas would be grown outside of Catalonia? This project, in the province of Badajoz, in Extremadura, just a few kilometres from the city of Badajoz, is a good example of the fact that Cavas can be made outside their original home region. This winery has garnered acclaim both domestically – winning the Gran Espiga de Oro award for the best cava in Extremadura for three consecutive years – and internationally, which has put it in a privileged position when exporting its Cavas.
Here, the newly-minted Cava D.O. regulations have not implied any changes for the moment, aside from one major adaptation: “Since the new regulations, we have been adapting to the main change which is making organic wines, and trying to ensure these wines are ready by the time the regulatory period of adaptation expires”. This is going to require efforts on the part of the winery, but there is a strong chance they will come to a successful conclusion. The winery also believes that the changes in terms of classification, with zones and sub-zones, are interesting: “Any personalisation is worthwhile, especially for Premium Cavas, where we will be able to make highly expressive Cavas”. In turn, the winery believes this will facilitate sales.
Castell Saint Antoni - Awaiting change
This winery, which is approaching the 60th anniversary of its official opening (1963), is a family project that began when Ramón Canals Ridorsa decided to build a small wine cellar at the back of the family home in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia. Subsequently, as sales experienced incremental growth, the space became too small and they had to “emigrate” to the outskirts of the town to accommodate the now larger production volumes.
The new brand was born on the eve of the 21st century, in 1999, and led to the current name of the winery: ‘Castell Sant Antoni’. Pere Canals' project became a reality with the emergence of a new winery dedicated to producing highly expressive Cavas.
Since then, drawing on their dedication and patience, they have been producing high quality Cavas some 40 km from Barcelona, in the birthplace of Cava. The belief here is that “the new regulations are a step in the right direction. Consumers are becoming more and more demanding and providing extra information about the origin of the wines they drink is, without a doubt, an initiative that is not only good but also necessary at the present time. It is important to point out that this is a very substantial and complex change, which we are still studying in depth. We are waiting to see how it will be applied in the medium term throughout the entire appellation”.
Any additional information they can provide in the future, due to changes in the regulations “is also an opportunity on a commercial level and good news, but to a large extent, whether or not it will ultimately facilitate marketing will depend on how the new regulations are applied and developed”.
Costers Del Sio - Proud of its sparkling wines
Halfway between the towns of Balaguer and Agramunt, in Lleida, is this project which began to take shape in the same year that the Olympic Games were held for the first time in Spain (Barcelona, 1992). The Porcioles-Buixó family acquired the property that is home to the winery in that same year. After 6 years, the first vineyards were planted and in 2005 the first grapes were harvested and the first wines were produced: Alto Siós, Viña Siós red and rosé. In 2014, 22 years after starting the project, the sparkling wines Siós Brut Blanc de Noirs and Siós Brut Rosé were produced.
Out of choice, these wines do not come under the Cava D.O. so obviously none of the changes introduced last year to the appellation have implied any direct changes for them. At Costers del Sió, as winemaker María Mendoza said, “we are proud to make quality sparkling wine under the Costers del Segre appellation”. As she said, the new regulations “are not relevant for our products”. In fact, here, the belief is that they will make marketing more difficult.
Ramon CAnals - Origin is essential
Located some 30 kilometres from Barcelona, in the town of Castellví de Rosanes, this winery was founded in 1903. Three generations have injected life into the winery, which produces still wines in D.O. Penedés and Cavas under D.O. Cava. It is a family business that has evolved over the generations but has remained steadfast in its principles: the quality of its products and a strong commitment to disseminating and promoting the culture of wine.
Mother and father Maria Angels Canals Duran and Ramón Canals Llaverol and their children Ramón Canals and Marta Canals are the winery’s owners and managers. Ramón Canals (son) is in charge of winemaking and sales. Daughter Marta is tasked with management, administration and quality control of the shipments. The changes in D.O. Cava classifications have not affected them much. They feel that “the stricter the regulations the better. We already make all our Reservas with more than 18 months’ maturation and soon almost all our Cavas will be organic. But for ordinary consumers, not experts, we would have to ask whether they have a full understanding of so many names, appellations and ways we have of categorising sparkling wines nowadays. At marketing level, it is also a well-known fact that complicated names are difficult for the public to remember. It's all very well for professionals, but for the vast majority, those who buy millions of bottles of Cava every year, will it be clear or not?”
Son Ramón Canals explains that “highlighting provenance is essential, as this is the basic tenet of any D.O. This is fundamental and one of the reasons why some producers have left the D.O., especially for exports, as there is a greater presence of Cavas made outside the Penedès region. It is a good step forward. But from my point of view the names are complicated and difficult for non-expert consumers”.
Ravents Codorníu - Beneficial changes
Internationally renowned Raventós Codorníu encapsulates the history of Cava. As Codorníu's winemaker, Bruno Colomer, told us, “it is a pleasure to travel around the world with a Codorníu business card, as it opens many doors. In most countries around the world we are known for our Cavas”. What can be said about the company that is not already known? At Raventós Codorníu, the opinion is that all the regulatory changes “do not imply a different way of working, since all the principles that are defined were already being applied: the origin of the vineyard, choice of vineyards for lengthy ageing... but it is true that with the new regulations we are permitted to mention the origin of the grapes on the labels. Some administrative aspects have changed, such as the certification of vineyards for Guarda or Guarda Superior; reporting the Kg/Ha to the administration, and differentiating it from the rest of the vineyard, for example: but the work and internal winery procedures are 100% compatible with the new regulations”. Raventós Codorníu is already known in almost every corner of the planet, but it believes that the changes to the regulations “will indeed facilitate marketing. Any aspect that increases the quality of the product will help the customer take it into account when they make a decision to purchase”.
There is one remaining question – what will happen to the wineries that make sparkling wines and are not under the umbrella of D.O. Cava? Will the changes prompt them to take on the challenge of altering some of their procedures so that they comply with the new regulations? Or, on the other hand, will there be wineries that are currently marketed under D.O. Cava which, due to the new requirements, will want to leave the appellation? Only time will tell and reveal how the situation evolves. Each winery is different and not all wineries have the same ethos. The future will provide the answer.
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