Since Josep Raventós first convinced his friends to invest in an adventurous replanting and rebuilding project in the 19th century, Catalonia has been the Spanish home of sparkling wine. With the vineyards of the Penedes devasted by phylloxera, Josep saw an opportunity to replant the higher ground with grapes better suited for sparkling wine production, with an intention of taking on the might of Champagne. An unlikely proposition, considering the warm Mediterranean sunshine, the complete lack of specific wine-making equipment and an entirely unproven market. Today Cava production stands at a cool 250 million bottles a year. Kudos, Josep.
Yet for all the success of Cava, all is not well along the Catalan coast. The lack of geographical specificity in the appellation (Cava from Extremadura, anyone?), the influx of international grapes, excessive yields and heavily imbalanced production to 3 giants of the industry are all worrying signs. Worse still, the constant disagreements between producers and the appellation have caused fragmentation, with no fewer than 5 separate classifications of sparkling wine now working separately in the same territory. On the surface, it´s looking like a terrible moment for the local industry and one not easily solved.
On the other hand, it might be exactly what the local industry and consumers desperately needed; a shake up. Cava has for so long been sold as a commodity on supermarket shelves, with its very best producers condemned to share the same name as €3.99 bottles of hastily produced fizz. One of the newer classifications, Corpinnat, consists of the cream of the crop; wineries with real history and a track record of producing consistently delicious wine and with a focus on indigenous grapes and long ageing. Another, Classic Penedes, has a focus on sustainable agriculture and allowing for flexibility and innovation under their appellation. Projects like Navazos-Colet exist here; adding Sherry as an element of dosage? It sounds crazy but it’s absolutely delicious! How about using raw honey as the fuel for the second fermentation? That too, and it works!
Regardless of whether it’s a focus on tradition or innovation, the future of sparkling wine in Catalunya inevitably lies in the premium end of the market, with room for both approaches. There is exceptional land here, carefully and responsibly tended for decades, with old vines of Xareŀlo, Macabeo and Paralleda at the heart of it all. Theres the experience of decades and the energy and creativity of youth. Most importantly, theres a desire to produce truly exceptional wines to rival the best in the world which is, of course, how it all started almost 150 years ago.