CAVA, Spain’s Effervescent Treasure

11th July 2016


Over the past forty or so years, a number of books have been written about Spanish wines in general and Cava in particular, in Spanish and the Catalonian regional language, often with direct translations into English, but to date only one has been specifically created and published in English.

The American-born writer, George Potter, has undertaken the task to research and write what could well be considered as the most complete and objective book on Spain’s prime sparkling wine, Cava to be published in English. The project has taken him to nearly one hundred wineries all over the country, where he encountered innumerable historic facts and curiosities and has had the opportunity to taste some really outstanding Cavas.

Cava is the Spanish sparkling wine made according to the methode champenoise. The process is strictly controlled by the Regulatory Board of the Cava Denomination of Origen and is unique as according to the statutes of the D.O., Cava can be elaborated in eleven of the country’s fifty provinces and situated all over the country. It has always been considered that Cava is a product of the Catalonia region and most particularly the area around Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, some 40 kilometres southwest of Barcelona. This is partially certain, as more than one hundred Cava wineries are in fact in or around this village.

There are however, a significant number of Cava makers many kilometres distant, four as far away as Almendralejo in the Badajoz province, nearly 1,000 kilometres from Sant Sadurní in the extreme southwest. Another requirement is that only Xarel.lo, Parellada, Macabeo (Viura), Malvasía and Chardonnay white grapes and Monastrell, Garnacha tinta, Pinot noir and Trepat red grapes can be used for making Cava. Most of the red grapes are used for Rosé type Cavas, although Pinot noir is increasingly being used to make Blanc de Noir – white from black grapes Cavas.

Although historically, the creation of the sparkling wine that evolved into Cava has been attributed to the owner of CODORNIU in the early 1870´s, Josep Raventós, other people were developing and marketing identical wines several years previously; the Duque de la Victoria and his aid who later became the Marqués de Murrieta in the 1850s and Agustí Vilaret who had thousands of bottles of his Mont Ferrant sparkling wines in distribution in the 1860s. It appears that CODORNIU had a department of corporate communications functioning even back then.

There are several Cava producers that have been making this sparkling wine since the end of the 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century, although probably the most significant expansion of Cava wineries occurred during the period between 1970 and 2000. The creation of many of these were results of internal family disputes or simply the “passion” to create new and distinctive products. Also, an important number of these wineries had been making still wines for decades, a few even for centuries, and during this expansion period joined the trend to making Cava. These and other innumerable reasons gave rise to dozens of new wineries, nearly all producers of a few thousand bottles yearly, although some have grown substantially, even surpassing a half a million bottles or more. In fact, two are presently producing nearly three millions of bottles each after only twenty or so years of existence.

Kosher cava

How many of you readers have seen specific references to Kosher Champagne in the numerous books about Champagne in the vast variety of languages in which these books have been published over the years? Until now, very few titles have included this particular type of Champagne, and Kosher Cava has never been mentioned in any of the books on Cava published in Spain or other countries. There are however, approximately one million bottles of Kosher Cava produced annually and distributed to Israel, the United States, Germany, the UK and other countries.

Another aspect of ‘CAVA, Spain’s Effervescent Treasure’ is the inclusion of numerous other quality sparkling wines that although they cannot be legally denominated Cava are often as good and sometimes even better than many Cavas. There are sparkling wines made in the northwestern region of Galicia with Albariño and even Godello grapes and in the central plains region of Castilla la Mancha with Airen grapes. The author found nearly eighty non-cava sparkling wine makers all over the country, including the Balearic and Canary islands. These have been included due to the high quality of many of these wines, the peculiar characteristics of the grapes used and in a great many cases, the close, almost exact compliance with the regulations applied to the elaboration of Cava.

So, why spend several years researching and developing this project? The answer is complex and somewhat difficult to clearly express, but basically the inspiration came as a result of the purchase of an apartment in the Mediterranean coastal city of Vilanova i la Geltrú some three years ago. While observing the Garraf hill range that separates the interior of the Penedés from the coast, the idea slowly matured and what began with plans to visit a few dozen Cava producers to take notes and pictures soon expanded into what can be anticipated as an accurate and reliable source of information for Cava fans.

The curiosities encountered during the visits were numerous and some are really interesting. Amongst these are the thousands of metres of ageing cellars underneath the Freixenet plant, which necessitates the use of electric trains to carry visitors on tours, or the 28 continuous generations of the Mestres family owning and running their winery in downtown Sant Sadurní right under the city hall, or the discovery of a refuge for hiding people escaping during the Spanish Civil War in the Can Pujol winery in Vilanova. Other facts include the discoveries of evidence of wine making and apparent commerce during the Iberian presence in several areas in the early centuries or the existence of a legitimate Cava producer near the village of Aranda del Duero in the province of Burgos.

Another facet of the research was the marvelous cooperation offered by all of the people interviewed, from the President of the Regulatory Board of the Cava D.O., Mr. Pedro Bonet through numerous authorities of other official entities to the producers, again from nearly all of the ‘giants’ down to the little guys, some making less than 20,000 bottles a year, but more often than not of exceptional quality. A lot was learned during these visits, but most important was the establishment of warm and sincere relations with many, many people who dedicate their hearts and souls to making one of the world’s finest sparkling wines, Cava.

George H. Potter has been living in Spain for more than fifty years, during which time he has worked in public relations, corporate communications and journalism. He collaborated with several specialized Spanish food and beverage magazines and was correspondent for some time in Spain for Wine & Spirits. CAVA, Spain’s Effervescent Treasure is expected to be published in October of this year, coinciding with Cava Week in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

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