Movements in the Land of Cava

19th April 2018


As most of our readers are aware, the Cava Denomination of Origin in Spain is unique. Whereas nearly all controlled wine regions around the world are geographically limited to specific geopolitical regions; provinces, states, etc., Spain’s Cava is produced in eleven provinces spread throughout seven autonomous regions of the country. While more than 90% of Cava is produced in the Penedés area in the Catalonia community, it is also produced in Extremadura, nearly 800 kilometres away in the southwestern corner of the country as well as in La Rioja, some 400 kilometres to the West and in the Valencian area of Requena, several hundred kilometres South, not to mention Navarra, Aragón and Castilla y León where one producer exists. This complex distribution makes control and coordination very difficult and over the thirty plus years of the D.O.’s existence has provoked numerous conflicts amongst the 220 Cava producers, the majority of which are located in or around Sant Sadurní d’Anoia about 30 miles south of Barcelona, the village considered to be the Cava Capital.

However, some sixty of these wineries are located anywhere from 20 kilometres to several hundred kilometres from Sant Sadurní, and fiercely defend their legitimate rights to claim their sparkling wines as Cava as recognized by the Regulatory Board.

During the last decade, several important situations have come about, some negative others positive, that has produced a variety of reactions and developments. The first was the “rebellion” in 2013 by several Cava producers who embarked on a movement to redefine the geographic limitations of “Cava Country”, essentially limiting this to the Penedés area, along. This movement also insisted on a number of specific conditions involving the elaboration of the sparkling wines with the intention of raising quality levels of the wines through more severe controls of vineyards, grape varieties, processing and ageing. Their intentions were pretty much ignored or rejected by the rest of the producers, so, the initial twelve wineries took cover so to speak under the “protection” of the Penedés D.O. and created the denomination, Clàssic Penedés. At this time there 16 sparkling wine producers in this D.O., and it is expected that several other small to mid-range Cava producers may follow suit.

Two years ago, the Cava D.O. publicly presented the category, Cava de Paratge, Single Vineyard Cava. This category was created to represent the top of the line Cavas made by nine producers of recognized high quality Cava. The twelve labels produced by these wineries are the end products of very controlled elaboration which begins in specific vineyards from which the grapes are selected and harvested by hand, carefully pressed and after bottling, aged for a minimum of 36 months and includes the possibility of following the Cava from the cellar through distribution to final sale. The price range of these superb Cavas goes from 45€ to over 100€ and represents an extremely small percentage of the overall production of Cava.

A more recent “conflict” was the limitation of new vineyard acreage permitted by the Ministry of Agriculture. While new plantations were limited to a few acres in Catalonia, Extremadura and La Rioja were permitted to cultivate significantly superior areas, again provoking anger and frustration, especially in the Penedés area.

The political unrest between Catalonia and the Spanish government during the latter months of 2017 that culminated in a frustrated unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia, caused nearly three thousand companies that had their headquarters in various parts of the region to transfer these offices to other parts of Spain. These included Codorniu who moved its offices to the La Rioja winery, Bodegas Bilbainas, one of Codorniu’s various holdings outside of Catalonia. Other major Cava producers with properties in other regions also considered this option, but at least for the time being, Freixenet and Jaume Serra maintain their central offices in Sant Sadurní and Vilanova i la Geltrú respectively. This political unrest also contributed to increased production and sales of Cava in the other regions in detriment to sales of the Catalonian Cavas.

The most recent movement is the founding of the Association of Vitners and Producers Corpinnat (AVEC – Asociación de Viticultores y Elaboradores Corpinnat) by six of the most prominent high end Cava producers, Gramona, Llopart, Nadal, Recaredo, Sabaté i Coca and Torelló. AVEC is registered in Spain and the EEC within the coverage of the European Brand Guarantee. The principal reasons expounded by this group are a definitive reaction to the continuous price “war” that has provoked pricing down to as little as 1,80€ for bottles of Brut Cava in some major Spanish supermarket chains, a figure that many producers claim does not cover production costs for an average quality Cava. Another, and possibly more significant feature of the movement is the inclusion of the Penedés region as the locality of origin of the Cava made by these producers. Until now, this specific indication has not been allowed by the Regulatory Board. Apparently, within the coverage of the European Brand Guarantee, this particular indication is permitted as part of the recognition of quality and is applied to many other products produced in the EEC. Five of these six Cava wineries are already producing Cava de Paratge, and they are actively “recruiting” other wineries to join the AVEC. As the Regulatory Board of Cava is undergoing an important renovation of its governing body with the retirement of Pere Bonet as President, as well as Jaume Gramona’s intention to leave his presidency of the Cava Institute, there may well be many significant repercussions here, especially regarding the possibility of the geographic origin of the contents of bottles appearing on the labels.

And finally, during the first weeks of April, Freixenet announced the acquisition of 50,7% of the company by the German distribution giant, Henkell, a branch of the Dr. Oetker alimentary holding. This was the result of two years of at times difficult negotiations between Henkell and the three principal Spanish shareholders, the Ferrer Noguer, Hevia Ferrer and Bonet Ferrer families. Members of these families, all brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews, have held significant positions in Freixenet for decades, but with the takeover, it is more than likely that Henkell will impose key management slots occupied by non-family and indeed, non-Spanish executives. Recent news indicates that the new Henkell management team will look deeply into significant reductions of employees, Freixenet currently has some 1,400 persons on the payrolls, as well as fomenting “low cost” Cavas both for national as well as export markets, possibly at the expense of the high mid-range and top end labels.

2017 was a landmark year for Cava production and sales, taking into account the political influences, with overall production surpassed 252.5 million bottles generating worldwide sales of 1,149 million €. Exports counted for 64% of the sales, and the internal “problems” notwithstanding, national sales exceeded 90 million bottles.

2018 promises to be a potentially interesting year for Cava and Glass of Bubbly intends to keep a very close eye on it.

Shared by George Potter

Glass of Bubbly

Executive editor of news content for the website Please enjoy the articles that we share - We hope you find our love for Champagne & Sparkling Wines both interesting and educational.