The Covid Crisis has not eased Agitation in Cava

15th June 2020

Sparkling Wines of Cava

Although the COVID-19 or Coronavirus crisis has brought about countless adversities in so many sectors around the world, it also ‘permitted’ a number of situations, activities and even legislation affecting the production and commerce of Spain’s steller sparkling wine, Cava.

To start with, the socio-political movement in Catalonia to separate the four provinces from Spain has provoked boycotts of the Catalonian sparkler and increased somewhat Cava and other sparkling wines produced in other regions. The most serious effects though have been caused by the pandemic which has affected exports and national sales due to the closures of restaurants, hotels and commercial outlets, as well as the cancellations of thousands of weddings and similar celebrations, events that counted for hundreds of millions of Euros of lost sales. Another factor that has affected Cava sales has been the growth of Prosecco sales world-wide. One estimate is that the overall income loss for the Cava sector may reach as much as 1,2 billion Euros in 2020. Still another contributing factor was the acquisition of Cava’s leading producers, Freixenet and Codorniu by international financial holdings.

Inside the country and specifically in the Cava production regions, several movements have almost simultaneously arisen. The first, and probably the most significant is a proposal to reduce the ceiling of 12,000 kilogrammes of grapes to 10,000 kilos, nearly a 25% reduction. The principal reason for this is the combination of excess stocks of bottled Cava resting in the producers’ cellars with the anticipated 2020 harvest which will begin in late August. Even the most flexible producers just do not have space for elaborating, ageing and storing the additional volumes. However, it is a well known fact that many Cava producers, both with their own vineyards as well as contracted suppliers, have for many years established their own criteria of even less grape production.

In line with the figures regarding grapes per hectare has been the on-going feud between the Catalonian producers and those in the other legitimate Cava producing regions to limit increases in vineyard areas. A resolution published in 2017 limited the area increase to 172 hectares, for all regions. This was protested by the Cava producers in the Extremadura region and was overruled by the Madrid High Court of Justice earlier this year, and will allow possible increases in vineyards. Again, the particular situation during these last few months will most surely cause some self-imposed increases or maybe even reductions in vineyards in these regions. Cava produced in Extremadura, Requena (Valencia), Rioja, Navarra, Aragon and Burgos have substantially increased sales in Spain in recent years, due principally to the boycott of Catalonian products.

The strife between the various Cava production regions has given birth to a significant specific internal debate in Extremadura. Basically, the five Cava producers and the dozens of vineyard owners are attempting to establish the recognition of “Cava de Extremadura” or “Cava de Almendralejo”. The application of a specific geographical location to distinguish premium quality Cava is permitted by the Cava Denomination of Origin Regulatory Board. While some argue that establishing the regional title, Extremadura as the most practical option, it is a curious fact that the five Cava wineries are all in the town of Almendralejo. All five consider that their products deserve this classification.

Now, going completely eastward to the Mediterranean coast, seven of the ten Cava producers in and around the town of Requena have arisen to establish their own specific identity within the Cava D.O., the Association of Requena Cava Producers. The principal objective of the group is to have more weight in the Cataloniandominated Cava D.O.

Over the past seven years, two significant breakaways by nearly two dozen Catalonian Cava producers did not help the overall image of Cava. The first group to leave the Cava D.O. were the twelve wineries that created the Clàssic Penedés title within the Penedès D.O., followed some five years later by another group of six very high-end producers that created Corpinnat. Both entities base their similar philosophies on the location of the wineries and vineyards (Penedès), grape varieties, strict quality control from vineyards through elaboration and into bottles, ageing and other factors. While Corpinnat initially remained within the Cava D.O., discrepancies with the D.O. provoked them to leave the D.O. A few years ago, the Cava D.O. created ‘Premium’ classifications for top quality Cavas, and more recently the ‘Cava de Paratge’ – Singular Estate Cava. Both of these were intended to satisfy the demands of numerous producers for better quality classifications.

At this time, there are 209 Cava producers in the Cava D.O. including the 30 wineries in the provinces away from Catalonia, 18 in Clàssic Penedès and 10 in Corpinnat. Also, independent of these 227 wineries, there are more than 50 quality sparkling wine producers in regions all over Spain, including the Canary and Balearic Islands. Many of these non Cava sparkling wines have also benefited from the internal problems affecting Cava.

Written by George Potter

Glass of Bubbly

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