Rebellie rond cava

by Marja Brouwer

In het Spaanse cava-land Catalonië bruist het van de rebellie tegen goedkope bubbels. De betere producenten willen zich duidelijk onderscheiden van de geldmakers die cava als populaire feestwijn zien. Er doen al verschillende classificatie-systemen de ronde. Maar premium-cava verkopen blijkt nog niet zo eenvoudig. James Lawrence dook erin voor Wine-Searcher
‘It's made using the traditional method. It's a globally recognized style – although increasingly threatened by Prosecco – and has no shortage of money behind it. Its heartland Penedès (less than 50 minutes by car from Barcelona) boasts the prerequisites of beautiful scenery and a historic tradition of producing sparkling wine. So why, when the cards appear to be in order, is selling premium Cava such an uphill struggle?

The answer is, of course, image, or lack thereof. Indeed, every writer worth his or her salt has discussed Cava's ingrained image as the "cheap option", a sub-$14 Champagne trade-down and little else. "Despite our continued efforts, promotional activities and positive critical appraisal, selling Gramona as a premium sparkling wine is never easy," admits Ana Lidon, Gramona's export manager.
"Potential clients taste our wines, inform us that they love them, and then add that they doubt their ability to sell our bottles at the price asked."
Stepped out
And so it goes on. Some producers, such as Raventos I Blanc and Torres, have sidestepped the Cava designation altogether, while others have put their faith in the Cava de Paraje Calificado initiative. Whether this will make any real difference to the way Cava, or at least premium Cava, is perceived in export markets remains to be seen, but it's fair to say that the trade's response has been mixed.

"I don't think Paraje will make a huge difference," says leading wine buyer Christine Parkinson. "Cava doesn't have the strong positive associations of Prosecco or English sparkling wine, let alone Champagne and it's hard to find guests with strong feelings about it."

Even Codorniu CEO Javier Pages observed last year that "the Paraje initiative is a positive step forward, however, we are mistaken if we believe that simply introducing a new designation on a small percentage of labels will be enough to transform Cava's image."
"What's required is a significant investment in consumer and trade education, to convince the world that Cava can be a product of high quality."

Pepe Raventos is a harsher critic still. "I think Paraje is a terrible idea and won't make any difference – what fixes consumer perception is situated at the low end. It's like trying to offer a few blankets to the victims of great natural disaster and hoping everything will turn out okay", he says.
Some large producers, like Codorniu, have made efforts to move their wines upmarket.
But just when you thought Cava was over unintelligible classifications, along came Corpinnat. The new initiative was announced last month in Cava's heartland – Sant Sadurní d'Anoia.

Six of the region's most quality-conscious growers – Gramona, Llopart, Nadal, Recaredo, Sabaté i Coca and Torelló – inaugurated the classification, which boasts a fully registered certification with the European Union and, as you'd expect, stipulates strict quality guidelines for its members.
"The idea of forming a private association arose during talks among Cava producers in 2012", says founding member Xavier Gramona.

"We were worried about Cava's global image, prices, and other issues all related to quality wines. But our main gripe was that the DO had been petitioned several times to organize the region into sub-zones, a request that was never granted."

Yet its founding members are quick to point out that their certification is in no way meant to compete with Cava de Paraje – in private, though, several individuals have admitted their ambivalent attitudes about the value of the Paraje initiative.

Moreover, according to Recaredo owner Ton Mata, its members have already reached out to 60 cellars in the region to see if they want to join, meaning friction between the growers and the Consejo Regulador may be inevitable.

However, its founders also underline the point that this is no copycat endeavor. Unlike Cava de Paraje, which focuses on single vineyards within the region, Corpinnat's remit is to "define a singular territory and origin", according to Gramona’.