DO Cava – The Empire Strikes Back!



Denominación de Origen Cava has endured some brutal bashing over the last couple of years. Concerns about quality were foremost of the critical comments made about this, one of the previously most respected DOs in Spain. Some high profile producers threatened to leave the DO and then did so, making a correspondingly big noise on the way.


The press, including your correspondent, got hold of the story (they could hardly not do so, as the Cava Refuseniks made sure that we were kept informed) and suddenly, from nowhere, Cava was a DO under siege. Other Spanish producers of Sparkling Wines rubbed their hands with glee as their sales increased whilst those of Cava stagnated and then started to fall. Like the country itself, DO Cava was embroiled in La Crisis, but on a second front.


Well, it’s high time to be more even-handed when discussing DO Cava, as indeed was Señor Pere Bonet, President of the Consejo Regulador DO Cava, when I met him recently, having been invited to Cataluña to interview him, and to see for myself, how the Cava Empire is striking back!

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President Consejo Regulador DO Cava, Señor Pere Bonetand Geneal Secretary Señora Maria Eugenia Puig Amat

Having worked in Champagne as well as with Freixenet, the world’s largest producer of Sparkling Wine, Señor Bonet is an expert in the field. Ally this knowledge and experience to his training and expertise in the world of Marketing and it’s clear that his recent appointment was inspired. Apart from his skills and experience, Señor Bonet is also a gentleman and I’m not surprised that he has been charged with steering the right course through the choppy seas of, often unfair, criticism.


He too, is even-handed. He is aware that the image of Cava has been damaged, by the criticism of once fellow producers who have now abandoned ship; but he also knows that there is more, cheap Cava sold, than quality. It’s the under two Euro Cava that is constantly being highlighted, but this Cava, whilst obeying all the rules, is not at all representative of DO Cava, Per Se. It’s time to redress the balance.


When asked about the lack of quality at the basic, entry level of Cava and its impact on consumers’ perception of the drink, Sr. Bonet said that it was surely the same for any DO. I agree.


Take, for example, DO Rueda – since their phenomenal rise to power (one in three bottles of wine sold in Spain is from this DO!) they haven’t looked back, but they need to!


Again, at the basic entry level there is plenty of dross being sold, quite legally correctly as DO Rueda, and at the same price level above, below two Euros. Do people make a big deal of it? No! Do producers of the best Rueda wines threaten to leave the DO because of the influx of those who want to jump on the bandwagon? No! Does the Press set up another witch-hunt? No!


As I’ve always said – up to a point, you get what you pay for, here in Spain. A wine or Cava that sells for 1·49€ is always going to deliver exactly that sort of value! Practically none! So let’s leave DO Cava alone. Live and let live – those who want to make their cavas at this base level can do so; those who want to buy them can also do so, but please, don’t be confused, these are nothing like Cava is meant to be.


However, Sr. Bonet, who is only in his second year as President, and his colleagues on the Consejo Regulador DO Cava are not content with highlighting just this. He is listening to criticism and he and his colleagues have come up with an effective riposte and it’s being done, correctly, diplomatically, tactfully and subtly too. “Our intention is to ‘re-dignify’ the name Cava”, said Pere Bonet, as he explained what’s afoot.


Firstly I was extremely impressed with the quality control that has been instituted recently. It’s all high tech with growers having cards (like credit cards) which are swiped with all the details of varieties, location, sugar content etc of the grapes they have brought to the reception areas; and bodegas have state-of-the-art tablets, both of which record and send automatically all the information to the Consejo Regulador. I saw the whole process – it’s fascinating and all designed to make DO Cava’s quality control transparent.


Also when I was at Bodegas Segura Viudas (watch this space for a report on my fantastic visit) I witnessed one of the DO Cava Consejo Regulador’s ‘secret shoppers’ collating all this information whilst inspecting the whole process. Good to know that there’s still a place for humans with a humble pen and paper, too! Such ‘agents’ are sent to bodegas on surprise (within health and safety boundaries) visits, again with a view to making sure that all is correct.


Secondly, and this is the absolute latest, an application has been made to the Spanish Government to change the regulations of the DO Cava! It’s the Ministry of Agriculture that has the say in all Denominación de Origen matters in Spain – it is they who do, or don’t, grant DO status, in this case to Cava, but also to wine, cheese etc. So in order to make any changes to that which has been previously approved by the Ministry (and therefore the Government) an extra application has to me made.


The Consejo Regulador DO Cava has applied to add a further designation to the DO. If approved (the answer is expected before the end of this year) and it’s looking hopeful, it will surely make a difference to how the press and consumers will view Cava. Once approval has been achieved (thinking positively) the general ideas already mooted will be discussed in earnest and a list of rules and regulations will be drawn up and then, probably in 2015, put into operation.


The new designation will be Cava de Paraje Calificado, which means that it is Cava that has been made in a specific place. It may be, for example, from one particular vineyard within all the rest owned/run by a bodega; or it may be several vineyards within the land used by the bodega; and indeed it may be all their vineyards. It will all depend on satisfying the rules – if these bodegas/vineyards qualify, they will be given permission to use the new designation. And, obviously, Cavas made under this new designation will be top quality!


But what are the rules? I hear you demanding! Well, whilst there are suggestions being bandied about, there cannot be any definitive answer to this as they do not yet have permission from the Ministry to go ahead. However, I can tell you just a few of the matters being debated.


The age of the vines growing in the vineyards in question will probably be a factor. So too will be the maximum kilos produced per hectare. Also the length of time the sparkling wine spends ‘en rima’, resting in bottle with its yeast after the second fermentation.


But that’s all that can be revealed at this moment in time! However, I now have a direct source from whom I’ll receive updates as time passes and you can be sure that it will be Cork Talk readers whom I tell first!


Contact Colin: and though his unique website and also via Twitter @colinonwine

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