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  • A MW research paper on wine classifications in Spain
  • A MW research paper on wine classifications in Spain
  • A MW research paper on wine classifications in Spain
1. Fernando Mora in a recent presentation of his Cuevas de Arom project. 2. Old vines in Campo de Borja. 3. A graphic representation of the 3V classification. Photo credits: A.C. y Fernando Mora

In depth

A MW research paper on wine classifications in Spain

Amaya Cervera | October 10th, 2017

If you regularly follow us, you may have read about the ongoing discussion about terroir in Spain and the new wine designations recently approved in various regions across the country. In most cases, the aim is to define land boundaries to establish a direct connection between minor geographic areas and their potential to be the source of top quality wines. At the end of this piece readers will find links to related articles published in SWL about the latest categories approved by various Spanish appellations (cava de paraje calificado in DO Cava and viñedos singulares and village wines in Rioja) and the Burgundy-inspired classification announced for Bierzo. 

In this context, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Fernando Mora MW chose such a hot topic for his research paper, the last obstacle before becoming a Master of Wine. With the help of mentor Sarah Jane Evans MW, Mora focused on a specific classification for DO Campo de Borja (the Aragonese appellation where he makes his Cuevas de Arom wines) that could serve as a model for other Spanish wine producing regions.

Mora and the Institute of Masters of Wine have granted SWL permission to publish the brief and straightforward conclusions of the research paper which add sensible ideas to the discussion on terroir and land differentiation in Spain. We also outline the way the study was conducted and the specific classification suggested for Campo de Borja.  

Background information

As a starting point, several classification systems from different wine producing countries across the world were taken into consideration, specifically Burgundy and Languedoc-Roussillon in France, the private VDP classification in Germany and two New World initiatives: Barossa Old Vines in Australia (a classification aimed at preserving ancient vineyards in the area) and Vigno, Chile’s proposal to safeguard its heritage of old Carignan vines. Mora consulted renowned experts and established strengths and weaknesses for all the systems.

In Spain, many in-depth interviews were conducted with representatives of several Regulatory Boards who have worked on zoning initiatives, as well as with producers, journalists and opinion leaders. The legal framework was also taken into consideration. In order to propose a specific classification for Campo de Borja, Mora took into account the data provided by its Consejo Regulador, particularly a recently drawn soil map. He also examined previous attempts to boost several areas and grape varieties in Spain with designations like Bobal Alta Expresión in Utiel-Requena (Valencia), Ribeira Sacra Summum in Galicia or Calatayud Superior in Aragón.

Ten conclusions

  • A wine blended from two or more vineyards can be as good in quality as one from a single vineyard
  • Villages are historical indications of origin but do not guarantee a certain quality level through the mere fact that they are villages. If they are classified as such, there should be a particular taste or profile to the wines of each village.
  • The key parameters of each area should be identified to develop them in the classification. Old vines are among Spain’s viticultural treasures.
  • It is necessary to create a system that is simple and easy to explain. The origin is the only differential that cannot be relocated, and consumers understand the concept of "local".
  • Trying to create a standard classification system across different areas of Spain would help increase consumer recognition.
  • A vineyard does not by itself guarantee a great wine; it is the vineyard, the producer and the resulting wine that give the final value. 
  • Care must be taken not to overregulate. An attempt must be made to favour all sectors and consider all links in the supply chain. 
  • A private alternative (association) on a state-wide level could be the solution to avoid bureaucracy and a lack of political agility. 
  • The definition of a classification system is only the first stage; a marketing, communication and implementation plan will also be needed. 
  • General, rather than individual, interests need to be kept in mind. The objectives are to increase recognition, the average price, and safeguard the viticultural heritage to guarantee future profitability of a given wine producing region.

A classification model for Campo de Borja

Fernando Mora’s proposal for this region where he produces wine suggests three levels of quality that can be easily understood by consumers. He also suggests artwork (see slider above) aimed as a visual symbol to display on bottles and labels. The “3V” classification plays with the letter “V” in Vino (Wine), Viñas (Vines) and Viejas (Old Vineyards) on three different levels: the basic, generic Vino (1V), a second Vino de Viñas Clasificadas (2V) tier and the top Vino de Viñas Viejas Clasificadas (3 V) for old vineyards.

As a distinct feature, the classification contemplates a protected status for old vineyards defined as those over 40 years old. Although “an old vine does not guarantee a high-quality wine, it is a differentiating historical and cultural factor,” sustains the research. With Garnacha being presented as the most distinctive native variety, the aim was to guarantee origin, producer and traceability. Mora considers that in order to warrant higher quality status, it is extremely important to “classify all three: the vineyard, the wine and the producer.”

Level 1V follows the general guidelines currently established by the appellation and doesn’t include the VVV logo on the label. In contrast, level 2V would only be awarded after three vintages in the market. Other requirements include vineyard traceability, vineyard age over 25 years, lower yields (6,000kg/Ha), manual harvest, a minimum 85% Garnacha in the blend and aging and bottling in the same winery. The 3V stage can only be granted after five vintages in the market, vineyard age must be over 40 years, yields cannot exceed 4,000kg/Ha and a minimum 95% Garnacha is required in the blend. Wine classification must be ratified by an external panel integrated by reputed experts and tasters from both the appellation and other regions. 

The proposed classification keeps the current parameters used by the Consejo Regulador in terms of authorized varieties, yields, viticulture practices, winemaking techniques and the area under vine, but leaves out the aging mention categories of Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva. And it introduces the following new parameters: minor geographic units, links between wine and vineyard, age of vines, the defence of Garnacha, wine classification, vineyard classification, producer classification, traceability and an independent tasting panel.

In terms of legislation, the researched concluded that within the current Spanish legal framework, implementation could only be done within the DO Campo de Borja. If regional or state-wide classifications were contemplated, the only feasible option to set them up would be through a private-managed system similar to Germany’s VDP.

As stated in the research, the final goal of the classification is “to increase the profitability of producers through the increase of recognition of their wines”. Yet the system “requires the participation of all those involved in the appellation” and other basic actions such as strategic and communication plans and a market study to monitor the acceptance of the 3V system in the various countries and segments. Thus, the paper concludes that a functioning regulation is only one of the many elements required to achieve success.

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