The last chapter in the turmoil of the Spanish DO system was this week’s announcement by AVEC (Association of Wine Growers and Winemakers Corpinnat) about their decision to leave the DO Cava. The divorce between quantity and quality is served once again. In this case, moreover, the timing has not worked in anyone’s favour.
"We have finally taken this step because had we complied with the demands of the Regulatory Board, we would have jeopardized our project of excellence for sparkling wines,” Xavier Gramona, co-president of Corpinnat, told SWL.
The brand Corpinnat was presented in April last year as a new EU-registered, private certification that championed terroir in Penedès with stricter quality standards than those set by the DO Cava. The launch happened barely two months before the Cava Regulatory Board, with president Xavier Pagès at the helm, announced they would be working on new quality categories as well as the demarcation of areas within the appellation. Contacts and negotiations held since then (see the chronology according to Corpinnat) have not made it possible to find a common ground.
The Regulatory Board firmly rejects that the designations Cava and Corpinnat can coexist on the same label. The main obstacle has been the territorial delimitation established by the private certification. Other concerns included the use of grape varieties such as Sumoll which were not approved by the appellation.
Despite the break-up, both parties have sent positive messages. Xavier Gramona argues that "couples can be reunited" and points out that his hope “to bring together the industry in the future remains intact." For his part, Xavier Pagès told SWL: "We have the same goals and it is a matter of time; the word ‘late’ does not exist in my vocabulary". According to Pagès, "things can be changed from the inside".
Although the departure of heavyweight producers like Recaredo and Gramona is big news, this is not the first rift in recent times (Raventós i Blanc and Classic Penedès are notable previous examples).
Corpinnat members barely represent 0.94% of the overall Cava production according to the appellation’s Control Board, but they account for half of the Cava de Paraje Calificado, the single-vineyard premium category approved under the presidency of Pedro Bonet. It was the first time that Cava was tied to a specific vineyard.
Both sides also agree on the fact that Corpinnat’s move is likely to complicate matters for consumers. For Xavier Gramona, this is bad news whereas Xavier Pagès says: “This is going to be confusing so consumers, both in Spain and abroad, will need a certain amount of information to understand it.”
As if it were not difficult enough to choose a bottle on the shelf nowadays, consumers will now find up to four different sparkling wines from the same territory: Cava, Classic Penedès, Conca del Riu Anoia (Raventos i Blanc) and Corpinnat, although for the time being only the first two have denomination of origin status. These events come at a time of a growing presence of sparkling wines from other Spanish regions (some of which also have the right to be called Cava). Even Rioja has given the green light to a sparkling category.
Corpinnat establishes strict criteria for its members including 100% organic farming, manual harvesting, minimum grape price of at least €0.70/kg, 90% indigenous grape varieties, 75% grapes from fully owned vineyards or long-term leases and a minimum ageing time of 18 months compared with 15 months for a Cava Reserva.
Faced with the inaction of the Regulatory Board to tackle the issue of vineyard zoning, Corpinnat proposed to demarcate a specific sparkling wine producing area in Penedès (almost 95% of Cava is produced in this Catalan region). Xavier Pagès says a majority of producers did not consider it necessary. “They thought it would not provide extra benefits to the appellation, so no one took the step, but it seems clear to me that this is an urgent matter.”
The Regulatory Board is currently working on two separate categories: Classic Cava for the majority of young sparkling wines and Premium Cava for Reserva, Gran Reserva and Cava de Paraje Calificado. Further geographic demarcations are planned to be limited to the premium category.
Given that Cava can be produced in a vast area that includes the provinces of Zaragoza (Aragón), La Rioja, Álava (Basque Country), Valencia (southeast Spain) and Badajoz (Extremadura, bordering Portugal), one of its long-standing weaknesses is the difficulty to establish a clear link between the wines and their territory. Another ongoing problem is the low export prices that have hampered the presence of high-end cavas in international markets. And as a a category, Cava has not been able to vindicate the traditional method against the growing success of Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine that is fermented in large containers as opposed to the more expensive second fermentation method used by cava producers.
The first thing consumers will notice are the changes in labelling. In addition to swapping the term Cava for Corpinnat, producers who were awarded the Cava de Paraje Calificado single-vineyard distinction will not be able to use it from now on – no doubt that losing Turó d’en Mota, Celler Batlle or Gramona is a severe blow for the category.
The Gran Reserva designation that was present on the labels of premium wines, which was, for example, one of the pillars of Recaredo's communication strategy, will be out of their reach too. Corpinnat producers will be able to use the term Reserva —they might add the age of the wine on the back label, as Clàssic Penedès do— although Xavier Gramona is skeptical given that ageing times often vary on older cavas based on the vintage or release date.
“This was not planned,” Xavier Gramona acknowledges. “In fact, none of us have labels or closures yet. We voted to leave the appellation in our Assembly two weeks ago. A time of reflection opens up now. We will also need to discuss several issues that were controlled by the Consejo until now. For instance, we have agreed to include disgorgement dates on the back label.”
The new status quo means that Corpinnat members cannot produce Cava but they are still allowed to sell grapes to Cava producers and —controversially— to continue producing base wines for Cava, although this last point is likely to be revised by the Regulatory Body.
The fact that Corpinnat has left the Cava appellation has not stopped producers from joining the association, says Xavier Gramona. “Some of them are quite prominent”. The strict joining requirements —two audits are needed, one of which is carried out during harvest— makes it unlikely that we hear of other new members joining at least until the end of the 2019 harvest.
As for the name Corpinnat —unappealing and hard to remember— no changes are foreseen. “I have used it in America and Asia and it’s OK”, claims Xavier Gramona. “It may not be catchy or easy to say, but it is linked to our land.” It is indeed the result of joining several Catalan and Latin words: “pinna” is Latin for Penedès while “cor” and “nat” respectively mean “heart” and “born” in Catalan to convey the idea that these wines are “born in the heart of Penedès.”