Fair enough, when we take a trip to the supermarket to pick up a cheap bottle of bubbly, we usually look for the one labelled ‘Cava’. We know that it might not be the best quality, but it is pretty similar to champagne in taste and is usually the best price. This particular kind of grape – grown in the warm, dry climate of the Spanish Penedès – has high crop yields and is quite easily mass produced, hence why it can be priced relatively low compared to the other sparkling wines. Being British, we presume that cheap prices mean cheap quality and have therefore become slightly cynical about the validity of cava as a proper sparkling wine. Compared to champagne, which has always been crowned king of the grape, and prosecco, which has soared in popularity in recent years, cava does not carry the desirable name it has always longed for and, dare we say it, deserved.
In actual fact, cava has been bubbling up competition in the sparkling wine market and is giving champagne and prosecco a run for their money. Little do most people know that although the cava grape is relatively common and easily cultivated, there is a particular yield of the grape that is of such high quality that it has been given its own status by the Spanish government, known as Paraje Calificado. However, the status is given vigilantly as the grapes have to pass a strict set of requirements to be awarded the classification and there are only 13 cavas in the world that currently hold the title.
As the official definition states, cava is made of a wine produced with grapes from a certain location whose edaphic and weather conditions, along with certain criteria regarding the quality of the production process, have contributed to the development of a cava with singular qualities. The main requirements to gain the Paraje Calificado name include:
- At the vineyard: manual harvest process with a maximum output of 8,000 kg/ha; vines must be at least 10 years old
- In the production: fermentation at the estate with a maximum output of 48 hectolitres per hectare; base win qualification
- At the cellar: At least 36 months of ageing. Season cava of Brut type with qualifying tasting
- In the market: specific qualitative control badge; comprehensive tracking from the vineyard to the market
One of Spain’s oldest and most well respected and established vineyards Llopart de Subirats has recently earned its wine of ‘Les Flandes del Casots’ the prestigious Paraje Calificado title, becoming one of 13 vineyards in the world to create such a high quality cava that can match the finest French and Italian wines any day. Over the many years Llopart’s vineyard has been running, it has perfected its viticulture and production processes to become one of the world’s finest cava producers. The family motto is Ex Vite Vita, meaning ‘life comes from the grapevine’. This motto has always been present in the successive generations of the Llopart family and these days it ensures their renewed willingness to grow their vines with the utmost care and respect for the environment.
The Llopart vineyard has been a family business since its conception in 1385 when Llopart ancestors were granted the land. In 1887, the secular dedication to vine cultivation, elaboration and wine growing reached a turning point and, after intense testing, the family produced the first Cava Llopart bottle at the old country cellar house. The Llopart ancestors had introduced the most suitable vineyard varieties to the elaborate high expression and complexity cava wines. They achieved low yields per hectare and incorporated a methodology aimed at improving their wines’ character. In the early 1950’s Pere Llopart I Vilarós gave his cellar a new drive. He actively contributed to launching and refining the ‘craft cavas’ and therefore consolidated Cava Llopart as a high quality production. Using the knowledge and nurture of this highly skilled winemaker, the company has developed their refined cava grape into the highly sought after sparkling wine that it is today.
The Llopart family believe that the extensive history of the vineyard truly defines their wine, not just through the winemakers that have developed it, but through the land on which it sits. The vineyards and cellars of Cava Llopart are located at the intersection of the spurs of the Ordal mountain range and the Garraf Massif in the municipality of the Subirats. The estate is around 340 metres above sea level and stretches over a hill full of uneven slopes. The ground is set on dip stone platforms, which affords excellent exposure to the sun’s rays and avoids the possibility of any water surplus. There is moderate rainfall in the area and a small variation in temperature throughout the year, reaching around nine degrees Celsius in the winter and 22 in the summer, which is the perfect climate for growing balanced grapes with a great finesse. The areas’ soils are extremely sober, so vines can grow here in austerity with minimal force. Historically, this land was below sea level, which has left a reef calcareous stratum with well-structured soil rich in fossils. The geological configuration of the land gives rise to grapevines with a great radicular extension, limited strength and one of the lowest productions in the viticola area. That’s why Llopart is able to spend time perfecting the cultivation procedure and create a rigorous agronomic profile that help them to obtain fruits of exceptional concentration and character – or to put it more simply; excellent quality grapes.
For production of the Cava Llopart, they use the exclusive craft elaboration methods, in accordance with the strict traditional ‘champenois’ system. As a traditional method winemaker, they only incorporate the knowledge and technology that can make remarkable quality improvements to their viticulture process. Their vintage takes place in September, when manual harvest is carried out; only the healthy grapes in a perfect state are chosen and transported to the cellar. Then, the pneumatic pressings softly extract the fruit must – only the first juice is used to make Cava Llopart. It is then fermented for 25 days; the most concentrated musts are fermented in oak barrels of 225 litres throughout the winter in order to make creamy wines with great complexity and structure. When spring comes, the reserve wines aged in oak barrels are analysed and tasted exhaustively to determine the different proportions of each blend in order to obtain balanced wines with the awaited characteristics. These blends are then bottled and stored in the Llopart cellar for their second fermentation stage so that the brilliant cava bubbles can develop, which happens only over a period of several years as it optimises its organoleptic profile. The Les Flandes del Casots cava’s like the Reserva and Gran Reserva are moved to a smaller cellar half way through their maturity to obtain an intimate maceration of the sparkling wine with the lees, which are then decanted through manual tipping. This strict production and ageing process, along with the unique location defines the outstanding style of the LLopart wines, which represent the very essence of the land and the ancestral family tradition, as well as the beauty of the cava grape.
The care and attention that Llopart put into the production of their cava from grape to bottle, along with the viticulture knowledge developed over hundreds of years by their ancestors, it can truly be said that the cava grape here is done justice. Llopart have shown us time and time again that cava doesn’t have to be a ‘cheap’ low quality substitute for its competing sparkling wines; it can in fact be their equal. You just have to know where to find it. Cava should be cherished and explored just as widely as champagne and prosecco is and that might mean looking beyond the supermarket shelf. Fine cava’s can be found anywhere as long as you look for them, but the best place to find them is on the very soil of which their grapes are grown – Spain. Llopart welcome guests from near and far to try their premium variety cava’s in the Spanish Penedès to see just how delightful they really are for themselves. For more information or to book a visit, go to www.llopart.com/visitans