Xavier Gra­mona is the gen­tle war­rior tak­ing up the fight for top-end Cava to the con­sumer. June Lee ex­am­ines why Gra­mona might be your sparkling wine of choice in 2019.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Xavier Gra­mona from Cava Gra­mona

The ur­ban slicker, white-haired fifth-gen­er­a­tion owner of Gra­mona is paci­fist by na­ture, but he’s been lead­ing a quest to im­prove Cava’s im­age for al­most two decades. Xavier Gra­mona, 59, is a man of phi­los­o­phy, who chooses his words with care and spends a good 10 min­utes prob­ing the mer­its of char­ac­ter ver­sus per­son­al­ity. Just like his ex­em­plary aged sparkling wines that can cost up to US$150, he’s not in a rush to re­veal him­self.

‘Bud­get cham­pagne’

Sparkling wine in the tra­di­tional method of Cham­pagne was made in Spain since the 1860s. It was of­ten re­ferred to as cham­pán, a prac­tice that ceased af­ter 1972 when the Con­sejo Reg­u­lador de los Vi­nos Espumosos (Reg­u­la­tory Coun­cil of Sparkling Wines) es­tab­lished the use of the word ‘cava’ in­stead to avoid dis­pute with France. Cava sim­ply means caves or cel­lars, re­fer­ring to the stor­age ar­eas

where the wine is aged be­fore it turns into a sparkling wine due to sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in the bot­tle.

The prob­lem for pro­duc­ers like Xavier is that his bio­dy­namic, hand­crafted and ar­ti­sanal Cavas share the same shelf space as $5 op­tions, pre­vent­ing the in­dus­try from mov­ing away from its cheap im­age. While the Coun­cil in 2017 an­nounced a new des­ig­na­tion of Cava de Paraje Cal­i­fi­cado, akin to a grand cru-like la­belling for spe­cific ter­roir-driven Cava, the ini­tia­tive hasn’t gone far enough for some pro­duc­ers.

That’s why Xavier, along with pro­duc­ers Llopart, Nadal, Re­caredo, Sa­baté i Coca and Torelló, have formed a new ini­tia­tive called Cor­pin­nat. The name means “born in the heart of Penedès”, and they have banded to­gether to set strict qual­ity stan­dards with em­pha­sis on sin­gle vine­yards. Whether or not this means a move away from Spain’s de­nom­i­nación de ori­gen (DO) sys­tem is the next step – and what the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are for cus­tomers.

A bond with na­ture

Born in Barcelona but with ties to Sant Sadurni d’anoia, the cen­tre of the sparkling wine re­gion of Alt Penedes, Cat­alo­nia, Xavier didn’t come to the fam­ily busi­ness un­til the age of 35, due to cir­cum­stances which he doesn’t di­vulge. Once he left the cor­po­rate world, he found his mis­sion in life in re­vi­tal­is­ing the in­dus­try.

To­gether with his wine­maker cousin Jaume Gra­mona, they set out to reaf­firm what their great-grand­fa­ther Pau Batlle made 130 years ago when he aged the Xarel-lo wine, which was con­firmed by Josep Lluís and Bar­tomeu Gra­mona in the 1950s af­ter the house had adopted its of­fi­cial name, Gra­mona. They also over­saw the costly con­ver­sion of their or­ganic farm­ing to bio­dy­namic. They are now one of, if not the largest, bio­dy­namic sparkling wine pro­duc­ers in Spain, with a pro­duc­tion of 600,000 bot­tles a year, sim­i­lar to the size of Krug. He ex­plains, “Af­ter you ap­ply years of an­tibi­otics, the vine is no longer self-suf­fi­cient, it’s not able to de­fend it­self against in­fec­tions or dis­ease on its own. Our vine­yards have an­i­mal life that was lost be­fore, with worms, arach­nids and mi­cro­bi­otics mak­ing up the healthy soil.” Gra­mona also uses nat­u­ral yeast that gives the wine per­son­al­ity, as op­posed to the ge­net­ics of the vine which makes up its char­ac­ter. In har­mony, the wines have a dis­tinct, gen­er­ous and com­plex pro­file, which does not need much ad­di­tion of dosage, thanks to the nat­u­ral sub­tlety of the acids of their grapes.

Ar­ti­sans of time

The other fac­tor is Xarel-lo, one of the three tra­di­tional, en­demic grapes used in Cava pro­duc­tion. While Parel­lada can be ox­ida­tive and Ma­cabeo is an in-be­tween of the two, Xarel-lo is claimed to be high in resver­a­trol, a nat­u­ral phe­nol in grapes which ap­pears to give the wine a longer age­ing win­dow while im­bu­ing more bal­ance, el­e­gance and nutty, toasty flavours, thanks to nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ben­zalde­hyde. At first, the lo­cal crit­ics scoffed when Gra­mona re­leased a 10-year-aged Cava, but with ac­co­lades com­ing in from the U.K. and U.S., the same crit­ics were em­bold­ened to em­brace the new style. The Enoteca Brut Na­ture 2000 was named 2017 Best Wine in Spain in the La Guia Peñin wine guide.

Xavier and Jaume are al­ready think­ing of the next gen­er­a­tion who will take over the win­ery, which made it eas­ier to de­cide on is­sues such as go­ing bio­dy­namic that will put them in good stead in fu­ture. Af­ter all, for some of the bot­tled 2018 vin­tages, it will be 15 years be­fore it’s ready to be re­leased – some things just can’t be rushed.

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