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IWINETC 2016: Gramona Cava- Propelled to Top by Historical Accidents

Posted: Thursday, 12 May 2016 16:22


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IWINETC 2016: Gramona Cava- Propelled to Top by Historical Accidents

May 12: DO Cava in Catalonia produces about 250 million bottles of Cava, Reserva and Grand Reserva out of which barely 2% are the top quality Grand Reserva with Bodega Gramona alone making about 500,000 making it one of the ultra- premium Cava producers, thanks in part to a couple of historical accidents that propelled it to this league, writes Subhash Arora who visited both the wineries and biodynamic vineyard, where he met Jaume Gramona, his sister Merce and had lunch with Xavier Gramona, Vice President and the international face of Gramona

Click For Large ViewCava, the ubiquitous bubbles of Spain that once trailed only champagne in terms of sales, is made with the Traditionelle Method (second fermentation in the bottle) and must have a minimum of 9 months of ageing on the lees (the dead yeast after fermentation that still adds character to the wine in the bottle). Reserva must spend a minimum of 15 months and the Grand Reserva 30, making them progressively better in flavour and texture but also more expensive due to storage costs. Many producers keep them even longer. Gramona keeps the lees contact for 3 years and goes all the way  to 12 years on some labels. The Gramona Grand Reserva Tres Lustos 2008 I tasted in the Grand Tasting of 8 Cavas by Sarah Jane Evans MW at the International Wine Tourism Conference (#iwinetc) in which I participated as a Speaker last month, was one of my top two favourites.

Click For Large ViewXavier Gramona is the younger cousin of Jaume Gramona who manages the company under the tutelage of the patriarch uncle of Xavier, and father of Jaume, as the winemaker President of the company. He tells me over the excellent lunch that their great-grandfather was a wine merchant who decided to start making base wine for Cava in 1881. He got lucky accidentally because of a historical happening.

First Accident

‘Phylloxera hit France including champagne in around 1872. Xarel.lo was even then known as an excellent Spanish grape variety for making sparkling wine that would age well. The champagne producers were devastated by the louse disease and turned to Spain for base wine. My grand-father hit the jackpot by selling it to them. Later, when phylloxera hit Spain as well in around 1892, he had made good money and also thanks to French, we were ready to transform the grape cultivation. He had the option of either continuing to make wine from the deteriorating grape quality and milk the champagne producers till the vines caved in- or uproot the vines and plant new ones on the grafted root-stock. Thankfully he chose the latter option,’ says Xavier as I polish off the plateful  of most delicious Calamari at the Bravo Restaurant at Hotel W in Barcelona where I tasted several premium Cavas with him over lunch in including my favourite Lustros Grand Reserva.

Second Accident

Click For Large ViewThe second accident of history was at the end of the Second World War in 1945. There had been a civil war in Spain from 1936-40 and we could not sell a bottle of our high quality Cava. Followed by 5 years more of the war meant we had unsold stock of around 9 years production! With Champagne massacred during the war, the producers turned once again to Spain and loved our Cava. We also came to realise that the secret of making ultra premium Cava was to keep it on the lees for a longer period. That’s how we focused on Grand Reservas with most of our Cavas being on the lees for over 36 months,’ concedes Xavier with a smile.

Visiting the wineries

Earlier, I visited the original winery that was built in 1881 in the town of Sant Sadurni; Gramona was one of the first producers of Cava. Till 1921 there was no change in the infrastructure when a part of the winery was extended to handle added production requirements, says Jaume Gramona who had come to meet me personally at the winery even though it was a Saturday when he does not normally work. I was most impressed with the changes they carried out in the winery from 1973 to 2001 including the extension of the 3 storied underground caves. Instead of extending the winery  they went for a new winery at the outer edge of town which I visited later, before going for lunch.

Click For Large ViewAs he showed me this old winery with thousands of bottles of Grand Reserva resting on the lees, Jaume told me he had studied winemaking in Burgundy and Champagne and wanted to start making only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which had been allowed to be used for Cava in the 1970s thanks to the efforts of bodegas like Codorniu. His father agreed reluctantly but told him to classify and store them in a different cellar. About 8-10,000 bottles of each are produced each year and they are stored in a separate area.

I was most impressed and touched when he showed me the 100-year old Solera of Licor de expedición- the grape reserve dry wine used to fill the gap created at the time of disgorging, to maintain the final product as Brut Nature (around zero sugar). Apparently, this is an honour bestowed on special guests. The golden brown colour and the flavours momentarily took me to Jerez where Palo Cortado Sherry is always my preferred choice.

Total of about 600,000 bottles of cava and 400,000 bottles of still wines are produced by Gramona. Over 90% are made as Grand Cava with maturing on lees generally for over 36 months- balance are mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rose etc. Xavier believes that Cava from the three indigenous varieties when produced with long ageing on lees are the real answers to champagne and show a beautiful expression of their terroir. ‘Anyone can make excellent quality sparkling wines. One requires patience and perseverance with experience. There is no reason even India cannot make excellent sparkling wines using Traditional Method. They have to be patient and use the local experience to improve the quality constantly,’ he says.

Click For Large ViewIt is an open secret that several ultra premium producers of Cava have left the Consortium of Cava producers, or are threatening to leave, since they believe Cava has become a uncontrolled, cheap commodity over the years. One such producer who left the Consejo Regulador del Cava a few years ago was Raventos i Blanc, a historical and iconic producer (being imported by Aspri till last year). Although Jaume wasn’t comfortable answering my query whether Gramona had threatened to quit too, but I did learn through my sources that they had thought about it but the Consejo had promised to take a positive action within a definite time frame.

I met Jaume later in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where he was also a fellow judge at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB 2016). He confirmed to me that the new regulations are finally being announced on May 24. Several changes will be announced on that day, with the new Classification as ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado’, meaning "qualified single-estate Cava". The rules governing the single-vineyard quality designation will also include specifics of climate and soil and production methods, including a 36-month aging period, against the 30 months for the Grand Reserva.

Click For Large ViewMany brands have produced ultra-premium single vineyard Cavas for decades. Once the wines are approved, they can be immediately released on the market-Gramona being one of them. Juvé & Camps, Cavas Recaredo and Casa Sala, the historic estate of Freixenet are expected to join the new ranks, according to my sources.

Vishal Kadakia of the Wine Park has been importing Gramona for over a year now. He imports Gramona La Cuvée Gran Reserva 2011 and Gramona III Lustros Gran Reserva 2007, both premium and ultra premium Cavas. Lustros is aged for 7+years on lees. It will be interesting to see if Lustros gets the prestigious new label Gramona Cava de Paraje Calificado!

Gramona is definitely the most under-rated Cava or a sparkling wine in India. Although it is comparable to the best of regular NV champagnes or some Prestige Cuvees, the indifference is primarily because of lack of education and poor perceived positioning of Brand Cava. One may need to think about the taster Neal Martin of Wine Advocate, who considers Gramona unquestionably the most impressive portfolio of Cavas that money can buy. Eric Asimov of The New York Times says it reminds him of great champagnes. Andrew Jefford of Decanter (featured elsewhere in this issue of delWine) says, ‘Gramona is more sumptuous and refined than I ever dreamed a cava could be’.

I feel it is unfair to compare Gramona Grand Reserva Cava with champagne, but for the discerning palates, Gramona is perhaps the best alternative to champagne, at less than half the price and you drink Spanish Terroir.  

Subhash Arora

For earlier article click IWINETC 2016: Cava –The ‘Champagne’ of Spain

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