Raventos i Blanc: the history and future of sparkling wine
If you’re like me, your first introduction to “cava” probably involved it being called “Spanish champagne.” However, cava is not champagne and according to EU law cannot be referred to as such. So we can safely call it “sparkling wine” from Spain produced under the DO Cava. But where exactly is DO Cava within Spain? It’s in Catalunya, Aragon, the Basque Country, Castile and Leon, Extremadura, Navarra, the Valencian Community, and even Rioja. I hope that clears up the subject.
Rest assured, knowing there’s even a Spanish law “limiting” cava production to just these 8 regions, how does this make cava something special?
Perhaps this inability to map cava’s location as you can Champagne, plus the apparent concentration on high production rather than quality by several big producers of cava in Spain is why I became acquainted with the product in the first place. Typically, most people that I know reach for cava when you can’t afford the “good stuff.” It also has everything to do with why Raventos i Blanc decided to leave the DO Cava in 2012.
Who is Raventos i Blanc? So glad you asked!
To put it literary allegory, the Raventos family was the unknowing Dr. Frankenstein to the monster cava has become. In 1659, Miquel Raventos married Anna Codorniu (name sound familiar?), merging the two Catalan wine growing families. More than 200 hundred years later, in 1872 Josep Raventos Fatjo returned from travels to Champagne, introduced the “methode traditionelle” using the native Xarel·lo variety and made the first “cava.”
Then in 1888 Manuel Raventos Domenech began creating with two other native varieties, Macabeu and Parellada, in addition to Xarel·lo in what would become known as the Penedes sparkling wine formula. At the end of the 19th century, he also ordered the construction of what is now known as the Codorniu cellars near the vineyards in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia because he believed close proximity to the grapes was necessary if the family was going to continue improving the quality of its sparkling wines. By this time, the was already producing approximately 100,000 bottles a year, under several different brands.
Somewhere between then and the 1980s the family business turned into a massive corporate company, with the focus moving to ever increasing production and profitability, shadowing the Raventos importance on quality. After continued efforts to push for a return to focus on quality, Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc, in charge at the time, was pushed out by the company his family built. So in 1984, Josep with his son, Manuel Raventos, decided to take the original estate owed by the family since 1497 and founded Raventos i Blanc; literally across the road from the Codorniu operation.
Soon Manuel would take over, but continued to honor his father’s wish to see the family return its focus on producing quality cava first, confident the recognition and success would follow. Based on my experience at Raventos i Blanc, I would say this is definitely still happening to this day.
I’ve had the personal pleasure of sitting with Manuel. Not only did he share with me his family’s history and wine, but went into great detail about his father’s dream to re-establish the closest connection between the family and nature as possible to produce honest sparkling wines, as a comparable alternative to champagne. By further moving the business towards a committed biosynergic form of viticulture, Manuel has helped realize Josep Maria’s dream of producing impeccable single estate sparkling wines truly expressive of the native varieties and land on which they grow.
Now, 21 generations later, Manuel’s son Pepe Raventos is running the show. The recognition and success has followed, but there is still something missing. The name cava is no longer fitting for a producer now making some of the best and most unique sparkling wines in the world. Cava has become widely associated with high volume production, lower viticultural standards, and a “region”that can only be called “Spanish.” It connotes something inferior to champagne. Can it be considered a rival to champagne if it has such variety and wide availability?
For these reasons, Pepe decided Raventos i Blanc was better served leaving the DO Cava, and did in 2012. He recognized there is a great opportunity in today’s market for truly high quality wines representing and transmitting the commitment. The respect to the land and climate from which they come is another important element. He also realized the opportunity couldn’t be seized under the label “cava” based on the current production regulations of DO Cava.
Raventos i Blanc focuses on four brands of sparkling wine. Manuel Raventos, named after the current president, is his personal selection of the best wines of the vintage from Xarel·lo and Parellada. De La Fincais from the historical vineyard which has been in the family for centuries, incorporating Xarel·lo, Macabeu, and Parellada. De Nit, is a unique sparkling wine with 5% Monastrell, giving it the colour and complexity, while augmenting the personality of the Macabeu, Xarel·lo, and Parellada present. Last is L’Hereu which is their introductory sparkling, taking the native Xarel·lo, Parellada, and Macabeu varietals in more affordable price point. Raventos i Blanc also produces four still wines – Extrem, Silencis, Isabel Negra, and La Rosa.
So what then do we call Raventos i Blanc? It is now the dream of Pepe and the family to establish a new DO named after the region in which it owes so much to, Conca Del Riu Anoia. While the old rules previously established by the DO Cava and CRC will still be followed, any and all joiners of the new proposed DO Conca Del Riu Anoia must all meet the following additional criteria:
1. All grapes must be grown within the Valley of the Anoia River.
2. The wine must be 100% estate produced and bottled.
3. A minimum of 80% of the wine must be estate grown.
4. The estate must practice 100% organic and biodynamic viticulture.
5. Only native varieties may be used.
6. Every wine must be vintage.
7. Every wine must be aged for at least 18 months on the lees.
With these requirements Raventos i Blanc realize they have set the bar high, but they have to if they are going to set out to establish the new DO prestigious enough to rival champagne. Call them contentious, call them crazy, just don’t call them cava. To do so would be like calling FC Barcelona just another Spanish football club (ed. Michael is a rabid FC Barcelona fan).
After finally getting my head around what and where is cava, I now have to relearn much of what I have learned. I’m okay with this. The term “cava” was only officially adopted by Spanish sparkling winemakers in 1970 to avoid confusion with champagne. In this sense, given the stigma following the name “cava” today, it serves champagne more to avoid it being confused than it does to distinguish it. When you look at it this way, it’s no wonder why Raventos left. This makes me think maybe we need a few new DOs for sparkling wine in Catalunya.
The Raventos family has history, reputation and passion on its side. Combine those elements with blessed natural resources and its commitment to them — to produce truly top caliber sparkling wines — I believe the new dream will come true. While they’re going it alone for now, the door is open for all those in the Anoia River Valley to join them; even those old friends, the neighbors across the road, could join up with the Raventos i Blanc initiative. While the family’s history is long, it sees no benefit in drumming up the past. There’s a song by the band Grand National which sums it up: