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Organic farming can lead Cava producers towards a sustainable future

An increased focus on organic and regenerative farming can steer Cava producers towards an environmentally and financially sustainable future, according to experts.

The DO Cava is in the process of implementing demanding new regulations, which require all wines in the Cava de Guarda Superior category to be 100% organic by 2025.

It unveiled a new classification system a couple of years ago, which splits wines into two distinct categories: Cava de Guarda, which is aged for a minimum of nine months, and Cava de Guarda Superior.

The Cava de Guarda Superior category covers the highest quality sparkling wines from Spain, divided into three tiers: Reserva, aged for a minimum of 18 months on the lees; Gran Reserva, aged for at least 30 months; and the top tier, Cava de Paraje Calificado, aged for at least 36 months and likened to Grand Cru Champagne.

All wines in the Superior level will be produced exclusively from grapes grown in organically-certified vineyards by 2025.

‘It improves the identity of Cava, and makes people realise that it’s not just a cheap option,’ says Catarina Soares, the international sales manager at leading Cava producer Juvé & Camps. ‘It allows us to express the terroir better.’

Juvé & Camps has been 100% organic for many years, so it has not needed to implement any changes, but Soares is pleased to see more producers following suit.

‘A commitment to sustainability is very important to us,’ she adds. ‘We focus on the terroir a lot. Our objective is to preserve the landscape and all the diversity of animals and plants. Half of the estate is not farmed, and it is integrated into the site. We also do regenerative viticulture.

‘Some of our vines are more than 80 years old, and we believe that you can produce very high-quality wines from old vines if you have respect for the plants.’

Jamie Goode, an author and wine expert who recently visited a variety of Cava producers across Spain, believes that the changes can shift perceptions among sparkling wine drinkers.

‘It’s fantastic that the Cavas de Guarda Superior category is going fully organic,’ he says. ‘It gives you a brilliant talking point. No other region I know has done this.

‘Consumers are really tired of greenwashing, and so many sustainability schemes basically are greenwashing. Big companies get together and form what looks like a scientifically derived sustainability scheme, but really, it’s just rubber-stamping what they were already doing, with a few little tweaks here and there. But this is different. You can’t cheat with organics.

‘It’s very clear what organic means. Some consumers don’t understand sustainability, but they know what organic means. They’re familiar with it, and the term organic has a resonance with consumers.

‘If you can go to then and say, if you see this Guarda Superior label, it means the farming has been all organic, that’s a powerful message, because it addresses two things: the green nature of the move, the fact that it’s making these vineyards sustainable; but it’s also changing the dialogue about Cava.

‘It’s fighting that old perception that Cava is a cheap fizz and a cheap substitute that you buy when you can’t afford the others.

‘This is a wine with its own characteristics, its own intrinsic value. This is a quality region for sparkling wine, and something people need to pay attention to.’

Cava sales increased by 4.6% to 249.1 million bottles in 2022, with exports accounting for 69% of those sales. Germany, the USA, Belgium, the UK and Sweden are the top five export markets.

However, producers still need to work hard to improve perceptions of their wines and secure a financially sustainable future.

‘Ultimately, if you want farmers to farm better, you’ve got to pay more for the grapes and sell the wines for more,’ says Goode. ‘Bringing the whole region up enables everybody at every stage to be financially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable, and that has to be the goal of all these changes.

‘This is all really encouraging, and I also love the focus on regenerative practices. Organic takes you most of the way in terms of regenerative farming, and then you can start thinking about how to introduce biodiversity into the vineyard.

‘There’s a big concern now about climate chaos, and particularly the warming trends, the drier seasons. When I was there in May, it hadn’t rained for ages, and some of the vines were really struggling. Organic and regenerative farming increases the resilience of the vineyards.

‘If you have good cover crops growing over the winter, then you can mulch or roll them over the summer, which protects the soils from really high temperatures. If you increase the organic material in the soil, it improves the ability of the soil to retain water.

‘Having other things growing in the vineyard increases the ability of water to infiltrate the soil. Finding intelligent approaches for working the vineyards bodes really well for the sustainability of the vineyards and also for grape quality.’

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