Do you know your Corpinnat from your Cava?
Corpinnat: Sparkling wine production in the Penedes region of Spain is getting a shake up.
Reading up about the history of wine, and the autobiographies of my heroes in the wine world, it is easy to feel like I’ve missed the boat on the real earth shattering changes in wine. The rise of democratic access to wine in supermarkets, the British public’s discovery of wines from Australia, from California. These are seismic shifts which happened in the generation before mine and made careers for writers, reviewers and commentators that were able to ride the wave.
Now, as there are fewer print publications and fewer paid writing jobs in wine, it can feel like the dust has settled and little remains that is new. We become stuck on a wheel of reviewing and commentating on vintage variation. I spend my career spinning away the time until we finally have enough evidence to talk more definitively about the aging potential of screw top bottles.
Changes in the wine world
So the tale of Corpinnat has been a pleasant surprise to me. To be honest, falling pregnant has made me put this post off for much longer than I anticipated, but I have been excited to watch the machinations of the Spanish wine industry over the past three or so years.
Regular readers will know that I have been fortunate to visit San Sadurni d’Anoia on several occasions and gain a valuable and much-treasured insight into the world of Cava. This experience has set me off on something of a personal crusade. I am always trying to convert people from the devilry of Prosecco to the bubbly joys of Cava. So to hear of an imminent split in this part of the Spanish sparkling wine industry was a matter of great interest and hope for me.
The reputation of Cava
Essentially, the problem is reputation. The world is so familiar with the bulk produced, low price commercial Cava from the big three producers (names like Freixenet) that the diversity and complexity of high quality Cava is not just overlooked, it can be actively scorned. Unsurprising as the big three control something like 90% of Cava production, and undoubtedly 99% of the marketing spend.
So at first there was a push to create a tiered system – like a French Grand Cru scheme. This became the Paratge system but this did not address the fundamental problem that the DO Cava denotes a wine making method and not a geographical region, so the Paratges don’t really tell consumers anything about relative quality. It’s open to producers of all sizes and just covers individual wines not the entire winery.
The birth of Corpinnat
Six producers, joined by a further three in 2018, proposed a further stage – the collective European brand Corpinnat was registered in 2017 ‘ founded with the desire of distinguishing the great sparkling wines produced in the heart of the Penedés, from 100% ecological grapes harvested by hand and integrally vinified on the premises.’
The specific criteria placed upon this EU Trademark are such that it impossible for the Big Three to meet them, so they will never be able to use the term Corpinnat on the labels. At first it was hoped that Corpinnat could be used as an additional indicator of quality alongside the DO Cava designation. However, at the beginning of 2019 it was clear this was not the case and the 9 producers took the decision to leave the DO Cava – they will no longer use it on their products.
Who uses Corpinnat?
It may initially seem shocking that these producers can no longer use the name Cava on their labels. However, I really believe that they have taken the right decision. Seeing the response of the British public to Cava over a number of years there is a definite prejudice. It is the same prejudice that Prosecco suffered under before its meteoric rise in the past decade. It is also one which Sekt and Asti also languish with in our market place.
Corpinnat needs to market itself – and fast
I have been so lucky to taste first-hand the incredible quality of these high end producers of fine sparkling wine. If Mohammed will not come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed. They, collectively, have to start their brand all over again. Already they are more active in their marketing and reputation management than DO Cava, if one judges their websites and digital presence against each other. But that said, since the intial flurry of activity at the beginning of the year when the producers left the DO, there has been almost complete radio silence.
We were told that the first Corpinnat branded bottles would be released in the Spring. The only one I have been able to find is the Torello Costa Brava Brut. You can already see the problem – that sounds like it is going to be a poor man’s Cava! Corpinnat’s official body – The Association of Wine Producers and Growers Corpinnat (AVEC) – really need to have already sprung into action.
Perhaps they have, perhaps there is a clear strategy taking place in Catalonia, Penedes, Spain, to introduce the new brand to market. But from where I’m sitting here in the UK an opportunity is being missed. The majority of the wine buying public don’t know that fine cava could now be a thing of the past. If they knew it even existed in the first place…
There is also the converse problem for DO Cava. They might never have a high quality producer under their auspices again.
What next for Corpinnat and Cava?
The only news we have had in the interim is Corpinnat have not closed the door on rejoining DO Cava. Presumably this would depend on negotiations. Allowing both terms to be used on a bottle whilst being governed by their different rules? DO Cava has been unwilling to compromise thus far, so time will tell.
The bold move of the 9 producers is something that I applaud. Corpinnat is something I want to stand behind because I have seen the passion and dedication of the winemakers involved. We are talking about many generations of sparkling wine producers who care about quality, terroir, innovation AND preservation of tradition. They want Cava to be made with the traditional grape varieties and halt the encroachment of Chardonnay.
I see the benefits in this for the consumer. We continue to get something unique to the Penedes region. Interestingly DO Penedes has allowed the use of Corpinnat as a term on its bottles. The shelves continue to be adorned with the most beautiful quality, dry sparkling wines that Spain can produce. Mass produced fizz continues to have its place. But why must this be at the expense of diversity, flavour and interest higher up the scale?
More on this story as it happens.