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What’s Under that Tinfoil Anyway? History of the Cava Placa or Chapa

I assume that you’ve never paid attention to the top of your cava bottle before, typically tossing them in the garbage without a second thought, but if you have one lying around, take a peak at it. This may require you to remove the foil neatly decorating the bottle, but it’s worth it. What do you see?

If the winery takes that extra step in their cava production, you more than likely will see a little picture or logo on the top of the cap. Called a “placa” in Catalan, these little caps are notorious for magically disappearing at any cava festival throughout the Penedes. As you walk from stand to stand, you notice tiny hands slowly creep around your leg and up to the table where, SWIPE, what once held a shiny reflection on the table, now shows only the indentation of where the placa once stood. These little munchkins are masters at thievery, knowing full well that each placa are worth their weight in gold, as they are highly valued collector’s items.

Historically, metal caps were feebly secured onto a bottle of sparkling wine by only a string, but in nineteenth century, Adolphe Jacquesson, the French producer of Châlons-sur-Marne, came up with a brilliant idea. Recognizing that closures were often porous, incapable of creating a hermetically sealed bottle, Jacquesson sought a way to keep his wines from losing their original character and aroma. Whereby in 1844, he not only invented a plug that overlapped the circumference of the bottle opening, but also a specially designed machine that drove the plug into the neck of the bottle. Our man was clever!

First dilemma down, one to go! Having solved that pesky problem of oxygen sneaking into his wines, the second issue was how to secure his new creation. Admitting that twine was a rather archaic idea, as wineries were often subject to temperature changes that altered the amount of pressure within a bottle, Jacquesson found an array of popping closures strewn across his winery floor. Inspired by lost cava and the orchestra of popping bottles, he racked his brain while staring pensively at large white reflectors dangling from the walls to refract incoming light onto the winery floor. “Eureka!” he shouted in his heavy French accent as he ran over to a pile of unused reflectors. Cutting a small circle out of the plate, he placed it onto the bottle and secured it with a wire muzzle. Undoubtedly impressed with the effectiveness of his new invention, on November 11th, 1844, Jacquesson registered for his own patent. It’s said that the report on the patent assumes that closures could be made of anything that is both rigid and hard such as, tin, copper, brass or even ceramics, porcelain, hard wood, ivory, bone, horn or boiled leather. However, the patent goes on to report that tin is to be considered the most effective and affordable.

Pol Roger's Vintage Cap

Now comes my favorite part of the article! Let’s take a closer look at the caps in descending order, each title with their given Spanish name. The very first placa located at the top of the top of the page was created in the early XXth century, small and thin; this was considered the most effective placa of its day. But as we continue down the page, we see the evolution of the placa both changing in size and thickness. At one point, the cap also gained four small holes to better secure the muzzle to the bottle. By the early seventies, an engraved letter suddenly appeared on the very top several caps, corresponding to one of three major cava producers: Codorniu, Delapierre and Rondel. The purpose of the letter was to identify which producer was responsible if there was a problem detected in the wine.

Culturally, the obsession to collect a placa can be traced back to the French inventor, Pol Roger, who in 1906 used a lithograph to customize a champagne top with the vintage of the wine. Gradually, it dawned upon other manufactures that these cheap, small discs were the perfect promotional tool, leading to caps printed with the producer’s coat of arms or logo. It wasn’t for another sixty years, however, that the Catalans got on board, and printed the Bargalló Sant Sadurní d’Anoia signature on behalf of Castellblanch.

Currently, you can find just about any design, from old black and white photos to classic calligraphed monograms, printed on the cap. And like school baseball teams who seek the support of a local restaurant or shop, Placa Club members will display their century old collections in every bar, restaurant or community center available to the public.

Sadly, our collection is rather pathetic at the moment, a particle board adhered the the wall with a slight dusting of placas, beer crowns and corks. One day, we may get our acts together and create a massive placa lamp, but for now, we’ll have to settle for a bowl filled with reflecting metal spheres just waiting for the mischievous nature of our cat, Txarli, to create a game of kitty hockey.

Cheers,
Gabriella

  • Bill

    A toast to your health, and that of your placa collection!