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Raventos i Blanc: A Flashback to the Founding Fathers of Cava

Editor’s Note: In December of 2008, Ryan and I visited Raventos i Blanc in DO Cava for our newsletter dedicated to Spanish Cava, in addition to conducting an interview by phone with patriarch, Manuel Raventos. Consequently, we’ve decided to post the article with occasional highlights inserted in gray from my second visit last week. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to include them in the comments below.

Since the late 15th century, this 90 hectare vineyard has been passed down from generation to generation surviving war, famine, the inquisition and feud. Can you imagine owning something for 500 years? Even our largest purchase, a house, will typically last as long as our children are with us before we downsize, hoping that the remaining funds will bolster our retirement, but imagine owning a business for 9 generations!

The land was originally bought by Llorenc Cordorniu in 1497, but it wasn’t for another 200 years until the Raventos family took ownership through the marriage of Maria Cordoniu and Miquel Raventos: whereby forming a joint venture in winemaking under the Cordorniu/Raventos name. In 1872, after the quick and devastating hit by the phylloxera plague upon the region, forcing growers to rip out their entire vineyards, Josep Raventós i Fatjó used Champagne’s success in elaborating the first sparkling wine in Spain. But to do so, he had to fly hog wild in the face of tradition by producing a style other than mistela – a regional based wine produced by adding alcohol to non-fermented or partially fermented must. Miquel also planted the white indigenous varietal, xarel.lo, rather than the traditional red varietals grown before the phylloxera devastation. His intention was to find a varietal with enough structure and sugar to elaborate a quality cava.

Now you may be thinking, “Wait a second! You’ve been telling me for all this time that there are three main varietals used in the production of cava!” And you would be absolutely correct. There are three varietals, but the second varietal, Macabeo, wasn’t introduced until the mid 1920s by Manuel Raventos, adding more fruit, finesse and bouquet to their cavas. Parellada and Chardonnay weren’t utilized until decades later under the trusted leadership of Josep Maria Raventos. These men were the pioneers of the trusted trio: Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Parellada.

But let’s step back a bit, because there is key part of this story that needs to be clarified. As I mentioned, Maria Cordoniu and Miquel Raventos married, linking the two families together. When Josep Raventós i Fatjó created the first Spanish sparkling wine using the Champanoise Method, he did so under the family’s name, Codorniu. Later, in 1885, Josep’s son, Manuel Raventós Montserrat Fatjó, became the l’hereu (inheritor in Catalan) of the family business, paving the way in getting Cordoniu’s Spanish sparkling wine, then called Champagne, into the market. The tenacity of the Raventós/Codorniu family allowed Codorniu to reach the production figure of 300,000 bottles by using the latest technology. As the business grew, so did their need for grapes. In 1914, Manuel Raventós Montserrat Fatjó bought 3,500 hectares in Lleida to plant Xarel.lo grapes in order to supply Codorniu with an adequate supply to increase its production. Later, in 1927, management of the Codorníu winery in Sant Sarduni was left in the hands of his sons, most importantly, Manuel Raventos i Blanc. Of the Codorniu/Raventos property, Manuel retained rights over the vineyard, while the remainder of the estate, including the winery and main house, was left under the Codorniu name you’re currently familiar with.

It wasn’t for another sixty years before the Raventos family founded their own brand under the leadership of Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc. With a little prodding from his son Manuel, they decided to create the project together. But devastation hit the family a few months after the celebratory toast to the new winery. While Josep Maria was fishing in Australia, enjoying some time off before diving into his new winery adventure, he was pulled off the boat and drown. Although death is always difficult to cope with, when hearing this story from several people at the Raventos winery, it’s continually been told with a smile. Their feeling is that he died not only with the satisfying goal of creating his own, personal winery fresh in his heart, but he left while doing something he loved. A wish we all hope for when that inevitable day comes.

“We have the technology to produce the best grapes in different parts of the vineyards. To know a vineyard is very difficult. We need 50, 60, or even 70 years before we know the success of a new grape varietal. When I talk about tradition, I am talking about knowledge. Because we produce our grapes, we know our terroir. We know each part of the vineyard and what grape to produce in each one of those 44 parcels.”

What’s interesting to note on this last visit was their desire to gradually alter their production numbers over the next decade from 3,000 table wines and 1,500 cavas to 1,500 table wines and 3,000 cavas. The reasoning, according to the winemaker, Pepe Raventos, is “because we’re constrained by size, we know we can’t grow bigger, but what we can do is increase the number of wines we’re renowned for, cava. Our goal is to make a wine that’s different; neither better nor worst, but simply different.”

Today, Manuel Raventos, the current president of Raventos i Blanc, prides himself on producing a wine not only of the utmost quality, but with an eye towards the future. As an enologist and a viticulturist, he is concerned about the land, wanting to do his part producing an ecologically sound cava, but not for the reasons you’d imagine. Manuel believes in research. Having spent part of 20’s studying the delta of the Ebro River in southern Catalunya, Manual has seen, first hand, how nature has its own rhythm. To call yourself an ecological producer means that you’ve resigned yourself to following set regulations as determined by the regulating board. Manuel believes that many of these rules are not always made with in the best interest of the vines and the vineyard.

“We fight for balance now, and in 100 years, through research. I’m not stupid. I know that if I put ecological on my label that I’ll sell more bottles. But the objective with ecological wine is to have [accept] a religion, where everything is black and white. The objective for me is nature and the environment.”

Nature is the core of Raventos i Blanc, as seen by their 500 year old oak tree majestically housed alongside their winery. It’s the symbol of their winery and a testament of Manual’s belief that a good business is a business that accepts change. As falling leaves inevitably lead to spring buds, change is a part of life, it is part of a vineyard, and it is an essential part of winemaking. Their twenty-one year old winery is a testament to this belief. Designed by the Josep Maria Raventos and Manuel Raventos under the guidance of two innovative architects, Jaume Bach and Gabriel Mora, the winery is a seamless combination of both functionality and beauty.

Sadly, during an intense wind storm, my favorite Spanish oak tree is now lying on its side, looking battle-worn and exhausted. And although life continues to course through its ancient roots, I fear its future may be dwindling before our eyes. To imagine that a single tree has experienced the birth and death of five generations – enduring growth, decay and intense change – is mind-boggling. We see nature as separate from ourselves, incapable of empathizing or sharing our experiences, but for me, this majestic tree was the first to truly capture my heart; and trust me, I’ll shed real tears when it finally takes its last breath.

“Great conversations are had under a tree, and many great conversations were had under our oak tree. When you enter our winery, you have immediate access to our tree. It is there for all of us and it symbolizes change.”

During lunch with Manuel Raventos, alongside Japanese wineblogger, Yuko Satake; and Raventos team members, Francesc Escala and Ignasi Cortadellas,  there was a rather intense debate regarding enotourism. Currently, Raventos i Blanc does not permit tourism, unless you fall under a certain type of wine lover. From my understanding, their fear is that by letting in busloads of tourists, they’ll not only lose the personal attention they’re currently able to provide, but they’ll also attract people who aren’t truly there for the experience. As we’ve stated on many occasions on Catavino, there are few wineries in Spain who truly open their arms to tourists, allowing wine lovers to touch their soils and taste their wines first hand.

What’s more intriguing is that I walked away feeling that Raventos feared the international market associates the word “Cava” with either low end sparkling wine or with nothing at all. For me, the greatest way to combat this perceived misconception would be for Raventos to open their doors to tourism in some capacity, as well as educating the market about Spanish Cava either through their website or through social media. Better yet, why not get a group of cava producers to work as a team to educate consumers. Mind you, Raventos i Blanc is currently playing around in both Facebook and Twitter, but to date, a formal tourism plan or social media plan does not exist.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Raventos i Blanc for their time and consideration during both visits. My tasting notes for the vertical tasting of the 1999-2002 Manuel Raventos Personal Cavas can be found here. For more photos on Raventos i Blanc, please visit my Flickr gallery. I will also be posting videos on their pruning techniques in the near future.

But allow me to end this article asking: How would you suggest a winery educate consumers on a perceived misunderstood style of wine?


Gabriella Opaz

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