Another day, another wine tour! This time, we learnt about the art of making cava. Artcava have their own free camping aire on-site with beautiful views of their vineyards and the Montserrat mountain range. On a clear day, you can also see the Pyrenees. We later found out that it is these mountains that help to make the Penedès region perfect for growing grapes for cava. The mountains stop most of the rain and the cold from reaching the region, and so the grapevines have adjusted accordingly, with their roots growing to 5-6 metres long. They have roughly 300 days of sun every year and are not allowed to irrigate the land as they would produce too much crop and create too much wastage.
In the mid 1860s, French vineyards were wiped out by an infestation of bugs from America and they were unable to make champagne as a result. The Spanish went to their vineyards, found out about the champagne making process and started making cava (then called champagne). The main difference between French champagne and Spanish champagne was that the French had to add sugar to their champagne, whereas the Spanish grapes were so sweet anyway, there was no need to add sugar. However, the French champagne business got up and running again and they realised how much business they were losing to the Spanish. Nowadays, under EU law, champagne has Protected Geographical Status and can only be made in France.
The Catalan word 'cava' means 'cave'; the wine cava got its name from the ageing process which takes place in a cave/cellar. This ageing process takes a minimum of 9 months. Bottles lie flat during this time and are not moved (a different process to the Rioja wine we saw being produced). Once aged, it takes a total of 24 days for wine to be turned (a little each day) from horizontal to vertical (neck-down) as shown below.
The sediment is then in the neck of the bottle. So how do they get it out? The fermentation process creates so much pressure that you wouldn't be able to take the lid off without creating an explosion! The answer: they freeze the very top of the cava and take out the sediment that way. You can see the freezing machine below. Upside-down bottles are put in here, the top section of the neck is frozen and then you can open it safely and remove the sediment in a frozen block.
We finished the tour off with some cava tasting. We learnt that you only have bubbles in cava because of imperfections in the glass. So the more you 'cheers', wash and scratch a glass, the more you'll see the bubbles.