Sustainability in the world of Cava

Wed, 23 Sep 2020 |
D.O. Cava

Why our bubbles also want a better world

“Sustainability is a concept that has had a strong presence in the winemaking world since the beginning of the 21st century, as a result of the environmental and social problems that humanity has been facing for several decades now." Thus begins the chapter dedicated to sustainable viticulture in the first volume of the elBulliFoundation's Wine Sapiens.

The word appears in the first book of this ambitious collection, alongside others such as ecology, biodynamics, permaculture and integrated production, thereby verifying its significance. These mentions are followed by some examples of regulations relating to this field by pioneering countries such as New Zealand, where some wineries committed to sustainable agriculture in the last century (1995), and South Africa, where many wineries have shown the seal of sustainability since early 2000.

Although Wine Sapiens features no further specific examples of organic winemaking, due to its universal nature, I am confident that if it had, Cava would probably have played a prominent role. This is not just my opinion - the numbers bear me out. Almost 40,000 of the 113,000 hectares of vineyards in Spain certified as organic (data from 2019) belong to the Cava Designation of Origin (D.O.), a number that has risen exponentially in recent years. But that is not enough. The word “sustainability” goes far beyond ecology, as Cava understands very well.


Guarda Superior goes all-organic

A large number of the D.O. wineries have been making progress in this area for years, and I'm going to mention a few of them, but let me also say that many initiatives have been introduced recently by wineries in order to meet this important challenge. Now a major change is coming, proposed by the Regulatory Board, with the consensus of the whole sector.

These regulations will introduce new requirements for labelling Cava “de Guarda Superior” - in other words, a Reserva, Gran Reserva or Cava de Paraje Calificado: the grapes from which these Cavas are made must be grown in certified organic vineyards. As we explained in the presentation of Cava's economic data report, the organic Cava category continued to experience a spectacular increase in production in 2019 (+31.51%), demonstrating the consumer's continued interest in organically produced wines.

Spanish wine and environmental responsibility

We have already said that the concept of sustainability in wine goes much further than organic Cava, and that additional evidence of this already exists outside the scope of the D.O. The Spanish Wine Federation (FEV), whose projects include the WfCP (Wineries for Climate Protection) certificate, has set us on this path. This is the first and only specific certification for the wine sector in terms of environmental sustainability, focused on continuous improvement by taking action in four fundamental areas: the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, water management, waste reduction, and energy efficiency and renewable energies.

Several of the Cava D.O. wineries are already WfCP certified, while others are in the process of certification. The initiative, which started to take shape in 2011, has been operating since 2015, and represents another step forward in corporate and social responsibility. This is now considered an added value for customers, suppliers and consumers alike, as explained by the FEV.

But what does all this mean? The answer is neither short nor simple; we cannot reply with one specific action, or by relying only on the new regulations and the action of a few wineries. Sustainability has to be a philosophy that involves the entire D.O. and the complete process, from vineyard to bottle. So why not join me for a brief tour of sustainability in the world of Cava, by following the winemaking process...

And this process begins in the vineyard...

where the word “organic” takes centre stage. We have already said that using grapes grown organically will be one of the requirements for Cava de Guarda Superior, but also for those who want to mention zoning on the label. One of the D.O. wineries that has pioneered ecological production and also made improvements and progress, in the broadest sense, is Alta Alella.

The new generation, led by Mireia Pujol-Busquets, always has the concept of sustainability in mind, not as a bet on the future, but rather as a core belief:

Saying that we are committed to sustainability falls short. We do everything in our power to incorporate these types of improvements into the winery. When we started in 1991, we made a commitment to organic farming, which we consider to be the first step towards reducing the impact on the environment.
Mireia Pujol-Busquets

2. Celler (ext.) fons vinyes.jpg

This desire has led the winery, along with two others, to launch an ambitious project that starts from the vineyard, creating native varieties that are resistant to climate change under the acronym VRIACC.

If plants that are resistant to diseases such as oidium and mildew can de developed, then copper and sulphur usage in the vineyard will be cut, thereby reducing soil compaction, and consequently both machine intervention and waste as well. The aim is also to make these plants more tolerant of drought, adapting them to the effects of climate change. Manual harvesting, water management (drip irrigation), pest management, reduced soil erosion, and restricted use of chemicals, are some of the other measures considered in the vineyard to lessen the impact on the environment.


From the vineyard, the grapes enter the winery...

and here the effort is magnified, in both the smallest and the largest wineries. Photovoltaic panels produce solar energy for self-sufficiency, including for cooling the cellars, as in Vins el Cep. This winery has also adapted its working day to the hours of sunlight, thereby reducing emissions.

Another good example is Sumarroca: with the same installation, plus the replacement of light bulbs, this winery achieved a 24% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions caused by electricity consumption in the first year.

Paneles solares de la bodega Pinord

This desire to improve, as well as the fact that larger companies have no excuse for not contributing to sustainability, is also evidenced by a historic company in the heart of the Penedés region. The Pinord winery’s recent change of location has been led by the concept of sustainability. Its new, large premises - the winery sells more than 3 million bottles a year, half of which are Cava - is fitted with photovoltaic panels (with longer-lasting, less polluting lithium batteries) and geothermal energy, making it almost entirely self-sufficient. During the grape harvest period, however, cooling equipment is used that requires generators.

And the consumer gets it in a bottle

The weight of the Cava bottle is a disadvantage that for years has hampered the reduction of glass usage and greenhouse gas emissions in the production process. But while the bottle does need to be heavier than one containing still wine, in order to withstand the pressure of bubbles, the determination to improve by many wineries in the D.O. means that we are increasingly close to a solution. Companies such as Parés Baltà, Sumarroca and Codorníu have been working along these lines for some time, with impressive results: according to Codorníu's calculations, an 11% reduction in the weight of a Cava bottle can reduce emissions by 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, thus lessening the environmental impact.

Among other new commitments made by the D.O. wineries are the use of recycled or compostable materials, both in terms of the bottles and the packaging (recycled paper, non-polluting inks, plastics of vegetable origin, etc.).

Our commitment to consistent improvement and quality will not cease. The Cava Protected Designation of Origin stands as a guarantee of the territory, landscape and economic sector. Therefore, from the Regulatory Board we will continue to support all initiatives aimed at reducing the footprint of our activity on the environment, as well as supporting the sustainability of the sector. Our search for excellence must coexist with respect for a terrain and heritage that will be passed on to future generations.

Cava is a product closely linked to land and climate. Only one harvest a year, at the mercy of nature's will, and a lifetime to enjoy it. But in order for this to happen, we must take care of our environment; the commitment to do so, in terms of Cava production, continues to be in our hands.

Javier Pagés, President of the D.O. Cava

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