The History of Cava Production in Catalunya

The treasures of Catalunya originate from Greek, Roman, Moorish, and Franco influences. Steeped in a rich history, the provinces of Catalunya – Tarragona, Gerona, Lleida, and Barcelona – continue to attract tourists from all over the world.

Although intermittently ruled by the French and Spanish, Catalunya gained democratic autonomy in 1980, ushering in a new era of economic and cultural growth. This period placed the nation on an international stage and the region become renowned for its Cava production.

A French-inspired Winemaking Tradition

Barcelona is typically viewed as the hub of Catalan winemaking and the birthplace of Cava sparkling wine. However, Josep Raventos sourced his inspiration for Spanish Cava from his visit to the Champagne regions of France during the early 1800s. Champaign production was introduced to Catalunya in the 1870s after Raventos invented his Spanish version at the Codorníu Winery using sparkling wine production methods.

After the European Union implemented Protected Geographical Status laws and prevented use of the name Champaign or Champán for Spanish sparkling wine, winemakers in Catalan changed the name to Cava – meaning cellar or cave. To differentiate Spanish sparkling wine from Cava, Cava wines must be produced by champenoise methods. Catalunya locals may refer to Cava as xampany, champaña, or champán.

The vineyards of Penedès originally grew red wine grapes until they were destroyed by the phylloxera plague in the mid-1800s. They were replaced by white grapes harvested for sparkling wine and Cava production. Parellada, Xarel·lo, and Macabeu grapes grown in the region are used to produce Cava, which is predominantly made in the Penedès region. In the early 1980s, Chardonnay grapes were first used in making Cava.

The village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès is worth a visit to explore the Cava production houses. Freixenet and Codorníu are the main producers of Cava blanc or rosat, with the town of Aranda de Duero housing the sole Castilian producer. Local law dictates that Cava may only be produced in the eight wine regions that include Catalunya.

Depending on grape varieties, Cava varies in dryness, with differences in the tastes of brut, seco, semiseco, and dulce. Winemakers in Catalunya pioneered the production and use of gyropallet technology to replace hand riddling, innovating a novel corking technique.

Cava is an integral part of traditional Spanish ceremonies, such as marriages and baptisms. Often consumed as a celebratory beverage, Cava is the most popular beverage at dinners, parties, and banquets. Guests to the region are immersed in the history of Cava production, Catalunyan culture, and local “Cava-sharing” hospitality.

The Cava production centre of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is only a 45-minute drive from the Sitges area and well worth a visit. Sitges Hills Villas can arrange a tour and sampling session at the world famous  Freixenet cava house. Please contact us at [email protected] for more information about our Cava tours.