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December 12, 2016
Conca State of Mind
To quote Francesc Escala, “For me, I like.”
Written by Andy Pates
The Raventós family has been partners with Cream since our company began over 15 years ago. During this time, Pepe Raventós has visited Illinois many times to meet, taste and share stories with the Cream Team, members of the trade and media, as well as consumers at various events. Who cannot resist this man’s passion, knowledge, enthusiasm and charm? Many of us have also been fortunate enough to visit the Raventós i Blanc estate in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in the Penedès, just outside of Barcelona in Catalunya. This is the birthplace of Cava.
The Raventós family has been growing grapes and making wine in the region since 1497. They first made sparkling wine in the Penedès from Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada in the late 1800’s. In 1986, Pepe’s grandfather Josep, helped create the D.O. and modern category of cava that has since exploded in popularity. Today, this global Cava craze is dominated by the big cooperatives that purchase grapes, both indigenous and international, from large and small farmers from virtually all over Spain. This is the usual tale of quantity over quality: brands, boxes, millions and millions of bottles.
Three years ago, Pepe’s decision that Raventós i Blanc leave the Cava D.O. was met by much industry skepticism and consumer criticism. After all, this was the D.O. and category his family helped to create. In leaving the D.O., Pepe hoped to change the Spanish sparkling wine conversation to be about the place, farming and indigenous grape varieties and not about the method, production or marketing. This makes perfect sense to me. Why would he put so much time and energy into farming biodynamically and making low intervention wines of purity and terroir only to have them grouped with larger commercial brands. This is the grower champagne conversation that so many are gaga over and rightly so. Why can’t we have this same conversation in the Penedès?
Pepe is often quoted in saying, “If you cant change the players, change the game.” This is loosely paraphrased from “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Lost in translation aside, ‘Conca del Riu Anoia’ (Valley of the River Anoia) was born. This “declassification” also extends with open arms to growers in the valley, outside of the Raventós estate who farm organically and focus on quality over quantity. The goal is to help support the region, give attention to other quality producers and pay farmers well for their hard work and dedication to quality. Farmers have certainly responded by moving away from selling to large cooperatives and working with Raventós for La Vida al Camp and their L’hereu Blanc de Blancs. Conca is all about the growers in and around Sant Sadurní.
Conca is a state of mind and resistance to convention. The Raventós family should be celebrated and supported for taking risks that are not always popular. They are elevating the quality of sparkling wine through better farming, preservation of indigenous varietals, and maintaining sense of place and origin for sparkling wine and wine in general. These are exciting times. Over our 15-year collaboration, we have seen the evolution of Raventós i Blanc from historic, iconic producer of high quality wines and cava into a pioneer and leader of naturally farmed, terroir-driven sparkling wines that transcend the category of Cava. These wines purely express time and place. These wines sit among the top sparkling wines produced in the world.
We are very pleased to offer you the current releases of Raventós i Blanc for the holiday season. Let us know of your interest and if you would like to taste some or all of the wines. It would be a pleasure to show you. The L’hereu Blanc de Blancs is second to none in quality for dollar. Perfect for by the glass and a go-to for retailers. The de Nit Rosé is pure joy and beauty. The Finca is a selection from parcels of older Xarello from the estate. Pay particular attention to the Manuel Raventós Negra; it is blended by Pepe’s father Manuel from the tops wines of the vintage and aged no less than 72 months on the lees. The Textures de Pedra is a new and limited Blanc de Noirs of Bastard Negre and Sumoll.
Next Year Releases
Pepe is releasing natural wines under the Mas de Serral label that he and his wife Susana make in their home on the property - Ancestal Xarello, still Xarello and Bastard Negre. Zero zero goodness. They were previewed at The Big Glou in New York last February.
Cream Team Remembers Raventós i Blanc Visit 2016
It was absolutely amazing to visit a place that has been restored to the working farm it was in 1497. Though, not much needed restoring as not much has changed. Standing there among the wild poppies and grazing donkeys in the rows of old vine Xarel-lo, with the Montserrat ridge line in the distance, makes you understand why 23 generations of the Raventós family has protected and cared so graciously for this special place.
The Conca. There is no place on earth like it. According to Pepe Raventós, “The whole Conca dream is to make it about place, to make honest viticultural wine.”
While we were there, Pepe loved singing this verse from the Elvis song Suspicious Minds.
“We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much, baby”
I laughed at first, but in reflection I think it actually may have meant something to him. He is essentially caught in a trap that he created by raising the whole damn bar of Conca. To make sure the quality of wine from there is defined by its authenticity and a true sense of place. The suspicious minds are the skeptics battling his standards for quality within the valley and elsewhere. A hefty investment and challenge to live up to every day, but he is doing it with great success. In my opinion, I think there’s no place else he’d rather be than caught in a trap called Conca.
He could also just be an Elvis fan singing without subtext.
If the Alt Penedès is like a land from a time long past, then Raventós i Blanc is the perfect human companion to this special part of Catalonia. Persistent in its sense of place, storied, showy, just a touch strange, and full of wonder: that is the essence of this winery, and its larger-than-life standard-bearer, Pepe Raventós. Having worked at Cream for some time now, I always knew the drier details of what Sant Sadurní d’Anoia and its marine sediment soils, favorable climate, and historical tradition of producing some of Europe’s best sparkling wines meant on paper. I also knew that this winery is looking forward, rather bravely and well before its colleagues, to the future of what cava means, and what it cannot mean, forging a new appellation that insists on quality, place, and craft: Conca del Riu d’Anoia.
But going there this past spring, I finally got it. I breathed in the Mediterranean air, the mysterious wind of aromas from the trees, scrubby brush, and ancient fossils tucked into the same ground where grapevines are tended, lovingly, by hand and donkey hoof. I saw the jagged stegosaurus spine of holy Montserrat off in the distance at night, with tiny lights, and thought of all the centuries of pilgrims who have hiked to her summit. I dined sedately over lunch with Manuel Raventós in a salon overlooking the 500-year-old family oak tree and talked about the past. Lastly, I even sang along in a speeding minivan with Pepe to the entire first release by The Cranberries after a mind-altering, unique dining experience at Celler de Can Roca, a thoroughly modern restaurant that cannot be compared to any of its contemporaries — much like Raventós i Blanc.
Bluntly, Raventós was the first wine that gave me that “this is what makes the earth amazing, and I am in love” feeling. After four months of living off of Cristalino (I remember my first Cava), I had finally tasted what the people and soil of Conca had intended; beauty, grace, and history told.
When I first met Pepe, I felt like a teen meeting my favorite band in high school—out of place among the greatness with not enough words. But to be able to visit the land that produced the wine that helped me grow up mentally and emotionally, and to meet the people that are changing the world by not changing very much at all, was very powerful. Put simply, Pepe, his team and his ideas are contagious. True tree huggers, we could all use some of the Raventós love for land and its relationship with its animals and its people.