Cava Rules

The Cava Regulatory Board is the governing body that established the rules for growing the grapes used to produce Cava and the production of Cava. This regulatory board is under the Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs. In previous centuries, sparkling wine in Spain was referred to as Champagne. In the late 1950’s regulations for sparkling wine were established and the term “Cava” was used to designate a sparkling wine made in the traditional method.

The Cava Regulatory Board has several functions. The board’s first task is to guide, supervise and monitor Cava production and quality. Further, the board is charged with safeguarding the prestige of the term “Cava” and prosecuting improper use of that term. From a marketing point of view, the board promotes Cava and expands its market.

Regulations for Growers

Growers have to follow rules in the vineyards. The Regulatory Board makes sure that grapes used for Cava production only come from vineyard plots that are entitled to grow grapes for Cava production. There are 159 municipalities in several provinces that can grow grapes used to make Cava. These provinces include:

            Barcelona (63 municipalities), Tarragona (52 municipalities)

            Lleida (12 municipalities), Girona (5 municipalities)

            La Rioja (18 municipalities), Alava (3 municipalities)

            Zaragoza (2 municipalities), Navarra (2 municipalities)

            Valencia (1 municipality) , Badajoz (1 municipality)

Growers need to register with the Cava Regulatory Board. They must report the grape varieties they are growing and the size of the vineyard. They are required to report harvest yields when grapes are harvested and again at a winery at time of delivery. Current yields are capped at 12,000 kilograms per hectare. Growers are not permitted to harvest more than this number. There are exceptions though. To take in account the weather in a particular year, the number can be raised or lowered by 25%. This is infrequent though and has occurred only a few times in the last two decades.

The quality and quantity of grapes are also controlled, as is the destination of the grapes. Cava production takes place in different regions of Spain; however, 97,54% of the production is in and around the Capital of Cava, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The Cava Regulatory Board governs where Cava grapes can be planted and where Cava is produced.

According to the Cava Regulatory Board, only certain grape varieties are allowed for Cava production. See chapter previous chapter on “Cava Grape Varieties”

Regulations for Producers

Cava producers must report to the Cava Regulatory Board how many kilos of grapes they are receiving from growers. They should not accept grapes from a grower that has exceeded the limit. If so, the producer may not call his product Cava. Inspectors from the board test grapes for acid, brix or sugar content and overall condition.

In addition to registering with the Cava Regulatory Board, Cava producers must follow specific winemaking protocols. For example, only 66% of the juice from the first press may be used in Cava production. This includes the free run juice and juice obtained from gently pressing the grapes. The additional juice from the pressing may be used for table wine production or sold to other industries such as the spirits industry, rubbing alcohol industry or vinegar industry. Although additionally pressed juice may be used for a table wine, it cannot be used for a wine that has a DO designation. If a producer only takes juice from the first 50% of the first press, the producer is not permitted to press to 66% to make another DO wine. Only one DO wine can be made from a pressing of each grape.

Once the wine is made there are a number of regulations that producers must meet prior to the start of the secondary fermentation. These include:

  • An alcohol level between 9.5% and 11.5%
    • Overall acidity greater than 5.0 grams per liter
    • Real volatile acidity less than 0.6 grams per liter
    • Overall sulphur dioxide greater than 140 milligrams per liter
    • pH between 2.8 and 3.3

The Board inspects a producer’s base wines and analyzes it in order to ensure quality and the above data. If for example, a producer makes a base wine that is 13% alcohol, the regulatory board will refuse the wine and it cannot be used to make Cava. Likewise if the acid is off, the board will also refuse to allow the wine to be made into Cava, although the producer has a second chance to correct the acid levels bringing them into acceptable ranges.

Producers blend the base wines and add a mixture of sugar, yeast and wine to the coupage in each bottle. This sugar and yeast ferment to produce the carbon dioxide gas. Since the gas cannot escape the bottle during this secondary fermentation, it diffuses into the wine causing the bubbles when the bottle is opened. Pressure levels in the Cava bottle are over 3.5 bars and for half bottles, 3.0 bars. The final alcohol level of the Cava will increase to between 10.8% and 12.8%.

Another control point is the cap placed on the cava bottles prior to the secondary fermentation. These caps must be date stamped to ensure that minimum monthly aging is followed.

Regulations Help Consumers

The regulatory board has to approve labels, which in turn helps consumers purchase the type of Cava they want to purchase. Particular words on a label provide consumers with information about what is in the bottle. All these rules enable Cava to be the only sparkling wine in the world to have the name “Cava” on the label.

Consumers should take a moment to read the label on a bottle of Cava they plan to purchase. There is a great deal of information about the Cava in the bottle. Consumers can learn about the minimum amount of time the Cava was aged before disgorgement and the sweetness level ranging from no sweetness to sweet. Key terms identify these concepts.

Consumers learn that some Cavas are aged, during secondary fermentation, for a shorter time than others. Rules govern the minimum amount of time for aging. A Cava with simply the label “Cava” was aged for a minimum of nine months. This aging refers to the amount of time during secondary fermentation and aging on the lees before the wine is disgorged. A “Reserva Cava” has been aged a minimum of 15 months. A “Gran Reserva” has seen a minimum of 30 months. The designation of a Gran Reserva may only appear on a dry cava such as Brut Nature, Extra Brut or Brut. If Gran Reserva is on the label, the label must also list the year of the harvest. Cava is the only sparkling wine in the world which holds the Gran Reserva category.

Type of CavaMinimum Aging
Cava9 months
Cava Reserva15 months
Cava Gran Reserva30 months
Cava de Paraje Calificado 36 months

The words Cava, Reserva and Gran Reserva tell consumers the minimum time the Cava was aged.Other phrases on the bottle label indicate the range of sugar or sweetness in the Cava. The driest of all Cavas is a Brut Nature that has between 0-3 grams of residual sugar per liter. Almost as dry is the Extra Brut with between 0-6 grams of residual sugar per liter. Brut refers to a Cava that has between 1-12 grams of residual sugar per liter. Extra dry has a range of 12 to 17 grams of residual sugar per liter. Of these four classifications, some consumers find it difficult to pick out any sweetness in the taste. A Dry Cava has between 17 and 32 grams of residual sugar per liter. Some people may notice a hint of sweetness. Most wine tasters can recognize the sweetness in a semi-dry and sweet Cavas. A Semi-Dry Cava has a range of 32 to 50 grams of residual sugar per liter while a sweet Cava has over 50 grams of residual sugar per liter. Sparkling wines made during the nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries were sweet. The very dry sparkling wines are a more recent trend of sparkling wine enthusiasts who enjoy Cava with food. Note that these regulations are the regulations by the European Union for all sweetness levels of sparkling wines.

Cava Sugar Content

NameGrams of sugar per liter
Brut Nature0 – 3
Extra Brut0 – 6
Brut0 -12
Extra Dry12 – 17
Dry17 – 32
Medium Dry32 – 50
SweetOver 50

Other information on a Cava label includes the brand or bodega where the Cava was made and data such as harvest year, alcohol content and whether the Cava is a rosé. The capacity of the bottle is also stated. The back label also contains useful information for the consumer and contains a legal notice such as “contains sulphites.” Look for information about the grape varieties in the blend. Some bodegas also list the percentage of the grape varieties in the blend such as Xarel.lo 60%, Macabeo 20% and Parellada 20%.

Other information on the back label may include disgorging date, tasting notes and serving temperature. The disgorgement date is important for consumers; however, this is relatively a new consumer demand and the sparkling wine industry is slow to respond. Generally, after a Cava is disgorged, it is corked, labelled and sold. The disgorgement date gives consumers an idea of how long the bottle was in the distribution channel including on a wine shop’s shelf.

Some consumers may notice a four-pointed star on the bottom of the cork. The star is an indication that the Cava was made using the traditional method. The star on the cork is not compulsory and does not necessarily mean quality.

Promoting Cava

One of the regulatory board’s missions is to promote Cava. There are a number of activities and events that the Cava Regulatory Board undertakes to promote Cava both on a national and on an international level. The majority are aimed at traditional and online media, sommeliers, restaurants and boutique wine shops. Activities include Press Trips, Cava and food matching events, Master Classes and gastronomy events. Another strategy underway is to appeal to the young (25 + year old) market by creating Cava cocktails for evening enjoyment.

The Future

The Cava Regulatory Board is not a static organization. New rules are considered. In 2014 a new category of Cava was suggested – “Cava de Paraje Calificado” (Single State Cava) – and has since been approved.

Under this new category the DO Cava aims to group only those Cavas which are produced in specific settings “small area especially licensed as extraordinary and unique due to its climate and soil characteristics

Cavas produced from wines in such estates and comply with the quality requirements in both the production and making process will be able to use the term Cava de Paraje. Such Cavas will be branded as “having renowned excellence, be of remarkable standing and be successful in the market”. The regulations governing the production of this new Cava are very strict in terms of number of hectares, time on the lees and so on.

The Cava industry may well seem heavily regulated with rules applying to the vineyard, to the winery and bottle labeling. Ultimately, these rules help the consumer. When a Cava is purchased, the buyer has information about the Cava before the cork is popped.

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