By Sunny Brown on October 1, 2008
Category: Winery of the Month
What a crazy thing that family is. Family is there for you when the highs are high and when the lows are unbearable. Family knows when you make a joke, or when you are not feeling well, or when you need either a swift kick or a broad shoulder to cry on, or perhaps both at the same time. Family is what allows us to shed our inhibitions and reach for the stars for we know that its loving embrace will be there to catch us should we falter. It is what drives us further, and faster, and batty-er than anything else out there, and without it we would be lost.
Josep Pepé Raventós knows a thing or two about Family. He is the L'Hereu of the Raventós clan, a term that has many meanings: Inheritor, provider, proprietor. He is the captain of the Raventós ship, so to speak. As the eldest son of the Raventós family he is resposible for the direction of his family's winery. The quality of the wines, the success of the brand and the financial viability of the entire operation all rest on his shoulders. But it doesn't stop with just the day to day operations of the greatest Cava house in all of Spain. Pepé is also responsible for the finances of those in his family who are unable to work and for the children who have not yet found their way in the world. Quite a lot of responsibility for a man in his mid-thirties.
Pepé would not have it any other way.
Such is the determination and the drive, and ultimately the success of the Family Raventós. It all started in the early 1500s when Llorenc Codorniu settled on a particular patch of land in Sant Sadurní, an area located in Catalunya just to the west of Barcelona. This land was handed down generation to generation for centuries, first to those who carried the name Codorniu, and then to those who carried the name Raventós after Marie Anna Codorniu married Miguel Raventós in 1681. Seven generations later in 1872 a gentleman by the name of Josep Maria Raventós created the world's first Cava, and a dynasty was born.
The success of Codorniu was fast and furious. The winery grew and fame and fortune followed, and through it all the Raventós name carried much weight in the region. Josep Raventós Blanc, grandfather to Pepé, was instrumental in the establishment of Cava as a D.O. as well as Catalunya as a quality wine-growing region. At last Cava was taken seriously. The region was famous, the wines were selling like hotcakes, and production at Codorniu grew to the point of straining the family winery.
But through it all Josep Raventós Blanc was not satisfied. He longed for a small facility where he could craft wines of the highest distinction instead of on the large scale that Codorniu had become. And so in 1984 Josep Raventós Blanc and his son Manuel took the daring step to sell off their portion of the winery and the Codorniu empire, keeping only for themselves what they knew to be the very best vineyards on the estate. They then set about creating the finest winery that Spain had ever seen, with no expenses spared in terms of modern winemaking innovations.
Just twenty days after the creation of the Raventós brand Josep Raventós Blanc died from a heart attack after wrestling with a large Marlin while fishing off of the coast of New Zealand. A sad but fitting end for a man who had fought all his life to do things his way. In the end it was not the fight with the Marlin but his exuberance and excitement after which proved his undoing. He merely wanted to run down the deck to tell his wife of his great triumph.
His son Manuel continued on with the project in honor of his father's vision. The winery was completed, and what followed was the greatest Cava ever produced, and indeed some of the greatest sparkling wines in the world.
Fast forward a generation. Manuel made very fine wines for two decades, but the winery was in financial ruin. It had been run like a corporation instead of like a family, and the result were delicious wines that were well known within Spain, but that were not ultimately profitable nor known on a world stage. In one of his first few acts as caretaker of the Raventós estate Manuel's son Pepé was forced to remove much of the management of the winery. A difficult decision to be sure, but Pepé knew that to be ultimately successful they needed to refocus their energies and to close ranks. Each member involved in the estate had to truly love and care about the wines produced, and once that moment arrived the world would know what wonders they could produce.
What follows is a true success story. Raventós became a household name in Spain, and one synonymous with great sparkling wines throughout the world. In a recent ranking of the Top 50 restaurants in the world by Restaurant Magazine the wines of Raventós i Blanc were served at four of the top eight on the list, including Ferran Adriá's prestigious El Bulli in Spain, voted as the best restaurant in the world on numerous occasions. The wines can be found in 20 countries from as far away as Tokyo and Hong Kong to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.
There are only two wines in the world that have a long history of sparkling wine production by the Champagne Method using indigenous grape varieties grown in rocky, chalky soil high in limestone content- Champagne and Cava. It is through this exclusivity that serious Cava can be coaxed from the mix of climates found in Catalunya. The warm but moderate climate of the Mediterranean mixes with the hot but turbulent weather of the continent and a perfect harmony for grape production occurs.
However, sometimes too much of a good thing turns into not such a good thing, as of the 20 million cases of Cava produced just a few hundred thousand cases are born from the smaller houses instead of the large Cava conglomerates. It is common for grape growers to sell their grapes to the big houses instead of producing their own wines. It is also common for the large houses to buy up grapes from all over the Cava-production region, thus ensuring a product devoid of terroir, character or soul.
But not at Raventós i Blanc. All the grapes are tended and harvested by hand. Yields are kept ridiculously low through green harvests and the use of native cereals and grains as cover crops to reduce the vigor of the soils. Raventós i Blanc does not chapitalize or acidify their wines, preferring instead to allow nature to create the wines and their resulting nuance instead of crafting wines to suit their needs. Raventós i Blanc is the only Cava house that grows, tends and harvests their grapes from their own property, ferments and vinifies their wines, and then sells them under their label. Think of them as a Château in the rolling hills of Catalunya, or better yet, the only Recoltant Manipulant of Cava to borrow a phrase from Champagne.
And Grower Producer is not the only terminology lifted from Champagne. To hear Pepé speak of their Cavas is to hear of Champagne know how and innovation imbued with Spanish spirit and determination. One could close his eyes and listen and imagine that it is a farmer in Cuis or Mesnil that is doing the talking instead of a Spaniard from several leagues to the south. Only cane sugar is used in the liquer de tirage. A pneumatic press is used to gently extract the juice instead of the bitter tannins. The wines spend a disproportionate amount of time on the lees to add richness and complexity. Each of these techniques can be found in the very best of Champagne, but only the very few in Cava.
In a testament to the quality of their soil and of their vines, Raventós i Blanc was the first winery in Catalunya to be certified by the Spanish government as wholly sustainable. Care is given to preserving the life force of the vineyard at every step along the way right down to using pheromones to confuse the bugs into not procreating as a means to control their population instead of using harmful pesticides and chemicals.
In the end the result are wines of substance, of character, of charm, of grace and of spirit. Wines of uncommon richness, depth and complexity. They stand apart as wines that will challenge the best of Champagne, though with a spin all their own that the Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada grapes provide. Raventós i Blanc only produces vintage wines, as they desire to present the subtle differences that each harvest brings to highlight the diversity of Mother Nature instead of masking it through blending.
The Raventós i Blanc Brut Cava Reserva L'Hereu 2005 spent over 20 months on the fine lees, evident in the richness and round feel that this wine possesses. By contrast a certain Champagne that sells at 3x the price and has an awful orange label only spends about 12 months on the lees. The aromas range from bright green apples to white flowers to hints of toffee and brulee. On the palate this wine is round and inviting with notes of lemon curd, refreshing apples and bright acidity above a creamy and incredibly long finish. At under $25 retail this wine qualifies as an absolute steal and is a great alternative to Champagnes that offer less quality at double or triple the price.
An incredible wine, the Raventós i Blanc Brut Cava Gran Reserva de la Finca 2003 seemed to have everything that one could want to have from a sparkling wine of any style or price point. This wine spends thirty-six months on the lees, an eternity in the world of sparkling wine. High end Methode Champenoise beware, the Gran Reserva was rich, broad and wonderful, with all the balance that one could hope for in such a full-bodied sparkling wine. Aromas of baked brioche, apple tart and espresso roast mingle with lighter notes of clover honey and wildflowers. The palate is expansive, but with pleasant splashes of acidity and a crisp feel before the long finish kicks into high gear. Truly a well-made sparkling wine.
Though no tasting notes are provided hear, keep an eye out for the Elisabet Raventós named for Pepé's sister, and the Reserva Personal Manuel Raventós named for Pepé's father.
The Raventós i Blanc logo is an oak tree surrounded by parentheses and topped with an accent mark. The oak signifies the 500 year-old oak tree that quietly guards the winery courtyard. The parentheses stand for the protection and care from the family, as one member or another of the Raventós clan has tended this tree since it was merely an acorn some five centuries past. And the accent reflects the action that is brought by each successive generation in their quest to take the family and the wines to even greater heights. It is in this quest that we find the true nature and desire of the Raventós family: To remember the past while honoring the present, all the while keeping both feet in front towards the future. Oh, and producing some profound bubblies along the way.