Mont Marçal – A Cava Producer in Penedès with an interesting story and dedication to their craft

Feb 20, 2018

With Cava sales on the rise in the U.S. since the 1970s, it’s a good time to take a look at the story of Cava and what makes it such an unstoppable sparkling wine for consumers worldwide.

Mont Marçal is the producer of Cava that is very fine in character with the tiniest most delicate bubbles, pure, precise and delicate flavors and gleaming acidity that keeps your palate refreshed. Their vintage dated sparkling wine is fashioned after the style of those made in Champagne and made using the same winemaking method as Champagne. Spanish sparkling wine, which is called Cava and named for the cellars or ‘caves’ they are aged in, is regulated by the general Cava D.O. (Denominación de Origen). The Cava Denominación de Origen outlines the guidelines that Cava must meet to call itself by this esteemed name, “Cava,” for bubbles made in Spain. One important guideline Cava producers must observe is the time the wines spend aging on the lees in the cellar, which is very similar to the guidelines of Champagne.


Cava D.O. – Grapes and Place:

The Cava D.O. was established in 1986 and, unlike other Spanish D.O.s, it has multiple geographic areas. Sparkling wine can be made in eight different regions within Spain and be classified as Cava.  However there is one region that can boast the indigenous grapes that go into their sparkling beverage; that region is called Penedès. Penedès is a region of chalky-limestone vineyard covered hills just south of Barcelona. The three main indigenous grapes of Penedès that are used to make Cava are Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada. Many Cava producers, including Mont Marçal, also use Chardonnay nowadays. As far as character of each of the grapes used to make Cava, the Xarello grape contributes structure, body and acidity. Chardonnay is known to age long and elegantly and adds character as it matures.  The Macabeo grape adds floral notes, acidity and helps tie all the grape characteristics together in the blend. Parellada is usually the smallest component of the blend and adds finesse.

But how did Spain become a country known for making sparkling wine in the same tradition as the world famous region of Champagne, France?

Mont Marçal family

How Cava came to be:

The story of how Cava was born began with a Spanish wine producing family in Catalan. The Codorníu family’s winemaking history dates all the way back to 1551. In 1872 Josep Raventós Fatjo, owner of the Codorníu vineyards along with many of his Catalan winemaking neighbors, produced red wine exclusively. However, the fate of the region was forever changed when phylloxera, a vine-killing aphid, made its way through the vineyards and scourged the red grape vines. At that time, Raventós Fatjo and many growers were forced to begin cultivating new grapevines, specifically white grapes were planted to continue their wine production. Raventós Fatjo took this opportunity to make yet another major change to Catalan wine production that would forever transform this famous region.  Like so many winemakers around the world, Fatjo adored Champagne and so he started the practice of crafting Spanish sparkling wine, now called Cava.

Cava cork
cave 2

Cava D.O. – Requirement for Aging

 Cava must be aged a minimum of nine months on lees

Cava Reserva must be aged a minimum of 15 months

Cava Gran Reserva must be aged a minimum of 30 months

Penedès – The Catalonian heart of Cava production:

Cava can be made all over Spain, but 95 percent of it comes from Penedès in Catalonia, which has a historic connection to Champagne. Interestingly enough, most cork suppliers to Champagne were traditionally Catalan. It is said by some Catalan Cava producers that after phylloxera devastated the Champagne vineyards around the turn of the 20th century, Catalonia sent still wines to Champagne, and they were used to make sparkling wines.

The wine producing zone of Penedès is named after the Catalonian region of Penedès. Vineyards cover 27,542 hectares, encompassing 47 towns and villages in the south of the province of Barcelona and 16 towns and villages in the province of Tarragona. The soils of Penedès are rich in phosphorous and low in potassium.  Rolling hills stretch from the coast to the Montserrat Mountain. In the low-lying areas, soils tend to be sandy, with more clay, lime and chalk found in the soils at higher altitudes. The vineyards in Penedès experience a cool to moderate climate, tucked between the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Though Spain can be warm and dry, this region is much friendlier to grapes destined for sparkling wine production. The cooler-than-average climate of Penedès have made it ideal for winemakers to cultivate local white grape varieties; Xarello, Maccabeo and Parellada (and Chardonnay as well) to contribute Champagne-style acidities to the base for dry sparkling wines.

Mont Marçal – The Estate and Property

Mont Marçal was founded in 1975 by Manuel Sancho, a well-renowned Spanish recording empresario, when he purchased a 19th-century convent in the heart of the Penedès region. The newly acquired convent which was originally a 14th-century farmhouse, was then converted into a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. Sancho was on his way to setting up a modern winemaking facility at this hilltop location.  At the same time, he began restructuring the surrounding vineyards.

The 30-acre estate of Mont Marçal is located on a chalky hilltop five miles south of Vilafranca del Penedès overlooking the hamlet of Sant Marçal. One hundred acres are planted to Parellada, Xarello, Macabeo and Chardonnay for white wines; Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for reds. The “Mont” is truly atop a hill with 360-degree exposure, creating a wide variety of microclimates for maturation of their many different varieties.

In Spain, it is more common for Cava producers to buy the fruit that goes into their sparkling wine. With close to 300 Cava producers in Spain, close to only ten of those producers grow grapes. Some growers argue that many Cava producers that don’t own and tend to vineyards aren’t as connected to their terroir and grape cultivation. Whether you believe that or not, it’s still great to know that Mont Marçal does own and tend to many vineyards of their own.

green diseased with phylloxera

Cava’s Growth and The Current Scale of Cava Production

Mont Marçal happens to be in the all-important region of Penedès and is among one of the major players in the world when it comes to Spanish sparkling wine.  However, Mont Marçal is not so large as to lose sight of quality or passion in the crafting their bubbly. Rather, they produce three million bottles a year. Currently, three Cava producers are responsible for 80% of the Cava made, and there are approximately 245 Cava producers in existence now. A handful of Cava producers produce more than 120 million bottles of methode champenoise sparkling wine each year.

Cava has transformed from somewhat of a well-kept secret to a “go-to beverage” for Americans over a period of 40 years. In 1976 America brought in just over 25,000 gallons of Cava; at the end of 1986, the figure was more than 3.5 million gallons, or a 140-fold increase in a decade. And today imports of Cava continue with this trend of growth!  Cava Reserva and Gran Reserva wines to the US have grown by over 50% since 2014!

Mont Marçal Grapes

Why the growth?

I have to guess that price point plays a good part. Compared to Champagne, Cava is a steal. Also, maybe Champagne-like-terroir and extended aging on the lees is attracting more Cava drinkers. Rich and yeasty, toasty yet elegant, Cavas are very alluring and earn the appreciation of more wine drinkers and sommeliers within the U.S. today.

The answer to why more Americans are downing greater quantities of Spanish bubbles is probably very simple: They love how Cava tastes. That’s the most important factor when it comes to wine anyhow, isn’t it? The fact that some of us have more insight into why Cava is such a high quality beverage is our own advantage and great story we can share if anyone wants to know more!

GAMA Packs Mont Marcal - Actualizad

Made from the indigenous white grapes, Macabeo, Xarello, Chardonnay and Parellada. Each variety is picked and fermented separately. The first fermentation is at a temperature between 14-16°C for twelve days and the second fermentation in the bottle for a minimum of 24 months on the lees in the cellar and disgorged on order for shipment.

GAMA Packs Mont Marcal - Actualizad

Made from the Trepat grape variety. The grapes are destemmed, cooled to 12° C, and macerated for twelve hours. The mass is pressed pneumatically at a pressure of 0.2 kg, selection of most, stabilization for a fermentation at 12-14°C for fifteen days. Racking after alcoholic fermentation, clarification, tartaric stabilization and final filtering. Second fermentation in the bottle for a period of nine to twelve months in the cellar. The Cava is disgorged and the expedition liquor is added.


GAMA Packs Mont Marcal - Actualizad

Made from Chardonnay, Xarello, Macabeo, Parellada.  Each variety is picked and fermented separately. The grapes are destemmed, cooled to 12°C, pressed pneumatically at a pressure of 0.2kg, selection of the most, clarification by gravity and alcoholic fermentation at 14-16°C, the Chardonnay is fermented in barrels of French oak for eight weeks. Racking after the alcoholic fermentation, blending of the varietal wines, clarification, stabilization and final filtration. Second fermentation in the bottle for a minimum of fifteen months in the cellar. The Cava is disgorged and the expedition liquor is added.

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