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Catalan wine favours quality over quantity

At the start of the new season, the wine sector hopes to win over restaurateurs and advisers in order to attract consumers and promote growth in domestic consumption.


15 November 2010 11:13 PM


ACN / / Emma Vila Servat

Barcelona ( Quality in order to be competitive; this is the principle that the Penedès Guarantee of Origin (DO) wants to follow. They want to produce fewer wines, but with better quality, something that other Catalan wine areas also desire. The goal is to keep giving prestige to their products, both in the eyes of consumers and professionals.

The Spanish Wine Market Observatory has shown that the increase in Catalan wine exports coincides with a decrease in the volume of sales abroad. That is, Catalonia is selling fewer bottles, but of greater quality and at higher prices, which causes an increase in turnover. A deciding factor must be taken into account: cava, which is also a wine. But Catalonia produces so much cava that, if it were included in the statistics, the results would be radically different.

Here is an example: the proportion of white grapes and black grapes in Catalan vineyards are 75% and 25%, respectively. This is mainly because cava is fundamentally made of white grapes. If we forget this factor, the cultivation of varietal wines from both types of grape fluctuates between different DOs, but the proportion between white grapes and black grapes is quite balanced. On the other hand, Catalan vineyards are mainly cultivated on unirrigated land, as only 6.2% are located on irrigated land. Moreover, one third of the land (about 55,000 hectares) is concentrated in the county of Alt Penedès. The counties of Terra Alta, Alt Camp and Conca de Barberà follow, but are far behind.

As for varietal wines, the ranking begins with the grapes that are used to make cava. The first one is the \u2018macabeu\u2019 (one out of four Catalan grapes is a \u2018macabeu\u2019), followed by the \u2018parellada\u2019 (used to produce cava) and the \u2018xarel·lo\u2019 (muscat). These varieties are followed by six more grape varieties that make up 86% of current Catalan wine production: \u2018ull de llebre\u2019 (to make red wine), \u2018cabernet sauvignon\u2019, \u2018samsó\u2019 (black imperial), \u2018garnatxa negra\u2019 (black Grenache), merlot and chardonnay. There are also many more varietal wines, with and without a DO, but they only constitute 14% of  Catalan grape production.

This tremendous multiplicity of grapes may decrease, according to Josep Ribas, general manager of the DO Penedès. \u201CWe are the DO that has more varietal wines, without taking into account the DO Catalunya, which has more than 20. We have 18 varietal wines. But as soon as we have the possibility to redefine our administrative parameters, we will leave one of the varietals that has fallen into disuse aside. Our strategic intention is to focus on classical modalities and promote quality over quantity. We also want to be easily identified, as everyone knows a Priorat or an Alella. But in our case, we make so much wine, and of so many kinds, that it is difficult for the public to identify us. It is for this reason that we have been promoting monovarietal wines of \u2018xarel·lo\u2019 (muscat) for two years now. We want it to be the flagship for wines from the Penedès area.\u201D

The struggle for appreciation and identification clashes with Catalans\u2019 habits when it comes to choosing wine. INCAVI, the Catalan Institute of Wines and Vineyards, has stated several times how strange it is that Catalonia is a wine region that prefers wine from other areas rather than its own. However, this is a tendency that is gradually changing. The problem doesn\u2019t lie in prices. The last report from the Catalan Wine and Cava Observatory shows that all types of wine are offered in Catalonia, some of which are quite cheap. It is probably a matter of habits. But the wine that is consumed doesn\u2019t depend as much on the habits of the buyer than those of the seller.

It is for this reason that the sector wants to find a way to win over big clients, which are called the \u2018horeca\u2019 (hotel-restaurant-catering). Catalan wine is exported \u2013the first country that purchases it is Germany, followed by the United Kingdom\u2013, but the main market is Catalonia itself. However, there are three areas of Catalonia in which Catalan wine sales are very poor: Barcelona and the surrounding areas, and the two tourist coasts \u2013the Costa Brava in the north and the Costa Daurada in Tarragona. Other relevant data indicates that wine sold within the country is always commercialised within its own DO territory. For example, it is difficult to find a wine from the Terra Alta region in Empordà and vice versa. Consumers would have enormous difficulty finding \u2018picapoll\u2019 from Bages county in Priorat county or a Costers del Segre in Reus. The sector sees this fact as normal.

However, a time of crisis is also a time for opportunities, as it is a time of change. Xoán Elorduy of the Observatory Report says, \u201CWe are living a complicated moment and the sector is also going through difficult times, but I believe that there is enough quality in the product to come out of it. And when I say product I mean both the vineyard, that is, the quality of our grapes, and the wines that we produce\u201D. Obviously, Elorduy refers to the notorious quality of Catalan wines and the existence of many more high quality references. Annual production in Catalonia exceeds 3 million hectolitres.


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