In the small Catalan town of Subirats lives a wine grower by the name of Xavier Bernet. Here at his winery, named for his daughter Julia, he produces sparkling wines with poise and precision. These are pure wines indicative of terroir and varietal, part of a small yet growing movement to help restore the reputation of Penedès sparkling wines as fine wine. Xavi is part of a collective of winemakers who have left the DO Cava and formed their own group, called Corpinnat, in order to pursue a more terroir driven alternative. Spain is the second largest producer of sparkling wine in the world, and those under the DO Cava can come from different municipalities all over Spain. There are Cava houses producing millions of bottles, and the all-encompassing rules allow for a wide variety of style and quality, which is why Xavi’s work is so important.
Bernet started this project in 2003, guiding his work by a philosophy he calls “Closed Circle” production (he designates this on his corks), a concept based on his supervision of the entire process from start to finish. Buying grapes (as well as finished wine) has become commonplace in Cava production, but Xavi believes that the wine starts in the vineyard. He owns 7 hectares in Penedès and all of his production comes from his own vines. From the planting of the vineyard to disgorgement and the finished wine, Xavi is involved in all aspects of the grape’s journey to glass. The decision for Xavi to leave the Cava DO and join Corpinnat in 2019 was an easy one. Frustrated with the status quo and the Cava DO’s inability to adapt beyond its cheap and low quality reputation, a number of wineries lobbied to become a high quality subdivision of the Cava DO. The Cava DO entertained the idea, but ultimately, the DO did not permit this, giving the seven wineries no other alternative but to leave the DO and form their own collective. Corpinnat (translating loosely to the “Heart of Penedés”) has several stringent rules that set it apart from the Cava DO. First and foremost, organic certification is required for all vineyards and all grapes must be harvested by hand. Grapes must all be grown within the physical boundaries of the Corpinnat territory, an area encompassing 997 square kilometers in the heart of Penedès sparkling wine production. 18 months aging on the lees is the minimum (double the amount of cava’s 9 required months). The Bernet family has grown fruits and vegetables for generations; Xavi was raised in a family of pages, or peasant farmers, in their town of Subirats. They always sold to the local co-op for table wine before Xavi decided he wanted to produce and bottle his own. He had no training in enology when he started, so he hired an enologist to show him the ropes. He is a farmer first and foremost; it was this devotion to the vineyard that led him to an organic certification in 2016.
Subirats is within the sub-region of Alt-Penedès, in the rolling foothills of the d’Ordal Mountains, and encompasses vineyards at 400 meters elevation and above. Winter snow is a more regular occurrence in here, and while temperatures remain high during the summer days, nights are relatively cool. The climate leans towards continental, which is quite different than the more Mediterranean climate in (lower) Baix-Penedès.
Xarel-lo is the main grape Xavi uses to make his sparkling wines. Xarel-lo provides structure and strength to wines, and has long been favored by Cava producers for providing longevity. In the cellar he prefers long contact time with lees; his entry-level “Cuvee U” spends about 2 years on lees and “R-130’ spends a lengthy 5 years on lees. Wines are also typically aged in bottle for at least one year before release. It remains to be seen what will come of all these radical changes in Penedès, but the future is bright for those like Xavi that put care into their vineyards and into their wines.
Cuvée U 100% Xarello from Xavi’s own vines, all of which are certified organic. Vines range in age from 15-40 years old and are grown on calcareous soils. The wine is aged in stainless steel for two years on lees before release. Only a small addition of SO2 occurs at pressing.
R-130 is made from old vine Xarel-lo planted on limestone soils at the foothills of the d’Ordal mountains at 400 meters elevation. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and pressed into steel tank. This wine is aged for a minimum of 4 years on lees before disgorgement and aged an additional year in bottle before release. Only a small addition of SO2 occurs at pressing.
Exsum is an ancestral method sparkling wine made from 100% Xarello Vermell, a pink skinned cousin to Xarello. No added SO2 or dosage. Only small amounts are made.