Once the grapes have been harvested at their optimum point of ripeness, the complex Cava making process begins in which the experience of the producer and time transform the must into an outstanding sparkling wine.
Transport, sample taking and unloading of the grapes
C are and speed in transport are fundamental to maintain the quality of the grapes.
Prior to unloading the tractor a sample is taken to analyse sugar content, acidity and PH, for subsequent Cava production.
Once the grape is unloaded, it is destemmed and enters the press.
Harvest can be carried out either by hand or by machine. If it is done by machine, it is very important that the temperature is controlled, so harvesting frequently takes place at night.
Pressing of the grapes
F or Cava production only the free run juice proceeding from the first press fractions is used.
Once the grapes have been unloaded they go into the press and pressure is applied in order to obtain the first fraction of free run juice.
The free run juice is the highest quality must. This is chilled and transferred into stainless steel tanks where it is clarified or racked in order to separate the solids (pulp) that may have been transfer to the free run juice.
A lso called alcoholic fermentation. By means of this fermentation, the must is transformed into wine. It takes place at a controlled temperature (between 15º C and 18ºC) for 25 to 30 days.
Once the fraction of the must is clear, selected yeasts are added to begin the fermentation.
During this process, the yeasts transform the natural sugar contained in the grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide obtaining mono varietal base cava wines.
According to Cava regulations from 1 kg of grapes only 0.67 litres of wine may be obtained.
Coupage or blending of wines
The oenologist is responsible for selecting and blending the wines obtained (called base wines) after the process of fermentation. A combination of technical expertise, experience and art.
At this time, according to the type of Cava to be made, the oenologist must take into account the following:
- will it be fruity or not.
- balanced in the mouth.
- will It have body and structure.
- will It have enough acidity to go through a long aging, etc.
Clarification and stabilisation of base wine
Clarification consists in getting rid of murky aspect caused by the presence of particles in suspension proceeding from the fermentation in order to obtain a completely clear wine free of any impurities.
Prior to tirage, the wine is cooled in order to precipitate the tartaric acid in the form of crystals.
In order to preserve the wine and maintain its qualities throughout time, it is cold stabilised prior to second fermentation.
O peration that consist in filling up the bottles with the base wine and liquor de tirage made up of yeasts and sugar. This will cause a second fermentation to take place in the bottle itself.
The bottles may be closed with a stopper and a steel cap or with a cork stopper and a staple (particularly for Cavas that are aged for any length of time).
These bottles will be taken down to the darkness of the caves (or underground galleries) where they will be stacked horizontally in rows called: “Rimas”.
This is the stage prior to second fermentation in the same bottle that will reach the consumer.
Upon completion of the second fermentation, the yeasts die and settle at the bottom of the bottle. This is the moment that aging begins.
O nce the wine is bottled, the bottles are placed in the depth of the caves stacked in rows, thus commencing the natural process of second fermentation.
Ageing is the time of contact of the lees with the Cava. The minimum is 9 month, though there is no maximum time.
An interesting phenomenon which takes place after 15 months of aging is called autolysis whereby the lees begin to contribute components to cava named Tertiary aromas such as: dried fruits, toast, bakery, toffee, caramel, etc.
This process provides more complexity to Cava and is characteristic of Reserva and Gran Reserva Cavas.
C onsists in moving the sediments (dead yeast cells) caused by the second fermentation to the neck of the bottle.
Riddling can either be done by hand (A frames) or by machine (giropalets). An abrupt shake is done (1/8 of a turn each day) rattle and tilt until the yeasts reach the neck of the bottle and can easily be removed at a further disgorging stage.
C onsists in getting rid of the dead yeasts cells once the second fermentation is finished.
Disgorging can only be done either manually or mechanically.
Any of the two chosen ways ensures that no sediments are left in the bottle and the Cava is ready if required for the addition of the “Expedition liquor”.
Addition of expedition liquor and closure
A fter disgorging, the expedition liquor is added. We are now at a final stage of the Cava making process.
The expedition liquor can consist of sugars, base wines and according to each house spirits (wines aged in barrels, etc) which provide a particular bouquet to Cava.
In some wineries the expedition liquor is and will continue to be one of the best kept secrets.
On the other hand, progress in winemaking techniques make it possible to obtain very aromatic wines which do not require the extra aromas provided by the expedition liquor.
It will in any case be the winemaker at each winery who will decide on the most adequate formula to differentiate his style from the rest.
Once the bottles have been topped up with the expedition liquor, they are closed with a final cork, a wire cage, a capsule, labels and a quality control stamp and they are ready for dispatch.
You will notice there is a four pointed star on the cork of each bottle of Cava. Said symbol means that the product is in fact Cava and it has been made following a process called traditional method or second fermentation in the bottle.