A Hidden Gem in the Penedès

A well known Cava in New York’s Fifth Avenue and unknown in the Paseo de Gracia in Barcelona?

Isabel Chuecos-Ruiz. 04/07/2017

People say that no one is a prophet in their own country and neither was Vins El Cep. Since 1980 this “unknown” cellar hidden in the heart of the Penedès, successfully exports a large part of its production to different countries around the world, most of all to the USA where the Cavas and wines are highly esteemed.

With a long tradition of winemaking since 1448, the four families that form part of the Vins El Cep project, have paradoxically shared on a continuous basis for five centuries, a countryside of vineyards and together have respectfully portrayed their story about the place. In this manner, with authenticity and with that imaginative strength that one feels in their stories, they have striven to safeguard their vineyards with the idea of crafting a unique wine, one that represents a special place that the industrial invasion is trying to destroy.

Four families who decide to join forces in 1980 to produce together their Cavas, uniting their four estates: Can Prats, (the Carreras family) and Can Simon (the Esteve family) in Sant Llorenç d’Hortons; Can Castany (the Masana family) and Can Miquel de les Planes (the Parera family) in Gelida.

Vins El Cep farm 200 hectares of vines in the privileged area of “Espiells”, an important area of vineyards of which few cellars can boast. Its location is in the northeast part of the Penedès (the sub-zone is “Costers de l’Anoia”). Maite Esteve, the current director and member of one of the founding families: “These days, to be a winemaker is rather “cool”, it is fashionable, however time was when it was rather derogatory. From those 200 hectares, we only use part of the grapes we grow to produce our Cavas and wines, the rest we sell to other producers in the region”.

It is one of the few cellars in the Penedès that completely controls the three phases of a cellar: being winemakers, producers and traders. The whole process of work in the vineyard, the production of the Cava, from the “tirage”, to the“prise de mousse” and the fermentation in all its phases, everything is done in the cellar located in Can Llopart de les Alzines, in midst of the vineyards in the municipality of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

Of the 235 cellars registered in the D.O. Cava they have their own definition: “small among the great and great among the small”. However they do not buy bottles “en punta” (inverted/riddled), neither do they produce for others, everything from beginning to end is controlled by them.

Vins El Cep was one of the first cellars to farm with organic agriculture and was pioneer in biodynamic viticulture in the Penedès in 2003. They decided to develop an I+D programme in collaboration with the Espiells School of Viticulture and the Department of Agriculture of the Generalitat of Catalonia. Maite Esteve: “ when almost no one was considering making a biodynamic Cava, we began with the 2006 vintage to produce our Cava Claror, a Cava from the Can Prats vineyard”.

Claror is a candidate to be a “Cava de Paraje Calificado” (single vineyard Cava), in reference to the new category of Cavas with the highest level of prestige and which is in the process of being granted, (in the period of a couple of months there will be a reply on behalf of the ministry).

Under the umbrella of Vins El Cep, they produce in the (D.O. Cava), the following Cavas:

  • Claror (the first Cava from biodynamic agriculture),
  • MIM Natura (two consecutive years, best organic Reserve Cava in the Vinari prizes).
  • Marqués de Gelida (more traditional Cavas with long fermentation),
  • L’Alzinar (a young and fruity Cava)

And still wines (in the D.O. Penedès): Clot del Roure (a biodynamic Xarel·lo) and the organic wines: GR5 Senders Xarel·lo and GR Senders red wine. As well as a range of wines that they have just been released on the market: Ot vins de terrer in its versions of red, rosé and white, all originating from a unique single vineyard.

An extense portfolio of wines bound from the beginning to a territory, that relate to the Alt Penedès as the common ground between all of them. Each one of them representing the diversity of the land with the philosophy of working consciously with the ancestral methods of organic viticulture, reaching the stage some day, of working all the vineyards in a biodynamic way. A kind of viticulture, which – greatly resuming and with permission of the experts, is an extreme step of organic farming. The maximum expression of the soil, looking for the balance of the ecosystem, the biological diversity and recuperation of the bacterial activity of the earth.

Nowadays, in a false and superficial world that no longer surprises us and where nothing is built to last, it is a privilege to meet families that celebrate continuity and find wines with an infinite number of values. Because there is a dimension, beyond wine as a cultural drink drawn from the bowels of the earth, connecting you to the person who makes it and that is the dimension in which I am interested.

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