On the Trail

Mas Cava from Mas Codina

Joe Manekin

Cava, the famed sparkling wine of Spain, is a D.O. brand not restricted by location. It can be made along the Mediterranean coast in Valencia or Alicante, near the Portuguese border in Extremadura, even in Rioja (though it cannot be called Rioja cava - simply cava). That said, the most famous producers of cava, and the heart of the production zone, has indeed always been in one place: Penedes. It is a region of gently sloping valleys, surrounded by mountains and forest, whose soils bear a combination of calcareous clay, sand, fossilized marine creatures (like Champagne) and, in the more fertile areas, a richness of nutrients which make the land ideal for other types of cultivation. Given its proximity to the city of Barcelona, it is no surprise that Penedes historically is the most important producer of wines in the region. 

The history of Mas Codina mirrors that of the Penedes, an area of extensive farm land where the most dedicated and ambitious landowners have figured out they need to do more than grow and sell grapes; they must also produce their own distinctive line of wines. The forty hectare Mas Codina estate has been in the Garriga family since the late 1600’s. Current proprietors Toni and Jordi Garriga handle most of the work these days, with their father helping out from time to time, as well as a staff that generally hovers around three to five employees, up to ten during busier times such as harvest when it's all hands on deck. In the mid 1980's, Toni and Jordi's father became the first in the family to begin bottling his own production, recognizing that the future did not lie in producing large yields to sell for mere pesetas to one of the region's dominant producers (Codorniu and Freixenet being the largest ones), but instead in producing their own quality products. Over time, the Garriga family began increasing their own production and—these days—they bottle nearly 70% of what they produce. The other 30% is fermented into base wine that they sell to larger cava houses.

Walking the vineyards with Toni, I was told that Mas Codina is towards the end of its organic certification process - very good news indeed for what is already such a great product. And what makes it so good? They are 100% self sufficient in terms of vineyards, they do much of the farming themselves, they carefully harvest and then use temperature control to retain freshness, and finally—perhaps most impressively—everything is done by hand. That's including the riddling and disgorgements! It is no wonder that Toni and his brother work six day weeks. I hope that all the dedication and craft that goes into this $12.99 cava is appreciated; I know that I certainly have a regained sense of appreciation for this wonder of a bottle of bubbles.

Toni and I followed the visit with a delicious lunch nearby, where we tasted current bottlings of Cava and rose cava, as well as an overachieving Cabernet and a fantastic new white wine based on Xarel-lo grapes. Also in the pipeline for Fall: Mas Codina magnums, bottled by hand by Toni himself! For those of you who know how good these sparklers are, I hope you now have a better picture of this hard working family and their delicious wines. And for the few of you who have not yet tried Mas Codina's wines, I think you now have an appropriate excuse to crack some bubbles tonight.

-Joe Manekin