A strike at the heart of DO Cava

by  |  06-09-2019

Yesterday, September 5th, three groups of viticulturists in the Penedès region (Unió de Pagesos, JARC, and Viticultors del Penedès), held a planned harvest strike against the ongoing grape pricing scandal in DO Cava. More than 700 farmers and more importantly, 300 tractors went on a procession around the territory of Penedès to meet with various entities, be heard, and try to gain visibility to this unjustified squeeze by Big Cava.

Several meetings have taken place between the affected parties since the news broke a couple weeks ago that Big Cava decided to pay 28-30% less for grapes compared to last year. But the big houses have continued with the line that the reductions are necessary due to “excess stock” from last year and that it is too late into the harvest season to negotiate new prices–despite the fact they were the ones that changed the prices just before the harvest started.

While a peaceful protest, the only “incident” that happened was when the Joves Viticultors del Penedès (Young Penedès Viticulturists) dumped a pile of grapes and some Cava bottles on the front steps of the DO Cava offices in Vilafranca del Penedès as seen above (video here), photo by @JOVESJVP. Admittedly, given the grubbiness of the big producers, I’m surprised one didn’t swing by to pick up a couple of kilos of “free grapes”.

The protesters’ claim in doing this was to try and bring more visibility to how these prices aren’t sustainable. For anyone with a keen eye however, you might notice a subtext in that those are Segura Viudas boxes who actually make quite nice Cavas, but the cellar is wholly owned by Freixenet-Henkell and is merely a public face that hides that immensity of the company much how behemoth Gallo owns Louis M. Martini in Napa Valley.

The claims of the viticulturists are indeed justified as 0.30€ a kilo isn’t a price that people can live on. The difference in income these prices make can be no better seen than in DOQ Priorat which was a region that nearly disappeared back when people were being paid 0.20€ a kilo as vineyards dwindled from a peak of 10,000ha to a mere 500 before revitalization began in the 1980s. There is no coincidence that now, with a base price at 2€ a kilo, or ten times the old price, the region is flourishing and sound, clean, viticulture has given way to some of Spain’s most impressive wines.

This current price crisis isn’t one that’s singular to DO Cava however as in Murcia (where DOs Jumilla & Bullas are located), they’re being paid, 0.20€ a kilo. This has resulted in 44% of the vineyards having been torn out over the last 15 years and being replanted with almond trees which are actually profitable. The wine region is quite literally vanishing and serves as a cautionary tale to Cava.

These kinds issues might very well worsen as there are more cellar consolidations in the winemaking sector to produce price-driven wines. This means that the ultimate responsibility will fall on the customer when choosing your next bottle. Wine is an expensive drink to make so keep this in mind when it comes to what seem like “great deals”, there is always someone else paying.

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