Though the rise and rise of Prosecco over the last decade must have impacted on other sparkling wines, including Spanish favourite, Cava, there are some producers that exude a quiet confidence that the sheer quality of their product will guarantee success whatever the competition. The family-owned, medium-sized company of Juve & Camps undoubtedly fits the bill, and it was a pleasure to spend a couple of days with them recently to learn their story and taste their hugely impressive wines.
A family affair
At the helm of the company is the youthful, gentle, but cool and confident Meritxell Juve. At 32 years old, Meritxell may have inherited a huge responsibility as CEO of a company which produces 2.5 million bottles of premium Cava per year and services world-wide markets, but by her side for a couple of days per week at least is Company President, 75-year-old Joan Juve, otherwise known as ‘dad’.
The Juve family have farmed vineyards in the main Cava region around the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, 40 minutes inland from Barcelona, since the 18th century. But it was in 1921 that Joan Juvé Baqués and his wife, Teresa Camps Farré, established the Cava house of Juve & Camps (pronounced Joove-eih-Kamps)
Arriving at the winery we are joined by winemaker Toni Cantos, left, a man with huge enthusiasm for his job as he gives up a day of his annual holiday to lead us through the wines. Toni explains that Juve & Camps is not a négociant – they never buy base wine, though sometimes they buy grapes, depending on the harvest. The base wines for all of their Cava is made here at their new high tech winery in Espiells, five kilometres from Sant Sadurni d’Anoia and surrounded by their vineyards. The base wine is then transferred to the old family cellars, where six levels of subterranean tunnels offer the perfect environment for the second fermentation and ageing. Their still wines are also made at Espiells.
Below: the vineyards at Espiells.
As we move through to the tasting room, Toni explains that all grapes are hand-picked, which means there can be a first quality selection done in the field, and his priority is to protect the fruit from oxidation. Though the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel.lo, Paralleda and Macabeu are grown, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are their main varieties planted in their own vineyards, “Because it is hard to find those outside of our own holdings,” says Toni, adding, “But Xarel.lo is a very good wine for ageing, and the most interesting of the three Cava grapes.” They are relying less and less on Paralleda and have “little bits and pieces of lots of other varieties,” including Muscat, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly for still wines.
There is some altitude too, with plantings rising to over 800 metres. But Toni says “The indigenous varieties don’t really like to be planted high – we have tried, but the vines just don’t perform well at 700 or 800 metres.”
Clearly, the potential need to move to higher ground, with the subsequent cooler conditions, is something the family is aware of: “Thirty years ago the first picking of Chardonnay was around 28th August, now it is around 2nd August,” Toni tells me, “I think that has to be down to climate change. Meritxell agrees: “It seems there are fewer and fewer ‘normal’ years, we now see huge changes between one year and the next – 2013 was so cool and wet, then 2014 very hot and dry.”
All of Juve & Camps vineyards were converted to organic farming four years ago, and certified in 2015. But at the moment the family has taken the decision not to label any wine as organic, but instead will wait until their iconic Family Reserve bottling, made from organic grapes, is ready for the market after its long bottle ageing. “We don’t want to confuse the market by having some of our labels organic, and some not,” says Meritxell.
Juve & Camps struck me as an extremely quality conscious house, not just with their vineyard ownership and commitment to organic farming, but with their fascinating range of Cavas, including an extremely good Brut Rosé, where Toni has reduced the lees ageing from 24 to 12 months to retain freshness, a zero dosage ‘Brut Nature’ and their extraordinary La Capella, another zero dosage, 100% Xarel.lo wine, that spends 10 years on the lees. We tasted the current 2006 release.
Meritxell is such an assured, capable yet warm and welcoming character. She is following in her father’s footsteps it’s true, but she is clearly regarded with huge affection and respect by all of the Juve & Camps team that I met. This truly interesting Cava house should stride forward confidently, no matter what Prosecco throws at it.
Juve & Camps is imported into the UK by Ehrmanns.