Big thanks to Nathaniel Center for this timely piece on Avinyó! It's December and time to get excited about bubbles!
On our first day in Spain we arrived at the Avinyó winery in Penedes excited and slightly jet lagged. We were greeted with cava poured from parones and a steaming plate of paella (that respectively enhanced the excitement and removed the jet lag). In a region dominated by large producers and bulk wine, the Esteve Nadal family operates a quality-oriented winery in the village of Avinyonet. As we walked through the vineyards, they explained that out of the approximately 240 cava producers in Penedes, only 20 or so make cava exclusively from their estate vineyards (and Avinyó is among this select few.) For the family, this small scale and attention to detail is really what sets them apart. Most wineries of their size bring in grapes to supplement their harvest, but Avinyó actually ends up selling away anything that "doesn't work for them”. Even in low-yielding years their tiny winery doesn't have the capacity to vinify everything they grow, so choosing the absolute best has always been a necessity. Natural ambient yeasts are employed whenever possible and they a favor long cold fermentation (which they compare to steeping ingredients for extended periods in cooking).
Avinyó does not freeze the top of their bottles prior to disgorgement in the manner widely practiced in traditional method sparkling wines around the world. When patriarch Joan Estelle Nadal began making cava over 50 years ago, he felt uncomfortable dipping his prized bottles in a questionable liquid used to freeze the bottles. Instead they employ a complex machine able to disgorge unfrozen juice without a large loss of wine. For years they have been farming using various organic principles and this year (2016) they have decided to work towards organic certification.
Most of Avinyo's 35 acres are dedicated to traditional cava grapes Xarel-lo, Macabeo, and Parellada although there are also significant plantings of Pinot Noir (used for the Blanc de Noir and Rosé) and Moscatel used for their tank fermented Vi D'Agulla. The different vineyards are further subdivided into a series of small parcels that are harvested and vinified separately. They are always blended immediately after fermentation but before filtration, as any blending after filtration will make their wines cloudy again.
Before lunch we worked our way down to the cellar where we stopped in a tasting room to try their different cuvèes. A highlight for many was their delicate and floral Blanc de Noir. When asked what causes difference in texture between the Blanc de Noir and Brut Reserve bottling, they explained that this has more to do the smaller bubbles made by Pinot Noir than any winemaking trickery.
Although Avinyo doesn't age bottles post-disgorgement for any extensive length of time, the Cavas do evolve in some interesting ways. The 2012 and 2013 vintages were essentially identical at their release (Avinyó aims for consistency of flavor despite changing weather). Yet after a year, the 2012 shed some of its stone fruit aromatics in favor of a subtle mineral component. It would be difficult to argue that one or the other was really better, but the change is certainly notably and worthy of discussion.
Like many other areas of the world, climate change has forced the family to pick earlier and earlier to preserve freshness. With the sun pouring down and temperatures reaching 90 degrees during our visit, it was easy to see how crucial the strong coastal wind or IIaveis is for grape growing. 30km from the Mediterranean and with nothing but mountains in sight, every gust of wind brought the smell of the sea and a welcome reprieve from the heat.
The area around Avinyo has been considered ideal for the production of quality wine for hundreds of years and after lunch, a short walk took us to the site of the third winery ever constructed in Spain. An excavation had taken place and the remnants of some of the ancient structures and winemaking equipment still remained. History and respect for the past seem an integral part of life at Avinyo. We were shocked to discover that the intricately painted tiles that cover the floor and walls of the winery were all painted by Joan Estell's wife and were designed to emulate an 18th century style
Following tradition, all of Avinyo's vineyards are dry farmed. Normally this doesn't present a problem but last year the region’s 600L/ year average of rain was reduced to a mere 300L (and this year looks to be even drier.) Extensive pruning and green harvesting means that Avinyo has been able to preserve quality, but it also means that production last year was down 25%. (12,000 kilos/ hectare to 9,000kilos/ hectare). Nonetheless, the Esteve Nadal family remains passionate and optimistic about the future, and experimental plantings of different grape varietals are scattered around their vineyards.