Prosecco and Cava: A glass half full?

The bubbles may not be overflowing for prosecco and cava, but Lucy Britner finds the duo weathering the financial storms of their respective countries

Domestic consumption is down, harvest yields across Europe have slumped and financial reports in November suggest both Spain and Italy’s economies are shrinking faster than Alice on her way to Wonderland. Add to that reports that cava producers are losing confidence in the appellation and the prospects for cava and prosecco don’t look good. 

In fact, if the Mad Hatter was to throw a tea party, you’d probably assume it to be quite a sober affair with absolutely no cause for bubbles.

But that’s not the whole story. For prosecco, the world looks rosy and, although cava’s outlook is less clean cut, there are still reasons to be cheerful.

Spanish sparkling wine’s volume may’ve dropped 7% in Spain from 2010 to 2011 but grew an enormous 63% in Russia and 32% in Brazil, according to Wine Intelligence. 

Meanwhile, Italian sparkling wine saw a 6% slump in Italy but a 65% increase in China and 30% increases in both Russia and the US. 

Let’s look at prosecco first. 


The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore producers’ consortium showed a 4% increase in volume for the full year 2011. Bottles numbered 68.7 million and turnover was Ä420 million. 

Between 1970 and 2010, the area of vineyards in production rose from a little less than 2000ha to the current figure of around 5,500ha. In the same period production increased from 14 million bottles to 65 million. 

In the past decade the share of bottles exported by the denomination’s 166 bottling companies has doubled, reaching 40% of total production in 2011. 

Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG is exported to more than 50 countries and, according to the consortium, Germany is the leading market, with 34.3% of exports, followed by the US (up 81.9% compared with 2009) and Canada (+44.6%). In third place is Switzerland, with 15% of exports.

Cristina Follador, marketing director at Follador Prosecco, says: “The international consumer has developed a loyal taste for prosecco. The price:quality ratio for prosecco has proved attractive. Plus they see the added benefit of Italian style.”

Style often comes in the way a product is packaged and Follador says her brand’s latest innovations have also helped maintain a premium status. 

“Premium Prosecco producers such as Follador have developed interest from every level of the global trade for DOC Treviso and Superiore DOCG styles, showing that prosecco can offer a fine quality alternative to other premium sparkling wine categories. The recent launch of our unique gift tubes have reinforced this premium positioning. We are growing in the European, Asian and North American markets focusing on our premium styles, where the consumer has shown great interest in understanding the quality characteristics of great prosecco.”

Massimo Tuzzi, Zonin’s chief international officer, adds that DOCG proseccos do well in mature markets. He says: “In general, DOCG proseccos, compared to DOC ones, are well appreciated by mature markets such as Germany, the US, Switzerland and Scandinavia.” 

On the prosecco harvest front, it’s not all as gloomy as it might first appear. Yields, for some, might be down but producers say the quality is still there. 

Giovanni Savio, press office manager for Distilleria Bottega says the prosecco harvest in 2012 was down on average by 8%, but added: “The quality is expected to be very high.”

At Zonin, emergency irrigation played a part for some of its wines. Massimo Tuzzi, Zonin’s chief international officer, says that in general, Italy lost more than 20% of its production, pushing up the price of grapes.

“Regarding harvest at Casa Vinicola Zonin Estates, a few scattered rain showers in July in the north Adriatic from Friuli to Puglia and Sicily allowed the plants to work well during the hottest weeks of summer. 

“In Tuscany, the drought has been particularly felt, but in our estates in Chianti and Maremma there were no particular problems – thanks to very suitable soils and the opportunity to practice emergency irrigation (drip), if necessary. The overall quality of our grapes, therefore, is good. Same thing goes for the amount. Oenologically 2012 is a year with good expectations: the evolution of phenolic ripeness of the grapes presages correct ripeness in general, and we look forward to seeing balanced musts. Talking about prosecco, 2012 is an important harvest, because a lot of new vines were planted.”


In the cava camp, news seems to be mixed. The harvest was down according to official data. The 2012 harvest saw 260 million kilograms of grapes gathered – down 17% on the previous year, according to the Regulatory Board. 

Some producers have also begun to lose confidence in the cava appellation. Josep Maria Albet i Noya, current president of the Regulatory Council of Penedès, told DI he does not feel there is a crisis but a lot of producers “are not comfortable with the mass-production of cava” because it dilutes the quality message.

“I don’t think it’s possible to sell wine at very low prices and at very high prices under the same brand,” he says.

Reports suggest producers are quitting the appellation. Albet i Noya adds: “I don’t know how many cellars are planning to leave the cava appellation, but we are receiving a lot of calls looking for information about the new rules for Penedès sparkling.”

The new rules aim to reflect the six sub-zones of Penedés and will come into play in 2013. He says this may be the “quality revolution” cava needs to restore confidence in the region.

One producer quitting the appellation is Raventós i Blanc. In a letter addressed “Dear Friend” that accompanied the press statement, manager Pepe Raventós writes: “As some of you might already know or have heard, Raventós i Blanc will be notifying the Cava Regulatory Board on the 7th of this month [November] that it is leaving the DO. Many of you will be asking yourselves why, and might even be having doubts about this new era we are embarking on. Me too...”

Raventós goes on to describe how he wishes to “recover the long-lost characteristics of that life based around the traditional masia farmhouse of the Penedès region; that local vine-growing culture in which the land, the vines, the animals and man all worked together in harmony as an agricultural whole”.

Raventós adds there will be a name change: “My dream is that the Raventós i Blanc wines of this new era will have their own name. For this reason, inspired by the book La Vida al Camp from Jaume Raventós (1868-1938) we want to recover the Conca del Riu Anoia, the name of a small geographical area, to help us to better understand and convey our viticultural traditions, the strength of our land, our unique grape varieties and the characteristics of our soils: in short, the way we make sparkling wines.”

Importantly, the press statement points out that Raventós is not against cava: “You will not hear a single detrimental word from Raventós i Blanc or the people involved in this project towards cava, whose forerunner, promoter and founder was Josep María Raventós i Blanc. But our dream is that the wines from this new era will have their own name.”

The Regulatory Board had not responded with a comment at the time of going to press. 


While financial woes grip Italy and Spain, the downturn doesn’t need to spell disaster for prosecco and cava. Recessions can profoundly change consumer habits. 

When people have money to spend, they can convince themselves they need all kinds of things. Less money forces them to look for cheaper alternatives. These often turn out to be enjoyed and then become part of a consumer’s habit. In other words: you like champagne, you drink champagne, you suddenly can’t afford champagne, you try other sparkling wine and realise it’s good, so you continue drinking it, money or not. 

Mark Juggins, senior buyer at UK supermarket Sainsbury’s, has certainly seen this trait among newly savvy shoppers. “Champagne and sparkling wine have grown massively in popularity in the UK and are no longer seen simply as a choice for special occasions. 

“Customers have become a lot more savvy when it comes to sparkling wine, especially when it comes to popping a bottle open at the weekend to share with friends or as a simple aperitif – prosecco in particular has seen a huge surge in popularity over recent years.”

UK cava volumes, according to IWSR and Wine Intelligence, were down 1% between 2010 and 2011 to 2.9 million nine litre cases. Prosecco in the same market during the same period grew 9% – albeit from a smaller base – to 1.56 million cases. 

Sainsbury’s Juggins says: “Cava is less fashionable than prosecco at the moment but customers still recognise that they can get great value for money with cava. With a flavour profile that is more akin to champagne and being made by the same method, it’s often better value for those on a budget than some champagne brands.”

Against the odds, Freixenet fought to become the largest sparkling wine brand in the UK with 8% share of the category and making up 16% of cava sales (Nielsen: off-trade MAT to 13/10/12). 

Overhauling cava’s image might be one way of tackling the problem. Certainly in UK supermarkets, a bottle of the fizz can usually be obtained on offer for around £5. Great though it is to get a bargain, it doesn’t do much for a brand’s credentials. 

But what’s so baffling is that quite often you can pick up a bottle of prosecco at a reduced rate, too. Perhaps the lighter, fruity style is more appealing – that comes down to predicting what a drinker wants. 

As the consumer continues to evolve and grow, producers need to do the same. As our heroine puts it in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland: “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”