A Vist to Castell dels Sorells, the Artesan Cava Bodega!

Castell dels Sorells near Turis

The `Artesan´cava Bodega of Castell dels Sorells sits on the road from Godelleta to Picassent  which winds it´s way through orange groves, kaki trees and seemingly abandoned parcels of vines in the DO Valencia. It takes its name ( Sorells) from the Valencian name for Horse Mackerel or Scad, which are incorporated into the shield of arms. In fact the Bodega is a modern installation dating to around 1980 and is a perfect copy outside of the Castell in Albalat dels Sorells North of Valencia dating to the xvth century. Although the Soler family who own the property  began the enterprise in the latter location they decided to up sticks and move into the DO Valencia area ( and specifically Turis ). Neither DO Valencia nor DO Utiel Requena had a right to make Cava at this time and it was this bodega and Torre Oria in Requena who pioneered the move towards DO Cava for the area taking a monumental legal action to stop the blocking moves of the Catalans who wanted to keep DO Cava status for themselves.

In 1983 the first toast using a Valencian Cava was made here at the Castell followed three months later  in Requena at Torre Oria. Today cava production in DO Utiel Requena is commonplace but not much is made elsewhere in the Turis area of DO Valencia. None is of the style and standard reached by Castell dels Sorells to whose installation I had been invited by Francisco Javier Lázaro their agent in Spain.

Julio Martínez, Winemaker and International Agent

It was Julio who conducted my tour firstly explaining some of the history of the Bodega. They do not own their own vineyards other than a parcel of Moscatel  which are not used in their winemaking process. They have a developed relationship with a number of local growers, friends as Julio described them, with whom they work to develop quality grapes before buying them in. The four grape varieties used are Chardonnay, Xarel-Lo, Parrelada and Macabeo.

The elaboration method is absolutely that followed by the Champenoise to make Champagne. On arrival the boxes of grapes are selected depending on quality for use in one or other of the cuvées, the best being destined for Satén, the top cuvé or the Gran Reserva Brut Nature.

First fermentation takes place in one of the stainless steel or fibreglass vats, the latter being gradually replaced by the former as temperature control in fermentation is crucial. In early February when this finished a second fermentation is commenced in bottle.  These are sealed with a crown cork and sent down to the cellar nine metres underground where the  temperature is a constant 15 degrees. The bottles are placed en rima in walls down the length of the bodega and currently holds about 400k bottles of wine dating to every vintage since 2003. Here the second fermentation takes place slowly and in a cold environment, crucial for the eventual development of the wine and particularly the small bubbles which define quality cava. Julio however says this can be a dangerous place to be in the first month after the new vintage is cellared. As the bottles often hold a pressure of more than 8 atmospheres it is not unusual for them to burst and set off like rockets across the cellar!

The exact blend of grape varieties depends on whether the cava is Brut, Brut Nature, Reserva, Gran reserva or Cuvé. And of course Trepat is used for the Rosado cavas made here as well.

Some bottles from the 2006 Vintage en rima and in palette.

Here the bottles will rest for a minimum of nine months during which the yeast will cause the second fermentation. After this a further six months for the Brut is needed before it can be put into palettes to shake the yeast down into the neck. By this time it has started to break down and add proteins to the wine.

Each palette holds 216 bottles which are turned twice a day and shaken for two months until the yeast has collected over the crown cork in an upside down bottle.

For the Reserva the period on the lees is at least 15 months and for the Gran Reserva at least 30 months.

In the case of Gran Reserva, for example,  this is not the end of the process. Just because the wine has spent the due time on the lees does not automatically make it a Gran reserva. Now it has to be submitted to DO Cava where an exhaustive analysis takes place as well as a taste test. Only if the wine passes these two tests will the DO award the coveted Gran Reserva stickers for the bottle.

In order to meet the test the DO send staff to the bodega. They select two bottles and seal them with special labels and plastic cork covers to stop tampering. One of the bottles is taken by them for sampling. The second is retained by the bodega. In the event the first sample fails, the second can be submitted for analysis.

Once the wine has passed the appropriate test it goes back upstairs to the bottling room. Here the neck is frozen and the plug of dead yeasts expelled. The bottle is topped up with a previously finished wine which may contain a tiny but differing amount of sugar depending on the style of wine being bottled.

Some of the samples retained by the bodega from those submitted to the DO

From here the bottle passes along the line where a high quality Spanish cork is used. This carries a four pointed star on the bottom, the sign of authentic DO Cava.This starts out an even size but the pressure constricts the part in the neck whilst that part above forms the cap of the mushroom shape and incidentally a hermetic seal. The machine  then places a wire cage over the cork and the bottle is cleaned before label and relevant sticker etc are added.

Castell dels Sorells also believe in telling the customer when this process has taken place and put the date on the back label.

This is an important customer relations exercise. Unlike champagne which benefits and improves with a period in bottle, some for many years, Cava is ready when it is bottled and has a shelf life of not more than a couple of years. For restaurants for example if a bottle is off and has not passed the year after bottling date the customer can return the bottle to the Bodega who will happily replace it!

To this end the bodega does not bottle all of a particular style and vintage at the same time. It will bottle up what is asked for by customers and distributors alike which limits the liability.

The bodega currently sells a lot of it´s wine in Spain, including Barcelona and Madrid, Burgos, Marbella and the Canaries where of course no cava is made. Japan and Belgium are the chief foreign buyers with China emerging and interest from the two state monopolies of Finland and Canada.

In the tasting room!

The wines produced are multiple award winners giving proof it was needed of the quality of the product and indeed Cava as a traditional method wine. The Brut Reserva and Brut Nature have won silver medals at the top German International Weinpreis competition. Decanter has awarded two Bronze medals to Satén the top wine and a commended to the Brut Reserva and even the French have awarded a Silver at the effervescents du monde competition! The Spanish Guia de Vinos Gourmets awarded the Gran reserva a place in the top five Spanish cavas following a blind tasting.

It would have seemed rude not to accept a chance to taste and we started with the Brut Nature Reserva from a bottling completed on 14th september this year. This wine has spent between 15-30 months en rima. This was pale yellow with gold flashes and is incredibly bright. It has a solid mousse, fine persistent small bubbles and on the nose retains the floral notes as well as light toasty notes. It is the Macabeo here which gives the structure ,the Xarel-Lo the fresh acidity whist the Parellada adds the floral notes, unusual in a long aged wine and a result Julio beleives of the cold slow second fermentation. The Chardonnay brings it all together.

In the mouth apples yeasts and toastiness, a good attack but a quality mouthful. This would sell for about 9€ a bottle. A second bottle of this at least two years older was then opened. Its exact age was not known as it pre-dated the bottling date policy. It was a little more gold in colour ( the result of initial oxidisation which had also robbed it of the floral notes on the nose). It too had a good mousse and fine persistent bubbles. On the nose a little more toasty which is only to be expected, and apples. In the mouth a long appley finish. Wine like this is not available to buy any longer and a few dwindling bottles are retained to open for discerning clients.

The Brut Nature Gran Reserva was the next bottle opened . Bottled on the 28th July this year the wine is from the 2004 vintage, it too was golden yellow, with even finer persistent bubbles and a good mousse. On the nose appley and floral with mature fruit and complexity which comes from the long ageing en rima. In the mouth altogether more refined, subtle and elegant. This sells for around 14€ a bottle depending on which specialist outlet you use, and expect to pay around 25€ in a restaurant.  

The functionsuite upstairs

Satén the Bodegas top wine is a special harvest and only made when sufficient quality is found in the grapes.

The bodega also possesses a fine banqueting room upstairs where marriages, conventions and even tourist visitors can enjoy a meal. Downstairs in the gardens, amongst the peacocks,  civil marriage ceremonies can be held. There is also a small shop where the bodegas wines can be tasted.

( Tasting notes for some of the other wines are available in my October post covering the fair in L`Alcúdia ).

This was a fascinating insight into the workings of a quality cava producer, a family concern and one with a growing future as it carries on winning prizes and expanding it´s place in the market. I am very grateful to the owners and to Francisco and Julio for making the visit a reality and thanks especially to Julio who gave me a detailed and very informative tour from which I learned a lot!

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  • Piet  On November 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Now I am a bit jealous 🙂 I remember we had their Cava during the December 2009 event, I think you were there too!

    Unfortunately I never made it to their bodega, glad that you did!


    • rikiwigley  On November 10, 2010 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Piet Sadly no, I had to go to England and missed the December event last year. No problem this year though and I hope they will present another wine at Dora hopes will be a three cava event!

      Great visit though, and Im getting around the bodegas more quickly now. Keep your eye on Vino-Valencia…some new developments taking place! Hope all is well with you Riki

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