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PHOTO:  Juve y Camps/ICEX

Article Taken From Spain Gourmetour, January-April 1998 (Pages 126-130)

“The truth is, there’s not much to tell,” is export director Mariano Fuster’s modest reply when asked what’s been going on at Juvé y Camps recently. And this from the man who was brought into this traditional, family-run company in 1984 to define an export strategy. Since then he has established the company an international reputation shared with only a handful of other Spanish firms.

“Up until then, the company was content with the domestic market,” he observes, looking out from the terrace of the eleventh century Casa Vella—the old house—at Juvé y Camps’ Espiells estate close to the village of Sant Sadurní in the heart of the Penedés region on a bright midwinter’s day. “And even now, we only let around ten percent of cava go abroad.” Juvé y Camps produces a little over two million bottles of cava a year—and has no imrnediate plans to increase production. This means that the couple of hundred thousand bottles of cava allowed out of the country annually are targeted at only a few lucky retail outlets and restaurants.

The firm’s export strategy is very much a reflection of the domestic distribution process. Mariano Fuster laughs and tells how Joan Juvé Santacana, grandson of the founder of the winery, has a list of every outlet detailing how many bottles they regularly order, so that nobody gets more than their fair share. When Mariano Fuster embarked on his task of establishing export markets he had a very clear idea of where he wanted to see those precious bottles of cava. “We only market in four areas of the U.S.: the East Coast, the northern midwest, California, and Florida,” he notes. There are barely 100 outlets on the East Coast, and every one of them was handpicked by Mariano Fuster. Then, with the help of the importer (just one for each region), the slow process of visiting each establishment began. “Sometimes it takes up to a year to get our cava in the right place,” he points out, giving the example of one of Miami’s finest restaurants, which, with a limited wine list, and little understanding of Spanish wines, took some convincing. “But I knew that was where we wanted to he, and eventually, when the moment was right, we got in there,” he says proudly.

In Britain, Juvé y Camps’ cavas are distributed through some 100 high profile shops and restaurants, among them Fortnum and Mason’s and Harrods. The same applies to Germany, where around 35,000 bottles of cava and wine are sold, as well as to Japan, where the company has established a key niche for itself over the last eight years.

Champagne Rivals

“I don’t know if we are the biggest of the small, or the smallest of the big,” muses Mariano Fuster when asked how Juvé y Camps sees itself in Spain. The company has, through careful marketing and aided by the perfect product, successfully distanced itself from those cavas produced by Freixenet and Codorníu—the two giants who between them control almost 80 per cent of the domestic market. None of the smaller producers even come close. This means that when a Spaniard thinks of buying a fine drop of cava, Juvé y Camps is one of the brands that comes inevitably to mind.

The picture abroad however, is quite different. Spanish wines still suffer from associations of poor quality, and British and Americans in particular are loath to take them seriously. “In Britain and the U.S., if someone is going to spend more than $15 on sparkling wine, then they’ll go for champagne. There’s nothing I can do about that. For the moment,” accepts Mariano Fuster.

Marketing cava abroad, in the way that Rioja has, for example, has so far proved an arduous task. For the moment, says Mariano Fuster, it’s probably better if the respective bodegas find their own place in the overseas market, and once each of them has established a clear identity for their respective products, then maybe a more concerted effort can be made.

The fundamental problem, insists Mariano Fuster, is overcoming perceptions in the minds of overseas buyers that cava is cheap and cheerful. For the moment, though, that is the way most cavas are marketed.

“People still tend to drink cava as dessert wine, or for making a toast,” observes Mariano Fuster. But Juvé y Camps markets its cavas as a fine wine and is determined to establish its cava as a deluxe product.

It is logical then, that Juvé y Camps sees champagne, rather than other cava producers as its rival. “We have to educate people,” he laughs. And that education lies in making people aware of the superiority of a fine cava. Mariano Fuster explains, “Restaurants are the best way to get people to know our cava. In a shop, a customer is less likely to take a chance on buying our cava over champagne—unless the owner invites him to a glass.”

But in a restaurant, he notes, cava has a number of advantages over champagne: it is less acidic, and can be drunk throughout a meal, as it accompanies almost anything, particularly the increasingly popular Mediterranean diet. A look around the tables of any of Barcelona’s better restaurants will bear this out.

Quality, Not Quantity

Despite its place in the market and a growing international reputation, Juvé y Camps is still very much a small scale operation, with a management team made up of the grandson of the founder, Joan Juvé Santacana, his cousin Joan Juvé, and Joan Juvé Camps (see Spain Gourmetour No. 24). The success of the company is based in part on a highly personal approach, which means that Mariano Fuster spends a lot of time with his customers. “Our customers value being able to talk directly to me, or to one of the family,” points out Mariano Fuster.

Located in the Penedés region of Catalonia, Juvé y Camps has a total of 400 hectares (988 acres) producing its own grapes. Aside from the Espiells estate, a couple of kilometers out from the village of San Sadurní—the heart of the ca va producing area—which grows Xarello and Macabeo varieties, a 170 hectare (420 acres) vineyard at Can Mas-sana, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, produces Parellada grapes. A third, 30 hectare (74 acres) estate at La Cuscona nearby produces Macabeo as well. These three varieties, mixed 40 percent Macabeo, 20 percent Xarel-lo, and 40 percent Parellada, make for classic cava. Juvé y Camps also has a number of local grape growers who, under strict supervision, supply the firm.

Mariano Fuster explains that Juvé y Camps is always experimenting with new ideas—including a batch of Chardonnay cava reposing in the cellar at the main offices in Sant Sadurní.

Juvé y Camps currently produces four cavas: the best-known Reserva de la Familia, with a minimum bottle aging of three years, the Gran Juvé, in the bottle for four years, and the younger Reserva vintage, in the bottle for two and a half years. The latest addition to the range is the Brut Rosado, made from Monastrell grapes, and matured for over four years in the bottle. Yet the decision to extend the range has been slow in coming. In the early 1970s, as Spain’s economy took off, Juvé y Camps took the decision to remain small, and to concentrate on a small number of highly selective products. Thus was born the Gran Reserva de la Familia, which was added to the renamed Gran Juvé y Camps, formerly the Gran Cru. These two wines still make up the vast bulk of Juvé y Camps’ sales, with 1.5 million bottles of Gran Reserva sold annually, and around 120,000 Gran Juvé.

Boom Years

When Juvé y Camps started out back in 1921, there were hut a handful of cava producers. Now, the Penedés region has around 280, with more than 100 centered on Sant Sadurní. The boom years of the 1980s and early 1990s saw dozens of new producers appear. Production soared to the current level of around 150 million bottles a year, white exports have grown by some 20 percent since the beginning of the decade.  The biggest market is far and away Germany, occupying around 15 percent of exports, and a market which has doubled over the last five years. The U.S. remains a steady market, taking some 12 million bottles a year, while Britain has grown steadily, and is now the destination for some six million bottles a year.

Juvé y Camps doesn’t advertise. “We sell everything we make already. If we started advertising the product then we would be obliged to produce more,” explains Mariano Fuster looking out across the 200 hectare (494 acres) Espiells estate. “Of course we could increase sales,” he continues, but we have to be very careful in maintaining the balance between being able to produce cava the way we want, and meeting the needs of a large market.”

However, despite the temptations of a growing export market, and the emergence of new markets in Eastern Europe, Juvé y Camps refuses to be distracted from its long-term commitment to quality. “We don’t use chemicals at any stage in the process,” emphasizes Mariano Fuster. Vines are changed every 25 to 30 years, and the land left fallow and then planted with wheat or melons during seven years, before returning to vine rearing.

Cava carrying the Juvé y Camps label differs from its rivals in many ways, not least among them the speed by which the grapes used in its manufacture are processed. The company has processing facilities of around half a million liters a day, however, during the pressing period, barely 150,000 liters are pressed every 24 hours. This translates into immediate pressing as soon as the grape trailers arc brought in. The company prides itself on a four-hour turnaround from vine to vat. Perhaps the most telling commitment to tradition is Juvé y Camps continued use of removedores. As part of the fermentation and maturation process, which in Juvé y Camps takes from four to five years, each bottle of cava is laid in a pupitre, or rack, with the neck tilted at a slight downward angle.

Juvé y Camps has a team of six removedores, whose job is to turn, by an eighth, each bottle every day for three weeks, gradually increasing the angle of the bottle so as to collect the sediment in the neck. Skilled craftsmen who pass their art on from father to son, a practiced removedor is able to turn up to 50,000 bottles a day.

Cava provokes passion in Mariano Fuster, and as he tours the cellars and production facilities, it is evident that he has been inspired by the love and care with which Juvé y Camps prepares its wines. “You have to make this business your life, you have to live and breathe it,” he confesses.

Looking to the Future

Juvé y Camps is now set to consolidate its position as a producer of top-quality cavas with a range of three still wines. This year will see the Ermita d’Espiells dry white—the same blend as cava, and which Juvé y Camps have been producing for 15 years—joined by a Chardonnay, Miranda d’Espiells, and a Cabernet Sauvignon: Casa Vella d’Espiells. The aim is to reach sales of around a million bottles a year of these three still wines. But it will take well into the first decade of the next century before that is achieved, given their respective times needed to repose in the bottle. Some 200,000 bottles of Ermita d’Espiells are produced each year. For the last four years some 100,000 of the Miranda have been laid down for their two year rest, and around 60,000 of the Casa Vella red were bottled last year, none of which will see the light of day for four years.

These wines will help consolidate Juvé y Camps’ export position, explains Mariano Fuster, although they are to be introduced into new overseas markets gradually.

From the terrace of the Casa Vella, Mariano Fuster points away over the vineyards to a rise where the new production and storage complex for still wine production can he seen taking shape. Closer inspection reveals yet another facet of what makes Juvé y Camps so successful: tradition blended with the best possible infrastructure.

Walking through the vast chambers which house the storage tanks, Mariano Fuster explains that the new winery has been built using the firm’s own capital. “It has taken time to build, but we’re getting there,” he points out. The design is functional, but elegant; in keeping with the tradition Barcelona has established for itself as the style center for Spain. Below, the finishing touches are being put to the bodegas which will house the one million bottles a year of still wines which will represent the next phase of measured growth for Juvé y Camps.


Nick Lyne is afull-time journalist who has lived in Spainfor more than seven years. He has edited a number of guides on the capital, Madrid, and swears that one day he’ll finish that novel he came here to write.


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