Who: Nil Suria and Joan Carol Valles
Where: Penedès, Catalonia
When: Since 1996
The lovely wines from Carol Valles show how good Cava can be when it’s made with care by a small, family estate dedicated to making just one style of wine, from traditional varieties farmed organically, and aged for 18 months, double the legal minimum.
Carol Valles is an old family estate run by Joan Carol who had a day-job running a paper manufacturer. Following a heart attack in 1995 he re-evaluated life, decided to slow down and go back to nature and devoted himself to the family winery that his wife’s grandparents had bought.
It’s a perfect place to slow down. Located amid rolling hills between but far from the bustle of Sant Sadurni and Vilafranca. In appearance, too, it’s a classic finca, a grouping of buildings to house family and the cellar.
Joan Carol retired in 2015 and handed over to the ridiculously young Nil Suria, aged 26 in 2018, who has worked at the estate for 10 years and has an ambitious vision to encourage wine tourism as well as to continue to improve the wines. Joan had always carried out most of the riddling and disgorgement personally, taking slow pleasure in the the simplicity of it. The personal touch is evident everywhere here. The vines are now organically farmed, and the wines see little intervention.
Cava production is centred on Sant Sadurni and Vilafranca, inland a 45 minute drive from Barcelona and dominated by industrial giants like Codorniu and Freixenet. Behind the giants lie a swathe of artisan producers but few are those who stray far from the sweet and simple style that’s poured to the tourists. Carol Valles is one such.
We discovered the wines around ten years ago, when perusing the Vino + Gastronomia magazine at that time vividly portraying the new gastronomy seemingly everywhere in the Basque and Catalonia. Carol Valles had been selected as one of the Top Twenty in Spain, despite its very modest price. We visited and discovered the world beyond big business Cava.