Saboteurs hit at heart of cava region in Spain

The unprecedented attack occurred at dead of night last Friday near the town of Subirats, in the heart of Catalonia's cava-producing Penedes region, and was made public yesterday by the company. The vines of the xarello grape, one of the region's three traditional varieties, were sawn off through their trunks.

The vineyards, planted 10 years ago, were laden with grapes due to be harvested next week. They had been cut in a pattern that formed the single derogatory word cacics, the Catalan for regional bosses.

A Freixenet spokesman said the company was "deeply wounded" by the attack, which he insisted could not have been the work of any wine producer. The sabotage represented "a serious economic loss," the spokesman said, but he added: "This was a premeditated act intended to cause moral rather than economic damage."

The region's wine producers and trade unions unanimously condemned the attack as "lamentable", with no one even hinting at who might be responsible. But the gesture comes amid a fierce confrontation between growers and winemakers over the price of grapes.

The attack took place just before a meeting of the region's powerful Cava and White Wine Council, which has been trying to reach agreement on a minimum price for the wine used as the base for making cava, the region's distinctive, internationally renowned festive sparkler.

The sector's farmers' union is in the throes of a campaign of mobilisations for what it calls "a dignified price for the grape", but yesterday disclaimed any connection with the attack. The union warned, however, that it would radicalise its protests if a minimum price for wine destined for cava was not agreed.

Dozens of small wine producers in the farmers' union blockaded the vast wine-making plants of Spain's two main cava producers, Freixenet and Cordoniu, in the town of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia on Monday. They also picketed the installations of Torres, another big Penedes winemaker enormously popular in Britain. Growers were protesting at the low price they receive for white grapes which are destined for cava.

The union's spokesman, Josep Maria Coll, said the producers could not survive another year at current prices. He said that for the past three years growers had been subjected to prices that failed to cover costs. "It's increasingly difficult to keep vineyards going. The cava industry risks killing the goose that lays the golden eggs," Mr Coll said.

Talks between growers and winemakers over a price agreement broke down last month. However, with grapes now ripe for picking, the union is threatening to halt the harvest until agreement is reached.

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