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Extreme drought: heat and lack of rain will affect the harvest

Will there be less wine this year? We spoke with winemakers and representatives of different appellations of origin to understand how heat waves and extreme drought will affect the harvest.


If 2021 was marked by sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall, 2022 will go down in Spanish history as the year of drought. In fact, this is the third year with the greatest drought so far this century, according to the State Meteorological Agency. While the reservoirs have a 46% capacity at best and a summer full of heat waves chained, one certainty worries farmers: it has not rained enough, and what is worse, it still does not rain. A catastrophe for the field that directly affects the cultivation of the vine and threatens the next harvest, advancing it up to about a month in much of our geography and significantly reducing production. Not all bad news, though.

In the Marco de Jerez, Antonio Flores, winemaker of González Byass, says that this has been the most advanced vintage that has known. «In my 42 vintages, this has undoubtedly been the earliest of which there is record; some wineries began to collect grapes at the end of July, something unthinkable years ago, when we began to harvest between the first and the second week of September. It’s basically a month ahead», he says. «The problem is not that this year has been dry, but that the previous ones too and we are dragging a major drought cycle, the plant has had few resources to throw away and in Jerez irrigation is forbidden, therefore, it has not been possible to provide water to the one retained by the albariza».

That we are immersed in a cycle of global climate change is evident, highlights Flores, and to the drought this year have been added a few weeks of extreme temperatures in summer and an intense east wind, which has caused the grapes to evaporate water and concentrate a lot of sugar ahead of time, without the acids having time to transform. «There was a pause in the vegetative cycle of the vine and that set off the alarm, because the grapes are paid to the weight, and with the evaporation of water volume was being lost. Many farmers threw themselves into the field and picked an unbalanced fruit. We waited and something curious happened. After that heat stroke, the vine pulled the little moisture remaining in the soil until it entered west and the grape gained weight and finished its cycle. Nature is wise».

Thanks to this turn of script, the production forecasts in the Marco de Jerez have improved. There were those who said that we would have 40 or 50% less harvest this year, but in the end this has not been the case. From a vintage of 57 million kilos in 2021, we will have had about 36 or 37 million kilos by 2022. The decline has been very uneven, the fall in yield has depended on the area, but above all on the care that the vineyard had taken. In González Byass it has been 15%, and the average in Marco will be between 25 and 30. The fight for wine will begin now for those who have to replace their soleras buying wine of the year, because there is little and the price will skyrocket».

In La Mancha, for Elías López Montero, winemaker at Bodegas Verum in Tomelloso (Ciudad Real), the sensations of this year’s harvest are complex. Nowadays what we most look for in wine is freshness, and this is very related to acidity, something that is directly affected by high temperatures. The continued heat is detrimental to the acids and we have had to advance the harvest to save that freshness».

Elías assures that this year the wines will be «equilibrista wines», because you have to hit the ripening point very well and monitor the fermentations of that harvest much earlier, so that the tannic profile is appropriate. «The drought has also made the set less and the grain smaller, thus lowering the yield in these first measures of the harvest», he comments. If necessary, it will be necessary to wait until the beginning of September to draw the definitive conclusions.

The D. O. Rueda is also experiencing the ravages of the current weather situation. The strong summer heat waves have caused significant water stress to plants during the months of July and August. This means that the harvest has been a little early, although not as much as we expected, and that the vines have behaved differently depending on whether they are irrigated or dry, since those that have had the possibility of being irrigated have been able to better withstand the high temperatures», explains Carlos Yllera, managing director of the denomination.

‘A reduction in the harvest is expected compared to what was initially expected, and although it is early because the harvest has just begun and the bulk of the harvest is still missing, it is estimated between 125 and 130 million kilos, which could be a record harvest in D. O. Rueda, since the maximum production of grapes entitled to qualification was in 2018, with almost 125 million kg, of which more than 124 were grapes of white varieties», adds the president. ‘It should be noted that when the berries come smaller than a normal year, the extraction yield in wineries will be a little lower than the average of recent years, but the health status of the grapes is very good and, with the great work of winegrowers and wineries sure that we get some wines of excellent quality».

In La Rioja, the harvest of 2022 is presented, above all, advanced. So says Roberto Vicente, winemaker of Izadi Wineries. «We come from a very dry and very warm year, at the beginning of the cycle, back in May, the vineyard came with some delay, but the climatic conditions at the end of spring and this summer have made the plants run a lot and now we have an advance of between one and two weeks, depending on the variety».

The most significant, according to Vicente, is the same that his companions stand out: a lack of water in the month of June, during flowering, which has caused fewer clusters and these have less grapes and are smaller than previous years. «We expect a shorter harvest and, however, of very high quality, since there are less grapes, but better sanitary conditions and this in the long run leads to better quality fruit».

What might seem a contradiction is, however, very easy to understand: «The vineyard is a plant very resistant to drought, and the end of winter was generous in water and there were certain reserves, so the vines have vegetated very well; having less amount of grapes there is less demand for water, with which the vine is working very well, it is true that there are places where the vines are suffering a lot, but generally, in Rioja Alavesa, what we have are very good a priori conditions for the end of ripening, although it is true that we could very well use a little water if this is associated with a drop in temperatures and does not bring summer storms with stone, because that would ruin the work of winegrowers this year».

In general, concludes the winemaker, early harvest, less grapes and smaller, but if everything goes well and nothing is twisted during the next weeks, also an exceptional quality: lots of color, aroma and tannin, which will lead to red wines with great potential for storage.

For his part, David Palacios, president of the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin Navarre, defends that now, more than ever, the vineyard must be cared for and protected from the ravages of climate change. «We are seeing it in the form of prolonged episodes of anomalies, whether they are long droughts or disproportionate precipitations concentrated». But the most worrying thing, he points out, is the rise in temperature. Being positioned in the north gives us a privilege, but that doesn’t mean we can be completely calm. Climate change is something that should concern us all and that as far as possible we must try to mitigate from a responsible and environmentally sustainable viticulture».

As for this year’s harvest, Palacios states that climatically it is a rare and complicated year in Navarre. We come from a winter with a worrying and unusual drought in the region, and from a spring in which at first it seemed that the vines did not want to sprout because the temperature did not accompany, until an early heat wave caused the vineyard to advance its cycle 20 days. The grapes are of a very good quality and are struggling to adapt every day to very high temperatures and a lack of humidity that, on the other hand, have led to the usual diseases of the vineyard not manifesting this year». Not all the effects of lack of water are bad for the plant.

At the top of the map, in Galicia, Manu Méndez, winemaker Gerardo Méndez, explains the different factors that will complicate the harvest this year in the five Galician denominations. «It is a particularly difficult year for Galicia, on the one hand, the stock break of Rías Baixas with respect to the 2021 vintage, and on the other, the high prices of grapes that are expected for this year’s harvest due to various inclement weather conditions such as the scarcity of rains and drought, and the fires in Ribeiro, which have devastated much of the vineyard». With this data, the producer of Do Ferreiro is convinced that the price of grapes in Rías Baixas will rise considerably, which will mark the pattern of the other denominations, since it is possible that there is not enough grapes.

The harvest, according to Mendez, will be advanced about 10 ahead of schedule in the region. «The grape is healthy, which is the most important, the acidity is still a little high, but if everything goes well we can reach the final 13 degrees of ripening, which is good», he says. We noticed more the problem of dry and warm winter because this caused the soil, having no clay, did not retain water and the plant started the cycle very soon and grew very unevenly. The maturation seems to have been leveling in recent weeks, sanitariamente does not seem to be going to be any problem, but the high summer temperatures have burned a lot of grapes, on those who had not done a good disheveling».

In the Canary Islands, the panorama is similar, although as Pablo López, winemaker of Bodegas El Sitio, in Tenerife, comments about the influence of the climate on the entire Canary vineyard is very complicated, not only for the different islands but for the different microclimates that exist in each one of them. ‘It is difficult, but in general, bearing in mind that there were no heat waves as pronounced as on the peninsula, we did suffer a decline in the harvest and an advance in it, with the consequent problem of ripening; we are noticing that the musts come well of alcoholic strength, but perhaps the reds do not accompany a good phenolic ripening».

The most extreme case that Lopez has encountered this year is in El Hierro, on a plot facing southwest, in the southern part of the island and at 800 meters altitude. There I work one of the most difficult varieties that exist in the Canary Islands, the black vijariego, and this year we have lost almost 60% of the production due to a hot air language that I had never seen. This, together with the irradiation of the soil, caused literally the grape clusters and basal leaves to burn, not those above, which is what usually happens, but those below. And then, with this second heat wave that we are having now, ripening was normal last week, waiting to cut to 14.5 degrees, but I have mounted it in 15 in three days». It’s time to keep looking up at the sky.




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