early harvests, grapes that do not resist and artificial irrigation

early harvests, grapes that do not resist and artificial irrigation

Joseba Lazkano asked his father a few days ago if he had ever experienced such a hot summer in Getaria. “Her answer from him was no. We have been almost two whole months without a drop of rain,” says Lazkano. This family of txakoli producers —their winery, Gaintza, was created almost a hundred years ago— has their vineyards 200 or 300 meters from the sea and this summer they have even seen a nearby meadow turn yellow due to the lack of water.

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Although the decrease in humidity has had its positive side for the vines —they have barely presented mildew, a vine disease—, are now preparing for an advance of the harvest that supposes “a bit of madness” for the logistics of the winery. Years ago they harvested almost at the end of September and these days they plan to harvest their Chardonnay at the beginning of the month and the Hondarrabi ten days later. The rains of the first days of September, both in this region and in Rías Baixas, will help the plants to recover a bit of hydration before the harvest. "And if not, it will have to be cut like this," says Rodrigo Méndez, owner of Bodegas Forjas del Salnés, who acknowledges that in this area they are not used to such a drought.

This winery will also advance the grape harvest to the 10th, or perhaps earlier in some plots. The high temperatures, from the end of spring, that have characterized the last few months have conditioned the cycle of the vineyards in the north of the peninsula. One of the projects of the producer Goyo García Viadero is located in the Liébana Valley, in Cantabria, where he makes wine with Mencía and Palomino grapes, varieties that "have had a bad time" this year, with a very dry winter that was not corrected with the spring rains. He will also advance the harvest in this area.

live with instability

The climate change "It is no longer a forecast, it is not an ideology or a trend, it is already a reality," says Jaime Postigo, winemaker and director of Bosque de Matasnos, in Ribera del Duero. Farms like his, with 950 meters of altitude, have a certain advantage, because at night the temperatures can drop to 12 degrees, which allows the plants to rest in their cycle. But Postigo points to "the number and variability of climatic accidents" as another consequence of the current situation, something that this area is not exempt from either. He acknowledges that the latest storms and, above all, the hail, are being very complicated to manage.

It already happened to them last year, with hailstorms in April and May that, together with extreme temperatures at the beginning of spring and at the end of summer, caused a 50% loss in the harvest. "Climate accidents are becoming more pronounced, I think we will have to learn to live with instability," he adds. Toni Sarrión, winemaker and owner of the Mustiguillo winery (Valle de Requena-Utiel), also recounts some unforeseen weather phenomenon: “It is not normal for us to have such high temperatures here for so many months. Recently we had torrential storms, in one day 70 liters fell, an early cold drop”.

Native grapes resist better than foreign ones

Sarrión agrees with producers from other areas when he points out native varieties as those that have shown the greatest capacity to adapt to the new climatic reality. In his case, grapes such as Bobal, Malvasia, Merseguera or Macabeo, which "have suffered less than foreign varieties." The Tempranillo, which has had a hard time in that Mediterranean area, has shown a better adaptation and resistance in the Ribera del Duero, where other varieties have suffered greatly from the lack of water. This is the case of Malbec, originally from the French area of ​​Cahors.

In both Ribera and Rioja, one of the solutions sought by producers is altitude. "The climate has nothing to do with what we had here 20 years ago, Tempranillo is traditionally better in cool and high areas," says David González, from the Gómez Cruzado winery in Rioja Alta. There and in other places such as Ribera del Duero, the old vineyard has better withstood the lack of water and high temperatures. And the vineyard planted in a goblet also carries out better water management. "It has to make less effort, it is closer to the ground, there is less evaporation and the ripening cycle is even shorter," explains Jaime Postigo.

watering to survive

“There is water difficulty, but we have an irrigation facility. For the purists, it was something that distorted the way of understanding the nature or the biology of the vine, but we refer to the facts”, says the director of Bosque de Matasnos. He is not the only one who points to irrigation as a way of mitigating the problems that rising temperatures and lack of rain in many areas are causing in wine production.

In a place as little related to water scarcity as Rías Baixas, this year growers have begun to think that "you still have to use irrigation, not to get more production but to guarantee the survival of the plants," explains Rodrigo Méndez. . Miriam Marchena, vineyard manager at Bodegas Roda (with projects in Rioja Alta and Ribera del Duero), assures that “climate change, for those who don't want to see it, is very present and makes you think about many things”. She acknowledges that irrigation has been "the best option" for those who have it. “They have managed to save production and achieve quality,” she points out.

With forecasts reaching up to 30% harvest reduction in some areas and with their eyes set on the sky, many producers will tackle the harvest of a difficult and irregular wine year earlier than expected. “Finding the optimal moment is quite complicated. You have to adapt”, summarizes Marchena.

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