Given that 2017 has been one of the earliest vintages on record, many producers have by now a clear idea of the kind of wines they will have this year.
After talking to more than 20 of them, the picture seems very complex. The drought and the devastating frost in the northern half of the country caught the headlines, but many regions avoided these phenomena. Rainfall was generous in Txakoli country, as well as in Valencia and, to some extent, in the Sherry Triangle and the Balearics; yields were particularly high in Rías Baixas and the south east is set to have the best wines of 2017 together with northern regions of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Once again, the harvest has been very diverse along the 100 kilometres of vineyards that form part of Rioja.
One thing is clear: the main lesson to learn on the 2017 vintage is that producers are becoming more aware than ever of the challenges posed by climate change.
Sherry Triangle. Bodegas Luis Pérez produces both traditional sherry and still reds and whites. According to owner Willy Pérez, 2017 will outperform the concentrated 2016 vintage, which was marked by the hot, easterly Levante wind. “This year’s wines feel softer and more balanced and our local red Tintilla is very aromatic,” Pérez points out. On the other hand, Palomino was more savoury in the 2016 vintage although the 2017 wines are set to be fruit-driven and with good acidity.” Average rainfall in the area was generous, with 630mm recorded,” Pérez adds.
Montilla-Moriles. Drought was the main issue here with vines suffering from severe water stress. The harvest was particularly fast and early –the first grapes for the new 3 Miradas collection recently launched by Alvear and Envínate were picked on August 10th.
Málaga. Winemaker Lauren Rosillo, who is in charge of the wines of Familia Martínez Bujanda in Rioja and other Spanish wine producing regions, also grows vines in Axarquía, a rugged wine region in Málaga. He is happy with his 2017: an early, balanced vintage and one the best in recent times, along with 2010. “It has been an outstanding vintage in southeastern Spain,” he reckons.
“Quality has been outstanding for growers who waited to pick grapes in vineyards that were not affected by hail,” explains Fernando Mora MW, who makes wines in Fuendejalón (Frontonio) and Campo de Borja (Cuevas de Arom). “Wines are balanced as they have good phenolic and alcoholic ripeness.” Mora also highlights the good acidity obtained in high altitude vineyards and the quality of tannins which are ripe and firm.
In Cariñena, winemaker Jorge Navascués who works for Aylés and is set to launch shortly his own project in the area, was pleasantly surprised with this year’s harvest. Grapes have ripened homogeneously —no green berries or raisins this year— despite a 40% drop in production caused by three consecutive years of drought. “Acidity and pH levels are good this year and the wines show lovely concentration. Unlike other areas in Spain, the harvest in Cariñena started just six days earlier than usual,” he explains.
His impressions for Navarra, where he consults for Viña Zorzal, are pretty similar: “Old vine Garnacha has the ability to self-regulate in extreme conditions; this year’s wines are likely to be more structured, but still retain the distinctive freshness usually found in the Fitero area.”
After losing around 20% of the harvest to frost, Matías Batle from Binigrau in Mallorca blames the June heatwave for “suffocating plants”. He is increasingly worried about unusually high temperatures in spring. Meanwhile, Francesc Grimalt from 4 Kilos insists that there is a wrong perception in terms of the climate in the Balearic islands. “Everyone thinks that this area is very dry but we had 700mm average rainfall in 2016 and 600mm this year until November.
According to Grimalt, 2017 was a “tropical vintage” with generous rainfall in winter and some precipitations in July and August. They lost 10% of the grapes to frost. Despite the scorching heat of the summer, I tasted some reds made with the local Callet grape at their winery a few weeks ago which were fresh and juicy with good fruit definition. Grimalt says that well-adapted indigenous grapes cope well with heat –in this regard, he predicts that Fogoneu will be a great choice to tackle climate change.
Further north in Pollensa, local varieties Manto Negro and Gorgollasa outperformed international grapes at the small Can Xanet estate. Merlot this year was picked at the end of August.
Roberto Santana from Envínate distinguishes two areas in Tenerife: Taganana and Orotava in the north, where vines grow below 800m and are widely exposed to the influence of trade winds, and Santiago del Teide where vineyards are planted at higher altitude and trade winds are unnoticed.
Vines near Teide volcano were hit by draught and heat waves so it was difficult to decide which was the best moment to pick to avoid both unripe and overripe grapes. It usually takes a couple of weeks to harvest this area but this year the work was done in just four days. Fermenting temperatures couldn’t go beyond 26-27ºC and vatting times were shortened. Santana predicts “expressive, fine, approachable reds that won’t be suitable to lay down.”
In contrast, the northern areas recorded one of the best vintages since 2008. In these usually humid regions, the year’s heat and draught helped to harvest healthy, fully ripe grapes. With such quality, says Santana, winemaking styles have been tailored to each vineyard.
Frost ravaged vast areas of Castilla y León in west central Spain. Beyond the better known appellations like Bierzo or Ribera del Duero, we heard from winemaker Rafael Somonte that Dominio de Tares had sadly not picked a single Prieto Picudo grape in León. The terrain, a flat plateau with no mountain protection, and the creeping nature of this grape variety explain the fact that vineyards were so badly hit.
“In terms of quality, 2017 is a good vintage; the sole concern is the lack of acidity given the high temperatures and severe drought during spring and summer,” explains Eduardo García, who makes Garmón in Ribera del Duero, San Román in Toro and Mauro in VT Castilla y León. The drought has meant very low yields so the wines are fruit-driven and concentrated, but García thinks tannins will help to offset alcohol.
“Despite high levels of concentration, tannins are soft and unctuous; wines lack a bit of tension because of the low acidity, but I’m happily surprised to find that they feel rather fresh on the palate and are like to be in line with 2015, perhaps a little bit smoother,” adds García. “It was crucial to harvest relatively early this year to maintain freshness; we have also shortened skin-contact times to avoid extracting too much potassium.”
Ribera del Duero. All vintages finished in 7 seem to be cursed in this appellation and 2017 has followed the trend. Frost damage was widespread and hit “areas that are rarely affected like the plateau,” explains Pedro Ruiz from Pago de Carraovejas. This year’s harvest is 40% smaller than a standard vintage, he estimates. Figures are even more dramatic in certain areas of Burgos, particularly around Aranda de Duero, Fuentelcésped, La Aguilera, Gumiel de Izán and Gumiel de Mercado with producers reporting losses of 75% to 80%.
Gonzalo Iturriaga, technical director at Tempos Vega Sicilia, sees a difference between the Valladolid province where they have managed to make elegant, fresh, spicy reds despite the low yields (“not very concentrated but providing tension and with polished tannins”) and a much more heterogeneous picture in Burgos where almost 40% of grapes had to be discarded. “2017 is not a powerful vintage but the results have been good considering how bad things originally looked. We have done a lot of green pruning and have discarded unripe, inconsistent or problematic batches.” Overall, Iturriaga considers 2017 to be better than 2007.
Toro. Eduardo García explains the situation in this region: “San Román fared better as we weren’t hit by frost; low yields here were caused by draught. The good thing about Toro is that vines are used to having little water and the soil structure allows them to adapt better to drought conditions. It has been easier to control water stress in Toro compared to Ribera del Duero. The ripening cycle has been longer and vines have managed to keep some freshness.”
Gonzalo Iturriaga is happy with the 30-50 litres of rain that fell on their Pintia vineyards by the end of August when alcohol was almost at 15% but grapes were far from ripe. This really fixed the vintage, bringing full ripeness with good acidity levels. “This vintage is more about finesse rather than power: we have not extracted heavily and we are carrying out less malolactic fermentations in barrels,” he explains.
Marcos Eguren reported a shorter vintage in Teso La Monja, their winery in Toro, compared with 2016. The wines nevertheless fell within the normal parameters and he claims that quality is outstanding for the old vines that were not damaged by frost. Significantly, this was their earliest harvest ever —they started to pick grapes in late August— so they couldn’t benefit from temperature contrasts between night and day even if wines have slightly higher acidity levels. “The wines have higher alcohol and less structure as they were picked early but I love their style. They are fruit-driven, energetic reds,” says Eguren.
Rueda. Drought and frost shrank production by 30% to 50% at Finca Montepedroso (owned by Familia Martínez Bujanda). It is a vintage with concentrated wines, says winemaker Lauren Rosillo, high in extract and with low acidity requiring adjustments. Surprisingly, pH levels are relatively low so he predicts 2017 to be better than 2012. “We have picked small, sun-drenched, fully ripe berries,” he told SWL.
Bierzo. As one of the worst frost-hit regions, producing costs in the vineyard and grape prices have skyrocketed. Rafael Somonte, from Dominio de Tares, estimates that half of their production has been lost. In line with other parts of Castilla y Léon, 2017 was a short, early vintage –grapes were picked two weeks in advance, but quality was good, according to Somonte. “The small number of grapes left on the plant have ripened quickly helped by a warm, dry summer. Malolactic fermentations were almost immediately followed by alcoholic fermentations. The wines are set to be powerful, concentrated and slightly alcoholic with high pH and low acidity levels even if we at Tares try to pick our grapes relatively early and are increasingly focusing on cooler areas,” predicts Somonte.
At Finca Antigua, the winery owned by Familia Martínez Bujanda in La Mancha, Lauren Rosillo reported of losses 30% to 60%. 2017 has brought highly concentrated wines with polished tannins, deep colour, high alcohol and low acidity.
“Fresh years are the exception. Despite rampant ripeness, 2017 is better than 2015 and 2016 even if it doesn’t reach the quality of 2010 and 2013.”
According to winemaker Rafael Orozco, who consults for several producers in DO Manchuela, 2017 is not a good year for whites nor rosés. The stress on the vines and the quick ripening have brought a loss of aromas. In terms of reds, the picture is much better; grapes were very healthy and the wines deserve good marks. “Bobal, a low-alcohol, rustic grape has benefitted from the warm summer with wines reaching 13.5% this year,” Orozco explains.
Bodegas y Viñedos Fontana has been recording lower than average rainfall on their vineyards in Uclés since 2014 but 2017 has seen a new low with barely 230mm of rain. The challenge in these circumstances, explains winemaker Tao Plato, was "to use irrigation as a quality element to prevent the plant from halting its vegetative cycle under such water stress conditions, maintain freshness in the wines and manage the canopy to keep the bunches on the shade." On their earliest harvest ever –they started on August 9 with Muscat– Fontana tried to retain freshness and aromatic ripeness on the grapes. "Contrary to what it could be expected, the wines are fresh with pure fruit, well-defined varietal character and moderate alcohol levels –in fact, the alcohol content is below average. The whites are aromatic and the reds have retained a firm texture with no green tannins," adds Platón.
The detailed harvest report compiled by Bodegas Torres concludes that 2017 has been a good vintage in Catalonia. A majority of wine regions had water reserves from the winter, but the heat waves and drought during the spring and summer have been critical this year. Fortunately, some areas in Catalonia registered milder than average temperatures during August and September allowing for slow, full ripeness. According to Miguel Torres Maczasseck, “2017 is the earliest harvest I can recall and the shortest in terms of days and production.” Concentrated wines are expected this year.
In Penedès, the first whites (Moscatel and Chardonnay) were harvested on 16 August whereas Merlot was picked on the 26th. The last grape to be picked was head-pruned Moneu on 6 October –this is one of the ancient varieties recovered by the Torres family to tackle climate change and one that has proved to withstand high temperatures.
Merlot suffered the most and required thorough selection. Whites display good aromatics while reds have good structure even if, in the case of Mas La Plana Cabernet, skin-contact times have been shortened. Rainfall during the growing season was almost half of normal levels, but temperatures were average.
In Priorat, spring and summer were particularly hot and dry resulting in an early, low-yield harvest with some dehydration problems in warm areas like El Lloar. Fruit ripening was more balanced in the northern village of Porrera thanks to the fact that September started windy and chilly. Reds are expected to reflect the grapes they come from; they will be concentrated but gentle.
Conca de Barberà follows a similar pattern —an early harvest with the absence of rain in spring and summer— but temperatures were not warmer than usual so long-cycle grape varieties ripened slowly. Red wines are concentrated and have ageing potential; whites are balanced and aromatic.
In Costers del Segre, Torres grows grapes in two different areas. In Purgatori, a vineyard area in Garrigues to the south west, temperatures between April and September were higher than the average since 1999. A dry summer brought very low yields, notably for Syrah, some Garnacha and the ancient varieties. In contrast, late-ripening grapes (some of the Garnacha and Cariñena) benefited from September’s cool temperatures. To the north in Pallars, where Torres grows grapes at 950m above sea level, the marked temperature differences between day and night failed to prevent an early harvest.
French consultant Dominque Roujou, who makes Franck Massard’s wines in Terra Alta, witnessed an early harvest with very low yields –the output was more homogenous in high-yielding vineyards, he explains. “We have blended plots with different profiles so that we don’t have to correct the wines and have resources to manage alcohol. We have also achieved well balanced whites,” Roujou adds.
Frost severely hit Valdeorras and Monterrei, but didn’t reach Rías Baixas were the harvest was pretty generous in 2017. According to Dominique Roujou, who consults for Pombal, Lagar de Pintos and Don Olegario in the Salnés Valley and Tricó in the subarea of Condado, 2017 is a good vintage with good levels of alcohol, acidity and balance. Some wines could be a bit diluted depending on yields but he thinks that “2017 will find a place among the good years in Rías Baixas.” In contrast, Rodrigo Méndez from Forjas del Salnés talks about a “nightmare vintage” due to draught –ripeness was so irregular that they had to harvest each plot at different times. “The best sites have suffered badly; this year the vines grown on deep soils performed better,” he says.
Ribeira Sacra. Early ripening was particularly striking in the subarea of Amandi, where “Mencía was fully ripe by the end of August, three weeks ahead of a standard vintage,” Dominique Roujou, winemaker at Ponte da Boga, points out. “It’s not going to be the freshest of vintages.” Late ripening areas like Bibei or Pontón performed better and showed some freshness, he suggests. “Warm vintages favour late-ripening varieties like Brancellao and Sousón.” He expects gentle, direct wines and thinks that blending warm and fresh areas could help to offset the hot profile of the vintage. In terms of whites, frost reduced production but the quality is good.
Roberto Santana from Envínate agrees on the general picture. He thinks that the rain at the end of August brought a respite and allowed vines to recover a little from the drought. Wines will be fruit-driven and structured but immediate and direct. As far as he sees it, “this is not the vintage of the century”.
Ribeiro. Winemaker Xose Lois Sebio, from Coto de Gomariz, describes 2017 as a very dry, short harvest with drought and late frosts “which wiped out 12 of our 33Ha”. Picking started almost one month before the usual dates. “Luckily, the loss of water concentrated both sugar but acidity and the dry, warm weather allowed us to harvest each plot at the right moment. It also helped grapes from the second budding to achieve full ripeness, often in a more balanced way.”
Sebio had to carry out four different harvests: first were the dry, overripe berries; then, hail-damaged fruit followed by slow-ripening grapes grown on fresh areas and finally the berries that were born after the frost. There were major variations depending on the location of the vineyards but in general terms, Sebio expects the wines to be “ripe and low in acidity, with soft tannins and alcohol adding a sweet, round palate; crowd-pleasing wines for early consumption.” Sebio has a word of warning: “Climate change is here to stay. We must adapt to it both in the vineyards and in the winery. We simply cannot be caught off guard again”.
Valdeorras. Rafael Palacios from As Sortes distinguishes two stages in the harvest: the first, at the beginning of September, with highly concentrated berries but modest aromas that ripened fast; and a second stage when second buds ripened well following the warm October weather. According to Palacios, this second stage is set to bring the freshness and finesse that is absent on the first stage and will be crucial to save the vintage and produce interesting wines in 2017. Apart from Louro, he plans to produce around 15,000 bottles of As Sortes, well below standard productions.
In 2017, this region north of Madrid went through all possible misfortunes: frost, rain during the flowering period and draught at the end of the summer and autumn. But, according to Daniel Jiménez Landi from Comando G, the worst moments were two devastating summer hails “oddly abundant and widespread across Gredos’s three valleys” which shrank yields to 50%. Unsurprisingly, 2017 was an early, warm vintage “with a large gap between phenolic and alcoholic ripeness, lower acidity, higher pH levels and more microbiological instability in the wines,” says Landi. He expects 2017 to be in line with 2012 and 2015 but with better quality. Alongside his partner Fernando García, they have worked and learnt a great deal this year. “It’s not really a bad vintage for those who have read the signals well,” he points out. His assessment: “Smooth, light wines without great complexity but well-defined and bursting with elegant and beautiful aromas.”
Apart from being one of the few areas in Spain to escape unscathed, overall quality has been excellent. José María Vicente from Casa Castillo in Jumilla is delighted with his Monastrell wines and expects top quality premium reds (Gravas and Pie Franco) this year. Generous rainfall on winter and timely precipitations at the end of August granted some respite to heat-stricken vines and were the quality factors in 2017. “Monastrell ripened beautifully and the wines show deep, intense fruit,” explains Vicente, who describes 2017 as a textbook Mediterranean vintage —acidity might be slightly lower but is in style to 2015.
The team of winemakers behind Envínate is also happy with their Garnacha Tintorera from Almansa and Moravia Agria from Manchuela. The harvest was pushed forward two weeks earlier than usual, but they are upbeat about its quality. Wines are complex and show good aging potential.
Pablo Calatayud from Celler del Roure shares the enthusiasm in Valencia: “Between the 2016 and the 2017 harvest we registered 800mm of rainfall. Isn’t that wonderful? Additionally, plants grew more vigorous with the high temperatures in May and June resulting in an early start of the vegetative cycle; plants had lots of leaves but just a few bunches to ripen. In our case, low yields are a consequence of the drought in 2016, but the quality is outstanding. We picked healthy grapes with balanced sugar and acidity and good phenolic ripeness. We are really happy and expect a typical Mediterranean vintage with our indigenous varieties performing at their best.
In Alicante, Pepe Mendoza from E. Mendoza tells a similar story. He reports a 50% yield loss but points out that there was no need to throw grapes to the ground this year. Given the shorter vegetative cycle, wines are not aromatic or exuberant, but they have good colour and acidity and will age well, Mendoza predicts.
Back at Bodegas Los Frailes in Valencia, consultant Dominique Roujou explains that early ripening grapes, notably Syrah and Tempranillo, suffered from the early nature of the vintage. Alcohol was higher than usual and phenolic and sugar ripeness was imbalaced. They had to work with short macerations and will most probably shorten aging times.
Marcos Eguren from Sierra Cantabria described an extremely short vintage marked by frost and the difficulties of managing two separate buddings. “In the end, the harvest was easier than we had foreseen and quality was pretty good,” he tells SWL. “Acidity from the second offset the ripeness of our first harvest. The result is half a degree of alcohol above the average.”
Time will tell how the wines develop, but Eguren compares 2017 with other early vintages like 2015, 2014 and 1994 (“the first time we started harvesting in September”). In terms of style, this is a warm vintage just like 2015, but he is surprised to see that the wines have better acidity and lower pH levels, “probably because of the freshness brought by the grapes from the second budding,” he ventures. Interestingly, the top wines haven’t suffered much compared with the entry-level range: “Production costs per kilo of grapes have soared in line with the high number of times we have been forced to work our vineyards.”
At Vega Sicilia’s Macán, winemaker Gonzalo Iturriaga highlights the hardness of grape skins thus a thorough selection had to be done before putting the wine in the barrels including clarification of press wines. Soft extraction to avoid green flavours and fermentation below 26ºC where common practices this year.
Lauren Rosillo from Familia Martínez Bujanda draws quite a different picture in frost-free areas like Finca Valpiedra near Logroño and other vineyards in Oyón (Rioja Alavesa) destined to Viña Bujanda. “Quality has been very good, similar to 2015 and 2016, which were close to excellent,” adds Rosillo. He reports higher alcohol levels in 2017 but overall he describes the vintage as “dry and concentrated with polished tannins, slightly low acidity but set to develop well.”
Nearby in Contino, owned by Cvne, Jorge Navascués was raving about his first vintage there as winemaker: “The wines don’t seem to be from a warm, dry vintage. Despite the early ripening, they are balanced and alcohol is moderate. Every single tank is outstanding.”
According to Garikoitz Ríos from Itsasmendi, 2017 was a vintage for winemakers to play a key role because the latest stages of the harvest were very challenging. “September 2017 was one of the coolest, wettest months I can recall in 25 years”, Ríos says. The best grapes were picked in the first two weeks of harvest before botrytis appeared. “Broadly speaking, we have less alcohol than in our three previous vintages and a bit more acidity; some vats are really delicate and we have expressive aromas.” Ríos announces that they will maintain the distinctive profile of their top cuvées but will produce fewer bottles. Maintaining quality standards has been more complicated in the young wine, yet they found the time to make a skin-contact wine with Hondarrabi Zuri.