Low yields have been common in most of Spain’s wine producing regions. Severe draught, irregular flowering or just the performance of the plant after the highly generous 2018 vintage are the main causes, together with sporadic cases of hail and frost. Loose clusters with small, lightweight berries have resulted in high levels of concentration.
Although alcohol is high in some areas, surprisingly low pHs levels are another widespread feature of the 2019 vintage. Producers insist on the importance of managing concentration. Wines may also need more time to fully develop their potential. This year’s vintage calls for patience.
Jorge Navascués is particularly excited about the high quality of the vintage. Winemaker at Contino, he also consults for wineries in Navarra and Aragón and makes his own wines in Aragón. “This is the best vintage of the last 10-12 years and one of the few that combines lower yields and higher quality,” he told SWL. “Concentration is good enough to hope for a legendary vintage,” he added. “Despite the warm, dry conditions, the wines don’t lack acidity and have the lowest pHs in recent years which means long-lived wines with huge potential.”
This is the first of a two-part report on the 2019 vintage in Spain. It includes the impressions of over 25 producers from Galicia, the north coast, Castilla y León, Rioja, Navarra, Aragón and Gredos.
Judging from the three areas in Rías Baixas, plus the wineries in Ribeiro and Ribeira Sacra where he consults, winemaker Domnique Roujou concludes that the common feature of the 2019 vintage in Galicia is the excellent acidity. He summarized the year as follows: “In contrast with 2018, we had less rainfall in winter. Spring was marked by sharp temperature variations leading to early outbreaks of mildew, particularly in Rías Baixas. Summer was wet and mild without the heatwaves that hit other regions. From mid-August, the Azores anticyclone allowed grapes to ripen well. The rain in September had a bigger impact on the coast than on inland areas.”
According to Roujou, yields were low in Rías Baixas but the quality was very good. Anad although higher than usual, acidity is well integrated. In terms of yields, Eulogio Pomares from Zárate notes the difference between the official figures published by Rías Baixas Regulatory Board and the reality of the Salnés valley where most producers have experienced a 30-40% loss compared with 2018. The reason, he points out, lies in the physiology of the plant. After two vintages with very high yields, vines produced less clusters per bud. This together with the absence of rain during the 40 days of ripening resulted in lightweight clusters with little must. “The quality is perfect,” stresses Pomares. “We have extremely healthy grapes with balanced acidity and alcohol.” All their single vineyard wines are set to be produced, but the Galician winemaker warns that unlike the gentle, easy-drinking 2018 vintage, this year it will take longer to balance the acidity.
In Ribeiro, Roujou describes a comfortable, staggered harvest picking one variety after another. White grapes were particularly healthy, but the reds saw some rain as ripening usually takes longer.
Ribeira Sacra was the exception in terms of volume —a new record was set in the DO with 7.3m kg of grapes harvested compared to 6.1m kg in 2018. “The rainfall in the latest stage of the harvest resulted in grapes with more weight, but the general profile is fresh with restrained alcohol,” says Roujou. The 2019 harvest feels like a blessing after several extremely hard years in the region. Take the case of Dominio de Bibei: hail damaged 75% of their grapes in 2015, 2016 was marked by mildew, frost hit 80% of their vineyards in 2017 and 2018 was marked by bad flowering, mildew and rot. “In 2019 we have achieved perfect ripeness, the draught did not affect the region and we had plenty of fresh nights in August,” says winemaker Paula Fernández. In Amandi, Pedro Rodríguez (Adegas Guímaro) highlights the long, slow ripening process aided by the coolest August in years that allowed for a comfortable, staggered harvest. He also reports healthy grapes with almost no need of sorting.
Last week in Valdeorras Rafael Palacios was still waiting for three late-ripening plots to harvest but was happy with what he considers is a “normal, healthy, untroubled vintage”. He is back to his regular yields after the devastating frost in 2017 (production of his entry-level white Louro was reduced to 60%) and mildew in 2018 (40% less of Louro). Galicia didn’t suffer heatwaves this year, but Palacios benefited from his location in the Bibei valley, a fresh, elevated area that avoided the high temperatures registered in the Sil valley in late August and early September.
Irregular and late budding in the Bibei valley meant that the bulk of the picking was done in the first half of October. “I prefer to harvest grapes in the second half of the month [in 2016, Palacios finished on November 4th], but we had an excess of rain this year,” he points out. “Godello has thick skins, good acidity and a vegetal backbone. Grapes that have ripened slowly will translate into savoury, appealing wines,” Palacios adds. If you are a fan of O soro, his single-vineyard Godello, you may be interested to know that the plot was harvested in October 10th; hail reduced yields, but Rafa confirms that he has made two barrels so the chances are that the wine will be released in due time.
Winemaker Pablo Eguzkiza, Telmo Rodríguez’s partner at Cía de Vinos, confirms a generous year for Godello. Mencía ripened quickly though: “The skin is so delicate that sometimes it looks as if the grapes soften rather that get ripe,” he remarks. The good news is that Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez will be producing their single-vineyard wines (Falcoeira, As Caborcas and O Diviso) and yields are higher than usual. Prospects before malolactic fermentation are good.
Monterrei. As in other parts of Galicia, José Luis Mateo (Quinta da Muradella) is happy with this “good, fresh, healthy and balanced harvest”. Like Palacios, he distinguishes between grapes picked before the rain (his vines suffered some hail too) and the rest of the plots, which needed time to recover. The harvest was calm so he was able to do many separate fermentations including a new experiment with Dona Blanca fermented in clay vessels. After three “terrible” vintages he has begun to experiment with different pruning times in order to avoid flowering problems in his vineyards.
In Cangas (Asturias), Beatriz Pérez from Bodegas Vidas shares similar conclusions to her colleagues in eastern Galicia: better yields (this region also suffered mildew in 2018) and good quality grapes thanks to the absence of fungal diseases and the benign weather in the latest stages of ripening. The harvest was slightly delayed but picking was done by October 14th in contrast with their traditional dates, around October 12th. Even Carrasquín, their latest ripening variety, “has reached full maturity” this year. At Bodegas Vidas they have been blessed with a dry October over the past few years. “Climate change benefits us,” Beatriz Pérez points out.
Winemaker Ana Martín Onzain (she consults for Casona Micaela in Costa de Cantabria and Basque txakoli producers like Hiruzta and Riscal in Gipuzkoa and Astobiza in Álava) describes 2019 as a good, Atlantic profile vintage. Picking was still underway in Cantabria when we spoke last week (“they are one of the last in Spain to finish harvest”). In txakoli country, “yields were lower and berries smaller due to spring frosts in Getaria and Oñate. Fruit set was better in Álava where, in the absence of mildew in contrast with last year, good alcohol and acidity levels were achieved.”
In Bizkaiko Txakolina, Garikoitz Ríos from Itsasmendi picked his last grapes on October 21st. He also sees an Atlantic profile in 2019 with medium to high acidity, yet he reports certain instability. “Harvest started well with good ripe fruit but then got a bit complicated. The autumn so far is grey and with poor light. Although fortunately we didn’t suffer heavy rainfall, the grapes stopped and I miss the complexity and the volume we usually achieve during the second week of harvest that helps to balance acidity.” With most fermentations about to finish, the main challenge according to Ríos is “how to integrate acidity.” In the DO Getariako Txakolina, Aitor Txueka from Txomin Etxaniz reports regular levels of alcohol and acidity, but blames the bad weather during flowering for a 20% reduction in yields.
In Bierzo, the only appellation in this large region that is part of the Miño and Sil basins, Ricardo Pérez Palacios claims to have “incredible, powerful, fresh wines”. He told SWL that 2019 was a humid year with changing weather and the harvest was one of the driest he can recall in the area (a mere 10 mm. of rainfall). Harvest began around the usual September 6th date, but the good weather sped up the process so picking concluded before the end of the month in contrast with the usual dates in mid-October. As opposed to 2018 (“a text-book Atlantic vintage, full of finesse and one of the largest in Bierzo”), Ricardo thinks they will have to “wait to see the beauty of 2019.”. In his opinion, the wines are tannic, less aromatic and feel closed —just like in 2010 and 2011.
In the Duero Valley, drought and low yields were the dominant issues. Scarce rainfall during the harvest marked certain differences, but overall quality and concentration are high.
In Toro “drought set a gloomy picture, but rainfall in key moments —15 litres at the end of September and 10 litres at the beginning of October— smoothed things over,” says Gonzalo Iturriaga, technical director at Tempos Vega Sicilia. Nights were cooler than usual during the harvest resulting in good polyphenolic ripeness: “Grapes are smaller but their berries ripened well, with good levels of alcohol and without loosing acidity.” According to Iturriaga “2019 won't be as good as 2018, which was an amazing vintage, but we find better balance than in 2015 (powerful), 2016 (light) and 2017 (absence of freshness).” A very good vintage from his point of view.
Pablo Eguzkiza (Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez) sees many similarities between Toro, Ribera and Rioja: relatively high alcohol, but good acidity and low pHs. “Small berries change the skin-must ratio, there are lots of colour and an acidic, slightly aggressive element on the palate which emphasises tannins. The question is why there is such low pH,” he wonders.
Eduardo García from San Román mentions the rise in grape prices given the low yields in the region (around 14m kg in contrast with 18-20m last vintage).
In Rueda, Mariví Pariente from Bodegas José Pariente says that drought marked the vintage but yields weren’t too low: “around 15% below a standard year”. In terms of quality, she notes the absence of plant diseases: “It was a joy to look at the grapes.” The general impression is very positive: “Our last fermentation ended eight days ago, we have fresh aromas and good palates but it was a better vintage for Verdejo than Sauvignon Blanc.” Lauren Rosillo from Finca Montepedroso (Familia Martínez Bujanda) confirms the high concentration and the outstanding quality in the area.
Ignacio Príncipe from César Príncipe reports that old vines performed better in his dry-farmed vineyards in Cigales. There was some rain before the harvest which helped with the ripening process and increased balance in the vines. Healthy, small berries showing good concentration in line with neighbouring regions translates into a slightly warm yet interesting vintage, according to Príncipe.
Feelings in Ribera del Duero are a bit mixed depending on the climate conditions experienced by each producer. Although less severe than in 2017, Pablo Eguzkiza points to spring frosts as a crucial issue. “We expected an early harvest but in the end it took quite a while to achieve full ripeness. Hydric stress stopped the ripening process and we ended up picking in October.”
Gonzalo Iturriaga, Vega Sicilia’s winemaker, distinguishes between the grapes grown at the estate in Valladolid and those purchased for Alión across the appellation. “90% of the grapes picked in Vega Sicilia are outstanding, have ripen slowly, feature slightly high alcohol with good acidity in line with last year, but skins and seeds are fully-ripe in 2019.” Even if it is still a bit soon as they are devatting most wines now, Iturriaga expects high levels of concentration. “I feel this can be a really great vintage,” he says.
Regarding other areas in the appellation he says that quality exceeds 2017 and 2018, perhaps even 2016. He is happy with grapes from Roa in Burgos and particularly from the moorland in Moradillo which serve as a sound basis for Alión. La Aguilera was a mixed bag as some grapes were a bit diluted because of the rain. He found that grapes from clay soils showed less intensity this year, but gravelly soils worked very well. “This is the first year we buy grapes from Peñaranda, an elevated village northeast of Aranda de Duero with old, small plots and a variety of soils which produce fresh, elegant wines with vibrant acidity,” Iturriaga adds.
According to Eduardo García (Garmón in Ribera del Duero, Mauro in Tudela de Duero), “fresher conditions in September could have meant a perfect vintage, but the ripening process speeded up and alcohol raised.” He finds more balance in 2018 (“higher yields and more acidity”) while 2019 is “structured, tannic and concentrated,” but García thinks that both of them are vintages to lay down, so he intends to delay bottling. As for winemaking, he says that 2019 will react well to oxygen whether by means of new barrels, more rackings or extended aging. “We will have to be patient,” he concludes.
In Sardón de Duero, just beyond the limits of the DO, Ángel Anocíbar, winemaker at Abadía Retuerta, says that 2019 is a super powerful vintage in line with 2011 and 2015. “Four years ago we would be celebrating this, but as styles evolve, this is not the best way to achieve finesse. In my 23 years at Abadía Retuerta, I had never seen such small berries,” he points out. The reasons behind this: budding as groundwater levels were low, the heatwave in June and a mild, extremely dry summer. “In the latest stages, when grapes are supposed to gain weight, vines stopped. It was like that for several weeks, then dehydration pushed alcohol and acidity up.” Anocíbar says the quality is good but the wines are “concentrated by their very nature.”
The only producer who seems to have avoided concentration to a certain extent is Bertrand Sourdais (Antídoto and Dominio de Es), who tends vineyards in the province of Soria, on the eastern end of the appellation. He reports contradictory conditions following a spring frost which luckily didn’t stress the vines: good vegetative growth despite drought and heatwaves (“perhaps due to the inertia of the 2018 vintage”); and must yields of 70% despite the small size of the berries. He thinks a key factor may be that the sunny days were combined with cold nights. Sourdais describes high-density musts, rich in acidity and aromas, but not necessarily concentrated. His wines have high yet not excessive alcohol, lower pH, standard acidity and good balance. “The colour is red, almost like in the Loire, which means that skins were not hard at all; we are keeping the skins longer because the cap is not getting oxidized this year.” According to Sourdais, 2019 is far are more lively than 2017 and resembles 2005 or 2015. “All of these are great, yet shy vintages; it will take more time to reveal its full potential.”
South of Castilla y León, Agustín Maíllo, owner of La Zorra and president of DOP Sierra de Salamanca, reports less severe draught conditions but a short crop: “This is the first time that we haven't outperformed the previous vintage.” The quality is outstanding yet slightly warm. A delayed harvest was expected but things also speeded up here.
A jigsaw of regions in Central Spain, Gredos is a mountainous range stretching across the provinces of Toledo (Castilla-La Mancha, DO Méntrida), Madrid (DO Vinos de Madrid) and Ávila (Castilla y León. DO Cebreros) with their own geographic identity. In June, fire damaged some vineyards managed by Comando G in Cadalso de los Vidrios in what winemaker Fernando García describes as “the driest year ever”.
García reports losses of 40% in vineyards hit by the fire due to drought and subsequent stress, but overall production was between 30% and 50% lower. “There has been two different harvests,” Fernando explains. “The first one was slightly early and took place in early ripening valleys; the second one came after heavy rainfall (over 60 litres/m²). It included most of our vineyards in Rozas de Puerto Real and those in the Alto Alberche valley. The Indian summer sped up ripeness and brought some botrytis, so grapes were harvested quickly with picking dates overlaping in several vineyards.” It was a very short vintage for Comando G who had to do a painstaking selection to discard dried grapes and those affected by botrytis. According to García, wines will be slightly tannic with a limestone character, yet juicy and aromatic.
In Cebreros, where Pablo Eguzkiza and Telmo Rodríguez make Pegaso, the vintage was also extremely short and grapes struggled to ripen. “It looked as if the phenolic compounds in the grapes would never concentrate and we would end up making rosés instead or reds, but in the end we picked deep-coloured, high quality Garnacha. I think this is going to be a great vintage,” Eguzkiza claims.
The mood is upbeat among producers of different strategies and sizes in Rioja. At Ramón Bilbao, part of the Zamora group, which harvests almost 1m kg of grapes from their own vineyards, manager Rodolfo Bastida places 2019 at the top of the last 15 harvests. He notes the Mediterranean profile of the vintage and the depth of the wines with black rather than red fruit, powerful tannins and high alcohol. Grapes ripened relatively fast after the rain in September and high temperatures in the first week of October. With all the wines already devatted, he is positive. “We have a few very good things.” Bastida points out that “in contrast with Tempranillo’s distinctive tight bunches, berries were loose this year because of irregular flowering and the absence of diseases paved the way for full ripeness”. According to the company’s first estimates, production is 23% lower than last year and around 12-13% less than a standard year.
While the jury is still out on the ageing potential of the wines, Bastida thinks there are good possibilities. He is also happy with the whites and rosés as acidity is good given that these grapes were picked early. The toughest thing, he says, was the overlapping of the harvest in several areas so they found themselves “managing different harvests at the same time.”
In the foothills of the Sonsierra mountains, Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia picked 230,000 kg instead of the 290,000 they expected but Gonzalo Iturriaga says quality is very high. Compared with 2018, “we have enjoyed a quiet harvest and we have been able to work calmly,” he adds. Despite the 80 litres of rain in September, the vines dried up quickly thanks to the sunny weather that followed. Iturriaga reports fully ripe skins, good acidity and lower alcohol than in Ribera del Duero.
In central Rioja Lauren Rosillo, winemaker at Finca Valpiedra and Viña Bujanda, says that 2019 is “one of the very good ones”, but he sets apart the first half, which he considers outstanding, from the last batches which reached 14% alcohol. “This will mean a warmer vintage in line with 2005, but the early ripening areas have performed really well,” he told SWL.
At Contino winemaker Jorge Navascués shares the same view: “Rain brought some panic as humidity increased and botrytis appeared. The warmest early ripening areas have enjoyed all the wonders of the vintage, but we’ve had to deal with some health issues on the cold ones.”
Hail hit some vineyards of Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez but none of the ones destined to their single-vineyard range. Pablo Eguzkiza confirmed that they will produce all of them in 2019 including the top Las Beatas. For him the most relevant issue in Rioja was the low yields. As far as quality is concerned, Eguzkiza believes that “it is going to be a great vintage but it is still underway.” He will definitely avoid extraction. “In 2019 you really don't have to do anything; the wine comes out on its own. It's a year to sit back and wait,” he says.
The story goes more or less the same here with very good quality for Garnacha as reported by Gonzalo Celayeta in San Martín de Unx and Jorge Navascués further south in Fitero where Viña Zorzal grows this grape variety. While Celayeta highlights the short crop due to drought, irregular budding and Garnacha’s inclination to coulure, Navascués thinks that 2019 surpasses the already excellent 2018 which showed distinctive low pH. This year he found “floral and white pepper aromas which rarely appear on Garnacha’s must; Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo are also very good this year.”
The quality-to-scarcity ratio appears once again. In Calatayud, Norrel Robertson, aka the flying Scotsman, finished the harvest on October 10th, although many producers are still picking grapes in the area. He estimates drought meant a drop between 35 and 40% compared to a standard year, yet the wines show freshness with alcohol levels ranging from 14 to 14.5% abv. “In this continental climate full of contrasts, we don’t pay much attention to the numbers; we harvest according to grape tasting. The goal is to find tension between concentration and acidity,” he told SWL. As fermentations are about to finish, the vintage shows very well. “We have the quality to make top wines,” says Robertson.
According to Jorge Navascués, 2019 is his best vintage ever in the few years he’s been managing Mancuso, his personal project in the foothills of Sierra de Algairén. He expects deep, subtle wines with a little less alcohol than the standard in this area. “Berries were 20% smaller with must yields of 58-60% compared to 70% in a normal vintage; in the vineyards it was crucial to pick as soon as grapes reached phenolic ripeness,” he explains. Managing concentration will be a key issue this year. “Those who over-extract will have some tasty jams,” he jokes.
At Bodegas Frontonio in Valdejalón, winemaker Mario López thinks that despite good acidity levels, 2019 will be warmer than 2018. “We were lucky to have picked 70% of our grapes when temperatures started to rise in September,” he recalls. While loose, small berries provide good quality, spontaneous fermentations have been seamless, even in the new winery in Alpartir where they have made wine for the first time in 2019. The grapes’ complexity has allowed them to do long macerations with stems (“we have noticed that tannin polymerises better this way and the astringency of stems is softened”). The wines are fresh with red fruit and Mediterranean herbs aromas (rosemary, thyme).
At Cuevas the Arom, their venture in Campo de Borja, they were among the first to pick grapes given that old vines ripened pretty quickly. “Leaf area was big compared with the small amount of bunches and we have had very little dehydration,” López points out.