After our first report on Galicia and the northern half of Spain, we have gathered the impressions of the 2019 vintage among 20 producers working south of Madrid, in Mediterranean wine regions and in the Canary and Balearic islands. All of them have experienced reduced yields and concentrated wines.
The year was marked by extreme climate phenomena. In late June a considerable number of vineyards were literally burnt in Catalonia and at the beginning of September heavy rains flooded vineyards in the southeast. You can watch below a video by winemaker Dominique Roujou recorded in Los Frailes vineyard in Valencia and in the slider above the photo he took of that same vineyard 25 days later (vines have the ability to recover almost miraculously).
Draught has resulted in very low yields in many areas. Victoria Torres, a brave woman working in La Palma (Canary Islands), shared her concerns about the consequences of persistent drought over recent years. The absence of water, combined with the lack of generational replacement, means that many traditional vineyards in the island are being abandoned.
The low prices of grapes in certain wine regions is also worrying. Penedès, where most Spanish Cava is produced, went through a perfect storm. Relatively high stocks from the 2018 vintage coincided with the first year under new management at Cava giants Freixenet and Codorníu and with the departure of Corpinnat from DO Cava. Although Corpinnat members are committed to paying higher prices for grapes, their overall influence is almost negligible.
At the end of the piece, readers will find a chart with the price evolution of the main varieties in leading wine producing areas in Spain. The data were kindly provided by La Semana Vitivinícola wine magazine.
Despite a mild summer in many areas, drought meant reduced yields in Méntrida (Toledo). Maite Sánchez, winemaker at Arrayán, mentions the early budding (20 days before the previous year), some hydric stress and a very small crop for Albillo. “This is the first variety to ripen, so it draws the attention of birds”, she says. In general, “wines have relatively high alcohol, but thanks to the lower temperatures in summer we haven’t lost acidity; grapes showed high concentration and the quality is good,” she told us.
In Cuenca, Lauren Rosillo, winemaker at Finca Antigua (Familia Martínez Bujanda) was thrilled with his fully ripe Cabernets showing excellent acidity and 13.5% abv. “We have avoided the heat; it was a fresh year in this region,” he said.
In Tomelloso (Ciudad Real), Elías López Montero at Verum has mixed feelings: “We picked some grape varieties earlier than expected. Unquestionably, the wines will reflect this, but I think shortcomings can also add character to the vintage. After all, we make wine, not Coke.” 2019 was an early harvest at Verum as a consequence of the early budding - fruit setting in June was deficient due to high temperatures which also meant lower yields. Early ripening varieties performed better. “Yields for Airén, the most widely grown grape in the area, were down 40% in dry farmed plots against 25% in irrigated vineyards,” he explains. Elías compares this vintage to 2013, but with lower fertility rates and higher quality.
In Manchuela the combination of heat and drought stressed plants. An advocate of bringing harvest dates forward, Juan Antonio Ponce had good acidity and low alcohol in his early ripening plots. He is particularly happy with the white Albilla destined to Reto: “These are very old, low yielding vineyards; it has been an outstanding vintage for whites,” he confirms. The 40 litres of rain recorded in September relieved the late-ripening plots destined to single-vineyard wines and allowed the grapes to gain some weight. “Overall yields fell to 15% but fortunately we had seven new hectares of very old Bobal in Villanueva de la Jara to compensate for the loss,” he points out. Beyond the specific conditions of the vintage, Ponce argues that “the kind of vineyards you have and the way you farm them determines the harvest.”
At Pago los Balancines in Ribera Alta, Pedro Mercado says they harvested healthy grapes and describes their quality as “impressive”. According to Mercado, the wines are not warm at all. “I adopted a conservative approach and picked grapes early in order to avoid dehydration. As budding occurred early, grapes ripened while temperatures were still mild. Alcohol stands at 14% abv. on average and we have very good acidity.” His top performing variety this year was Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), both in young and old vineyards. Graciano will be the most challenging as acidity climbed to 9g/l.
As irrigation is not viable in this area, yields were extremely low. “We went from 2,000 kg/Ha to just 1,200 to 1,300 and in some plots we barely picked 900g thus the harvest was slow and annoying,” he explains. See the slider above for a very unusual shot of a nocturnal, manual harvest.
Málaga. In Axarquía, Pablo Eguzkiza (Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez) says 2019 was an early, dry vintage with low yields. Moscatel had a short time to ripen: “We had to pick rather early because the berries were starting to dehydrate, but the process of sun-drying in the paseras for the sweet wines went well,” he told SWL. Eguzkiza reports highly aromatic dry whites but a more subdued Moscatel. Lauren Rosillo, who only produces dry wines in the steep slopes of this region, says that the vintage is outstanding. “There is great concentration and the reds have a deeper colour than the standard.”
In Ronda, Bibi García, winemaker at Cortijo Los Aguilares, reports a 30% loss (“bunches were abundant but the berries had very little weight”). Following a very dry winter and summer, plants had to use water supplies from previous years but heatwaves or dehydration were absent. “Compared to 2018, the cycle was two weeks shorter for early ripening grapes and between three and four weeks for late ripening varieties. We had to harvest quickly as temperatures and alcohol increased. Ripeness was a bit irregular, although we don’t have green tannins. Acidity is historic with high levels of malic acid.” García reports healthy grapes with varieties performing erratically. In her opinion, late ripening varieties like Petit Verdot, Garnacha and Graciano “taste incredible”.
Cádiz also avoided the heat. After a warm spring with early budding, July and August were milder than usual. “This could be a perfect harvest because grapes ripened in cool temperatures and it didn’t rain much,” says Willy Pérez from Bodegas Luis Pérez in Jerez. “Wines show concentration both in terms of aromas and sugar, which is great for Palomino. Acidity is also high, with pH levels around 3 and even as low as 2.9,” he adds. Pérez acknowledges some difficulties to complete fermentations (“I have several casks with four and five grams of residual sugar”), but reveals that there was no need to correct the acidity with green musts. “I had not experienced such flavours and depth of fruit in the grapes since the 2016 vintage. What remains to be seen now is whether these turn out to be fine wines,” he says. The downside, once again, were the drought (450 mm of rain were recorded against 600-650 mm on a regular year) and poor yields (“45% less than in 2018”).
In Chiclana, Primitivo Collantes provides similar gloomy figures (“yields went down between 40% and 45% although the official version says 30%”). Humidity was a key factor given the proximity of his vineyards to the sea and Collantes reports some outbreaks of mildew and oidium. “Fog and cold westerly winds delayed the ripening.” Luckily, the trend changed in August: the weather improved and some gusts of wind from the east activated the ripening process. “The good thing this year is that acidity is good and balanced with slightly higher alcohol levels so there will be less need to buy alcohol. Reaching 14% abv. next to the coast is really exceptional since we seldom exceed 13% abv. but this is perfect for wines meant for ageing,” he points out.
Josep Sabarich, technical director at Familia Torres, estimates that the decline in yields ranged from 15% to 30% in some areas of Priorat. He draws attention to “the terrifying heatwave” in late June: “We had never seen anything like it at this time of the year,” says Sabarich. In most cases, the real damage was visible two weeks later: many berries were dehydrated as if they had endured some sort of “thermal thinning”. Cariñena grapes bore the brunt of the damage with losses of up to 50% and 60% in lower parts of Terra Alta, Priorat and Montsant. According to Sabarich, the whites are “direct, open and ripe”, but with higher acidity. He thinks 2019 is an outstanding year for reds.
The effect of the heatwaves were different across Catalonia. Delfí Sanahuja, winemaker at Castillo de Perelada, distinguishes two stages during the harvest in Empordà. Before temperatures rose in the second week of September “grapes were fully ripe and aromatic showing good acidity and balanced pH and alcohol”; thereafter, the profile was far less fresh. “Ripening speeded up to a point I had never seen before with alcohol levels rising between 2 and 2.5 degrees in four days depending on the variety,” Sanahuja recalls. Nevertheless, he rates the vintage somewhere “between very good and excellent” and expects to release all the top wines in the Perelada portfolio. Yields were down between 10% and 20%, especially on varieties with small berries like Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet as well as Garnacha due to coulure. Delfí reports “homogeneous grapes showing concentration and balance.”
In Pla de Bages, Ramón Roqueta from Abadal notes that the June heatwave (three days above 44º C) was particularly intense in Artés. The cycle was rather peculiar in this continental area: following a mild February, temperatures fell in March and winter set for longer than usual. “Although the heat in June compensated part of the delay, 2019 was a late harvest. As plants were on the early stages of development they didn’t get burnt as in other areas. We have been working for several years now to encourage ventilation with leaf covers and avoid direct sun exposure.” According to Roqueta, they harvested extremely healthy, small grapes. In line with other areas, loose bunches and high concentration were the distinctive features of the vintage. “The latest stage of ripeness benefited from the cooler temperatures. We have fully ripe skins and good acidity levels.”
2019 also confirmed that indigenous grapes like Mandó, Sumoll (red) or Picapoll (white) are highly resistant to drought. “Yields tend to be high but these are late-ripening varieties with moderate alcohol levels. We harvested Mandó with 13% abv on October 22th, which may seem almost utopian in Spain these days,” Roqueta points out. Compared with 2018, which was very good in Pla de Bages, 2019 was a calm harvest which allowed to work with care and produce experimental wines.
In Penedès Josep Sabarich distinguishes between grapes destined to sparkling and still wines. Yields were significantly lower for white grapes destined to still wines and less pronounced for reds. As for sparkling wines, Recaredo and Corpinnat member Ton Mata says that 2019 is the first vintage with reasonable yields in many years. “We had 7,000 kg/Ha compared with an average of 5,600 kg for the past seven years.” Despite the final rush to prevent pH levels from rising, Mata reports healthy grapes.
Priorat experienced a bittersweet harvest due to low yields and the effects of the heatwave in June, but producers are happy with the quality. Interestingly, Ricard Rofés from Scala Dei and Sabarich from Torres share the impression that standard vintages no longer exist so making comparisons is increasingly difficult.
Rofés summarises the vintage in three words: short, healthy and quick. Drought (“it rained more on 29 October than on the entire year”), dropped yields by 21% drop and established differences between low altitude vineyards on slate and high altitude Garnacha planted on clay. “We lost almost half of the Cariñena in coster that enters the blend of Cartoixa and Heretge; bunches that were exposed to sun got burnt. With its turgid skin, Garnacha resisted dehydration -only those plants that had been treated with sulphur in the previous days were affected,” he explains.
Valentí Llagostera from Mas Doix talks about the combination of high temperatures and extremely low humidity spurred on by the fires on Ribera d’Ebre in Tarragona (“the smoke and the ashes reached Priorat”). Some Cariñena plants lost all the bunches in one arm but managed to set the fruit in the other two. “It was as if they had sacrificed a part of themselves to be able to have a few fully ripe bunches with no trace of the effects of heat,” Llagostera told SWL. In his opinion, 2019 is one of the best vintages he remembers in the area.
Rofés notes the concentration of the wines: “I had never seen such deep colours on Garnacha,” he says. Alcohol is higher than in 2018, but there is plenty of acidity. “The wines are so fresh that we are extending maceration [Sant Antoni, Mas Deu and some other plots had not been devatted when we talked earlier this month].” Another proof of quality is that the sorting table was used as a mere conveyor belt. “All the grapes have the quality to undergo ageing,” says Rofés enthusiastically. He compares 2019 with 2013, another outstanding vintage but with higher yields. So does Sabarich, who sees a clear connection in the slow ripening conditions experienced in late September and early October. “The wines have great tension and lots of fruit even in the case of Cariñena which usually displays a rather vegetal, rustic profile at this early stage.”
According to Ramón Roqueta, whose family is also behind Lafou in Terra Alta, the heatwave affected both Garnacha and Cariñena in this area but had a bigger impact on the latter. Given that this situation had never been experienced before, there was great concern in the region, but Roqueta downplays the effect of the extreme heat in the final output. Small bunches were also the norm in Catalonia’s southernmost wine region. Roqueta reports a 20-25% drop on yields and he is happy with the high quality of his Garnacha Blanca. Red varieties were picked after the rains on September 17th, starting with Garnacha, then Cariñena and finally Morenillo on October 11th. “The quality is outstanding and wines won’t feel warm,” he says. Roqueta is happy to have a balanced phenolic ripeness. “We have very good acidity and moderate alcohol. “It’s a promising vintage, so much so that I think it is one of the best for our winery following an almost catastrophic 2018 and two warm years such as 2016 and 2017.”
The harvest was marked by torrential rain caused by a “cold drop”. In Requena the effects were less harmful, according to Toni Sarrión from Mustiguillo (34 litres one night, 20 the following day, plus 20 more the day after). Given the low alcohol of Bobal in August, a late vintage -like those in the old days in the region- was expected, but the rain changed the situation and the good weather that followed sped up ripeness. The result are deep-coloured, concentrated grapes in contrast with the current trend towards lighter wines. The rain didn’t change the small size of the berries as a result of draught. “Alcohol is a bit high. We had to wait for the grapes to dry; in that time, alcohol rose one degree every three/four days instead of every eight as we are used to, but we have regular pH and acidity levels. The wines are impressive,” Sarrión said. He is impressed with the deep colour and concentration of the wines this year. “We only pumped over once a day to prevent the cap from oxidation,” he adds.
In terms of the whites, “grapes that were picked early to avoid the rain are not great: aromatic but thin and high in malic acid. Meanwhile, the Merseguera and Malvasía harvested after the rain are outstanding,” Sarrión says.
In Fontanars (Valencia), harvest at Los Frailes vineyard went smoothly. White grapes, Garnacha Tintorera and Syrah were in the winery and showed good quality. September 12th was the day to pick Marselan, but 186 litres of rain fell in six hours. Monastrell, which was far from ripe at that moment, was badly affected and wasn’t harvested until 25 days later -fortunately the grapes benefited from the good weather in the second half of the month. “We had to throw some grapes but what remained in the plant ripened well,” reports winemaker Dominique Roujou. They are happy with the quality of the young wines but still do not know whether the top 1771 and other premium wines will be released.
In the nearby property of Celler del Roure, Pablo Calatayud told SWL that he will always remember two storms in 2019. The good one at Easter (“a much needed drizzle that left 200 litres in five days”) and the bad one in the second half of the harvest which hit Monastrell severely. Quality is very good for early ripening grapes picked before the rain but Monastrell required a great deal of sorting to remove badly affected berries. Calatayud praised the behavior of Arcos, an indigenous, little-known variety: “It has shown once again its ability to cope with torrential rains. As it is a late ripening variety, the grapes were still green and tight when the storm hit our region. Its thick skin makes it botrytis-resistant too.”
In Alicante, Violeta Gutiérrez de la Vega (Gutiérrez de la Vega and Curii) had to face a harvest greatly diminished by the rain. “We had to sort all the grapes that had not been picked before the rain. We harvested in the rain, threw many grapes away and sorted the rest. Giró suffered the most; luckily most of the Moscatel had been harvested when the rain started. This is a vintage to forget. Selection was paramount.”
At Jumilla’s Casa Castillo, José María Vicente describes 2019 as a Mediterranean, dry, early vintage in line with 2015 and 2017. He reports fruit-driven, almost explosive wines compared with the vertical, restrained profile of continental vintages like 2016 and 2018. This vintage saw 200 litres of rainfall in September. “We started well with early ripening grape varieties plus Garnacha and Syrah. Then we had to stop because of the rain and the restart was a bit irregular. The good weather helped to dry the grapes and to avoid botrytis, but plots of young
Monastrell on sandy soils which usually have higher yields and ripen later were problematic. Nevertheless, we saved 70% of our harvest,” he concludes. The good news is that Casa Castillo will produce their top reds Las Gravas and Pie Franco. Vicente predicts a great year for Syrah and Garnacha with all the difficulties paradoxically confined to entry-level wines.
At Bodegas Ribas (Consell, Mallorca) the absence of rain was a key factor resulting in remarkably healthy grapes. Summer was hotter than 2018 and similar to 2017 but without heatwaves. “This year we were more cautious and irrigated more,” Araceli Servera says. “As in 2017, alcohol is moderate because the plant, in order to avoid transpiration, closes stomata and slows down ripening”. Servera values this advantage when it comes to producing wines with alcohol-rich grapes such as Manto Negro (15% abv. this year), although she adds: “I wouldn't dare say this is good for the plant in the long term, particularly after a consecutive series of hot, very hot or extremely hot summers in 2015, 2016 and 2017.”.
In Porreres (Mallorca) Barbara Mesquida reports her best harvest ever “not only due to optimal conditions but because the project is well-established now, the vineyards properly looked after and I have a great team behind.” Despite some initial concerns (“at the beginning of June the vineyard looked tired because of the lack of rain”), some rain in July and moderate summer temperatures paved the way for a healthy harvest with a yield loss of 20%. It was a good year for biodynamics too: very little copper was used and the amount of sulphur was lower than other years. “Grapes were so good that we didn’t see the need to use sorting tables on many days,” Bárbara remarks.
A great advocate of fresh wines, she started picking her white varieties on August 7th to preserve the citrus notes of the fruit. “In reds, the skins weren’t too ripe, but they were thick and there was very little must so we favoured short macerations and whole bunch fermentation. We have plenty of fruit and freshness,” she concludes.
In Ibiza, Dominique Roujou, consultant at Ibizkus, is happy with the quality but complains that wood pigeons ate almost half of the Monastrell grown on traditional, ungrafted vineyards.
In Tenerife, Jonatan García (Suertes del Marqués) reports a 50% drop in yields for white varieties (“clusters didn’t sprout; it was a highly unusual situation”) in sharp contrast with the average yields of Listán Blanco. He estimates a drop of 20% in yileds in Valle de la Orotava. García says the quality is optimal but not as good as in 2018, which was a really outstanding year.
In La Palma, Victoria Torres Pecis was feeling hopeless not only because of the circumstances of the 2019 harvest but also for the way the vineyards have evolved lately. “We are experiencing a seven-year drought, which is very obvious in the most harvests and is having a severe impact on the south of the island. The layer of volcanic ash allows to store water underneath, but supplies have run out and many old vines have died this year,” she told SWL. Beyond the lack of generational replacement, vineyards are gradually being abandoned, a situation that is affecting the few islanders who continue to farm vineyards. “It is almost impossible to solve problems and seek solutions without young people around. People in their 70s cannot take that role when they grow just one hectare,” she complains. Pressure from local fauna has increased this year: “We have seen animals eating green grapes and rabbits feeding on vine shoots until the end of the cycle because they had no other crops to turn to. It's not just about climate change but the state of the rural world and agriculture,” she explains.
The behaviour of the vines was also worrying with Listán Blanco developing abnormally (“I have never seen such short shoots”). “Negramoll has not really worked and we are now seeing which varieties are best adapted; Malvasía was the top performer this year,” Victoria adds.
Yields dropped by 50% in her vineyards, and in general across the island (650,000 kg compared to 1.4m in 2018). Her harvest was so small that she only used her 1,000 kg pneumatic press on four occasions. “I had to buy a vertical press to work with 300 kg batches,” she laments.
Grape grower Ascensión Robayna, who is a member of Puro Rofe, a new and fascinating project in Lanzarote, said that “the lack of rain in recent years has made it even harder to work in such a challenging landscape,” but she is optimistic: “Somehow, miracles always occur here.” Yields were “significantly lower than in 2018, but the quality was extraordinary,” Robayna says.
In El Hierro, the drought reduced yields about 60%, but Pablo Matallana from Bimbache Vinícola says grapes are healthy. He mentions differences between the area of El Pinar, where “high temperatures in mid-August reduced quantity drastically” and the north of the island where “grapes were picked place on the usual dates.”
AVERAGE GRAPE PRICES IN SPAIN*