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Harvest report 2020 (II): Southern Spain Fran López, sommelier at Bodegas Luis Pérez in Jerez, during the 2020 harvest. The rest of the pictures in the text are all courtesy of the producers.

Vintages

Harvest report 2020 (II): Southern Spain

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | November 24th, 2020

Following Amaya Cervera's comprehensive report last week describing the vintage in the northern half of the country and the Balearic Islands, this week we publish the views of over a dozen producers in the south of the Iberian Peninsula and the Canary Islands.

Like elsewhere in the world, the 2020 vintage in Spain will be remembered primarily in the context of the pandemic in which it took place. In terms of the weather, virtually all the producers we talked to mention a rainy spring and a dry, hot summer with mildew outbreaks, which were generally mild and more pronounced in foreign varieties, and an early harvest that began in July in areas such as Lanzarote and Gran Canaria. With variable results in terms of quantity, quality seems to be the norm in most of the bodegas.

Andalucía

In Jerez, Willy Pérez describes a very early budding in a very rainy spring resulting in abundant vegetation and intense photosynthetic activity in the plants, something that the Cádiz winegrower says he has not seen in many years.

With humidity came pests. "The worst was mildew, which in some plots destroyed up to 50% of the grapes. Powdery mildew and grey rot were also present, although they were more prevalent on the coast and had no effect on us inland," explains Willy, who works organically and with somewhat different practices to other producers in the Sherry area. 

Although the summer was dry and some grapes were cooked after a heatwave in June, the harvest was not as early as originally expected. "Sprouting to harvest was a long cycle —one month longer than usual. The harvest was very short, and far from having gained in concentration, the grapes were low in alcohol and low in acidity.” In the case of Bodegas Luis Pérez, the harvest started on July 14th in Macharnudo with the whites and ended at the beginning of September in Carrascal with the sherries.

With regard to the style of the wines in this vintage, Willy prefers to be cautious but he is not overly optimistic. "Wines in Jerez can surprise you over time, but it seems that 2020 will be a long way from the brilliant 2019.”


In Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Montse Molina, of Bodegas Barbadillo, speaks of a generally dry year, in line with the trend of 2019. Particularly striking were the high temperatures in July, which coincide with the veraison-ripening period, with the subsequent stress for the grapes and even delayed ripening. "It was important to wait for the right date to harvest,” says the winemaker, who each year processes around nine million kg of Palomino Fino grapes, including the fruit of 30 suppliers. In terms of the style of the wines, Molina describes them as "aromatic, gentle, fresh and light-bodied.”

As in the Sherry Triangle, the rain in spring and the heat in summer were decisive in the mountains of Axarquía in Málaga. Vicente Inat (Viñedos Verticales) began to harvest on 10 August, a week to ten days earlier than a regular year, and finished at the beginning of October in challenging conditions due to Covid. "In summer, there are days here when we reach 40ºC and the heat, the physical strain and the masks did not make picking easy," he explains. 

Luckily, the grapes were healthy, with few problems caused by pests or fungal diseases, except in the case of Garnacha, which saw yields reduced by 40% due to mildew. Production was shorter than in other years, but not because of a drop in the number of clusters but rather because the grapes weighed less (20% lighter than in a good year). "This concentration of berries has resulted in wines that are aromatic, fruity and fuller than in other years, but they still retain their lively character," explains Inat. "Overall, we are quite happy with the wines. Although it was a warm year, the soils in our vineyards preserve the acidity well.” (Photo: Beatriz Moreno)


In Montilla-Moriles the weather was similar, according to Cristina Osuna, winemaker at Lagar de los Frailes and Terrevuelos and since September this year, technical director of a new quality still wine project in Toro Albalá.

The spring rain, very welcome because it relieved the water stress that plagued the Cordoba vineyards, was followed by a mild summer with irregular ripening and powdery mildew problems. "It was an unusual vintage, with a 20% drop in yields and smaller albeit good quality grapes compared to previous years,” says Cristina. "The first signs suggested that it would be a spectacular vintage in terms of kilos, but the rabbits made the most of the absence of personnel in the vineyard during the lockdown, which was further aggravated by the incidence of the fungus.”

As in other areas, the pandemic imposed additional obstacles to the season in Montilla-Moriles, with outbreaks in some bodegas in the midst of the harvest, but the Córdoba winemaker is happy with the quality of her musts. "They are aromatic, round and structured. The alcohol content was lower in some areas but it was offset with others that were higher."

Murcia and Levante

She knows that these have been very hard months all over the world, but Julia Casado would happily accept another climatic year like 2020 for La del Terreno, her project in the Sierra de Lavia in Bullas (Murcia).

"It was a spectacular harvest, with exceptional sanitary conditions both in Moratalla at 1,200 metres and in La Venta del Pino and other elevated areas. The grapes ripened slowly, without any heat bouts and there was no incidence of powdery mildew or mildew. The amount of rain was just right, without exeeding the soils' draining capacity," explains Julia. "The musts have been soaking longer than any other year and the acidity is fantastic. It's a very expressive vintage".

She prefers to wait until spring to make an assessment of the quality, but Julia believes that 2020 could be even better than 2017, her best vintage so far. Julia, who this year moved her winery and her home to a property in Caravaca where she shares space with other regenerative agriculture projects, announces a new Monastrell rosé wine made in tinajas and her departure from the Bullas DO with all her wines except Ninja de las Uvas, made with Bodegas del Rosario. "The restrictions don't suit my needs, it's expensive and being part of the DO doesn't have a positive impact on my sales", she confesses.


The good impressions of Bullas are echoed in Jumilla, in spite of the fact that in this Mediterranean region there was a greater incidence of Covid complicating the logistics considerably, with more personnel in the field and in the winery, and applying strict sanitary protocols.

For José María Vicente at Casa Castillo, it was an " extraordinary" harvest, completed in three weeks instead of the usual four or five. He ranks it among the top three in the last 30 years, at the level of 2017. They suffered some losses due to mildew and the heavy rain in March and April prevented them from entering the vineyard until May, but the sulphur and copper treatments worked. "We picked ripe grapes, with perfect ph and acidity. Monastrell usually takes longer to express itself, but this year it shows more immediacy", says Vicente. "The wines are fairly accessible and balanced, even after the end of the alcoholic fermentation, and have texture and depth, with the Mediterranean character stamped on the glass.” 

In Alicante, Pepe Mendoza (Casa Agrícola) talks about "a balanced vintage, without stridencies". In line with other neighbouring regions, the rainy spring, the August heat and the mildew shaped the evolution of the grapes. "In the Mediterranean, we know how to deal with moths and powdery mildew, but we're not used to mildew", says Mendoza, who has been the winemaker at Enrique Mendoza, the family winery, for 25 years. "We had to apply copper, but most importantly we had to remove the leaves and aerate a great deal". Early vintages tend to be bad due to the dehydration of the plants, explains Mendoza, but the cycle was completed. "We have aromatic wines, with strength, colour and good freshness on the palate; structured but unaggressive".

After two vintages marred by the summer storms of 2018 and the torrential late summer rains of 2019, Javi Revert, winegrower at La Font de la Figuera, returned "brimming with energy" from his trip to Argentina in January. The lockdown found him with the pruning work finished, but he soon had to contend with the lush vegetation, particularly vigorous after the 200 litres that fell in spring in this inland region of Valencia. The dry, hot summer meant that he had to use copper and sulphur to control mildew, which was present in some of the plots. 


The harvest began under the threat of two high altitude depressions bringing heavy rainfall "which fortunately did not materialise". The white grapes were picked first, 15 days in advance, "with a limited team of five people and with all the necessary precautions in place", explains Revert. "The grapes were healthy and with higher alcohol content so we have deeper and darker wines than in previous years".

Castilla-La Mancha

A little further north, in Manchuela, although outside the DO, Ana and Iván Gómez, two of the owners of Bodegas Gratias, describe 2020 as "a vintage to remember, in every sense". They live in Valencia, but the lockdown caught them pruning their vines near Alborea, where they usually live in summer and during the harvest. "Other years we are helped by my father-in-law, but this time we had to do all the work in the vineyard between Ivan and me,” says Ana. "With the abundant rain in spring and unable to access the vineyards, the vegetation grew above the vines, something very rare here, so we asked friends like Iria Otero and Xurxo Alba from Galicia in the Instagram live shows we have been doing and they recommended us to buy a weed harvester.”

Moths, who are endemic to the area, did not attack this year, but mildew damaged the flowers, especially the Tardana variety, where they had to remove a lot of leaves, and Bobal, for which they had to treat twice with copper and sulphur (in other years it is usually zero). 

They are happy with the harvest, helped by two trainees, one of them from Nantes. "We got used to the mask in the vineyard and in the winery (not easy at all) and luckily we didn't have any problems,” adds Ivan. "We practised English and held tastings with the harvesting team with wines from all over the world, cheese, gazpacho, paella and even a raclette.”

In the end, the hard work of the spring paid off, adds Ana. "It's too early to describe the wines, but in general they have less alcohol, are lighter and follow the less extractive style of 2019. The hardest part this year was not the vineyard; it's the sales that we're struggling with.”


Uncertainty is the word that defines this 2020 vintage, according to Tao Platón, technical director at Fontana, in the DO Uclés, and one of the wineries in Península Viticultores. "Uncertainty because of the climate, the workforce and everyone's health, so we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the grapes in the winery and all the workers in good health.”

The mid-harvest break greatly constrained logistics and decision making. "It was really irregular -the white varieties set poorly and yields were very modest," says Platón. In contrast, they had to work on the reds to balance production with the quality and the potential of each plot. They harvested early, prioritising freshness and elegance at the expense of the alcohol to achieve "tense and expressive wines in the white varieties and fine, elegant and fresh reds," adds the winemaker. "The quality is medium-high but it is not a remarkable year in our top ranges as it rained before these plots were harvested."

The vineyard in La Mancha experienced a wetter than usual year but with scorching heat in August so the grapes, especially the early ripening varieties, were not as fresh when they were harvested. In contrast, explains Elías López Montero of Verum in Tomelloso (Ciudad Real), varieties such as Airén, Graciano or Tinto Velasco, all of them late-ripening, have produced "open, honest wines with moderate alcohol in which the fruit shines from the start." 

As far as working in the midst of a pandemic, this year there were fewer people per crew and travel costs and social distances in the vineyard increased, but they managed to avoid outbreaks, adds López Montero, who goes to the winery only when it is essential. "This is something that makes us winemakers very nervous, but this year we must try to avoid contact.”

Maite Sánchez, from Bodegas Arrayán, with vineyards in the northwest of Toledo, is grateful for the spring rains after a very dry 2019. "The problem was that it rained in the midst of flowering so the bunches suffered millerandage and yields were reduced in 2020," explains the winemaker, whose Garnacha vines in El Real de San Vicente were the worst affected.

Apart from the difficulties caused by the Covid, the most difficult thing for Sánchez this year was to determine the date of the harvest. "Some vines that regularly ripened earlier have been late this year and vice versa, based on the amount of grapes on the plant; less grapes meant an earlier harvest". On a qualitative level, she is very happy with the result. "It was a year with very balanced musts, great fruit and gentle tannins”.

Gredos

Maite Sánchez, who also farms vineyards in higher parts of Arrebatacapas, in Cebreros (Ávila), explains that since the cycle was delayed, production was not affected. "There was a greater risk of mildew and oidium but it didn't have much impact. In general, the harvest was fairly good in this area".


In spite of being a year with fewer sales activities, greater work difficulties due to the lack of equipment and farm hands, and a harvest carried out in groups, Fernando García, from Comando G, considers 2020 to be a successful vintage with good yields, mainly in Rozas de Puerto Real and the Alto Alberche. The light frosts and a snowfall at the end of March primarily hit the Albillo Real vines, an early-sprouting variety, considerably reducing the crop for the third consecutive year. "This makes us think about the poor adaptation of this variety to global warming," confesses Fernando. 

The spring, rainy and cool, resulted in a mild outbreak of mildew, but not as dramatic as in other areas. This was followed by a few hot days in June, coinciding with the "fairly generous" setting of the Garnacha.

The Madrid winemaker says there were two parts in the harvest, which was very rainy (upwards of 200 litres in September). "The earliest villages have higher alcohol, more fruit and tannic tension, and spectacularly  healthy grapes. The areas picked after the rain present less alcohol, finesse, balance and length, with a higher incidence of botrytis, which pushed the grapes to their limit in terms of ripening and forced us to do a very thorough selection.” As for the character of the wines, García ranks them between 2016 and 2018, "with less alcohol, good acidity, with good fruit, floral, fine, long and delicate.”

The pandemic has forced Tao Platón to spend less time this year in Gredos and in other historic wine-growing areas of the Central System, where they produce their Vinos de Montaña, but he is happy with the quality, both in Cadalso and in Cebreros. "Yields are lower than expected but the sanitary state of the grapes was very good," says Platón. "The wines have a very good balance between fruit weight and freshness and plenty of typicity and character with obvious differences between Cadalso —which we perceive to be more floral and elegant— and Cebreros, which is more muscular and has firmer tannins," adds Platón. "The "village" component is repeated year after year, and that makes us very happy.”

Extremadura

In line with other areas, the rainy spring followed by a dry, hot summer created the right conditions for mildew and a short harvest. Pedro Mercado, winemaker and owner of Pago Los Balancines, whose dry-farmed vineyards are worked organically, saw a moderate drop in yields —from the usual 1,900kg/Ha to 1,600kg/Ha— but he believes that in Extremadura as a whole mildew caused losses of up to 40%.

In a hot year like 2020, international varieties such as Merlot suffered considerably, as did Bruñal and Graciano, which were picked earlier to prevent them from drying out. In contrast, the Garnacha tinta and Tintorera and the Tinta Roriz —the Portuguese Tempranillo, which is better adapted to the climate of Extremadura than the one grown in the north— fared very well. 


Fortunately, the virus, which did affect Almendralejo where picking had to be stopped, did not interrupt the harvest, which Mercado describes as "especially good and beautiful". We started on 10 August, before the cooperatives. It was convenient for us to maintain acidity in the grapes but it also helped us to hire staff, who worked at a safe natural distance of three metres between plants.”
According to the Madrid winemaker, who lives near Mérida, the wines have "acidity and balance". 

Canarias

In a challenging year for many wineries in the archipelago due to the decline in domestic sales caused by the absence of tourists, the variations not only between islands, but also between areas, set the tone for the 2020 harvest. On the northern coast of Tenerife, Jonatan García (Suertes del Marqués) praises the performance of the "oasis" of La Orotava, where he has his estate. "It was a productive year,” says García, who plans to increase production of his Trenzado Blanco this year. "We haven't got to the volume  of 2017, but we do have the same quality.”


In Taganana, at the northeastern tip of the island, where its Sorte Vera range is born, drought and wildlife took their toll on the vineyards, already suffering from the water shortages of 2019, a very short vintage in the area. In Ycoden-Daute-Isora, the northern part performed better than the southern part, where high temperatures were recorded, just as in Santiago del Teide and Valle de Güímar, with the ensuing acceleration of the harvest throughout the island. In the case of García and the farmers he buys grapes from, it was the earliest they remember. "We started on 21 July and finished on 26 September," he says.

Being such an early vintage, his wines have been in the winery for some time and with malolactic fermentation already done. "This vintage is more accessible than others, but the wines are fine, clean, have good acidity, restrained alcohol -in tune with our style at the winery- and potential for longevity,” adds García, who also makes Tamerán, the new wines of Real Sociedad football player Diego Silva in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, in the centre of Gran Canaria. There, too, the harvest began in July in a year with drought and low yields, but García is quite happy with the results of the first vintage, made in rented facilities until the Tamerán winery is built. "The wines are clean and precise. We picked the grapes with 11-12% of alcohol to maintain the acidity.”

Also in Gran Canaria, Carmelo Santana (Bien de Altura) is enthusiastic about both the quantity and quality of his grapes, especially after the shortfall in 2019. In his case, he works with vineyards between 1,100 and 1,460 metres in the northeast of the island, where he has also been able to select more plots this year. As for the 2020 wines, harvested three weeks earlier than the previous years, he believes it will be a better vintage than 2019. "The wines resemble those of 2018; they are precise and immediate wines," he concludes.


In Lanzarote, the drought and heat in February, at the height of the pruning season, complicated the first part of the year and brought the harvest forward to 14th July. In the case of Puro Rofe, Santana mentions the irregularity within the same vineyards, where they had to harvest some plots in two stages. "Although yields are lower, the grapes were in top condition, thanks in large part to the fact that our growers are really excellent. The wines have good acidity and finesse and we believe it will be a good vintage, also because we are finding the character and style we like, with less reductive notes in the reds, malolactic in whites and zero sulphur across the range.”  

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