Spain in the vanguard re wine planning for climate change!


Yes, I know, this title looks like that of a University PhD student’s dissertation, but don’t be put off, it should be a fascinating insight into ongoing, behind the scenes investigations with the simple(?) remit of ensuring that we, and future generations, can continue to enjoy the fruits of Vitis Vinifera (the grape species from which comes wine!) – despite the ensuing problems of climate change.

And, I can promise that not all the following sentences will be as lengthy as the first!

Rather than the traditional aluminum foil wrapped bottles, designed to maintain the anonymity of the wines being judged in wine competitions, I thought it charmingly different to see bottles hidden as in the photo here, when judging one competition this year. (Well, ok, some sentences will still be long!). It puts a whole new perspective on the traditional French petit-déjeurner, non?

Once again, I was the only foreigner sitting on the panel of a Spanish wine competition, when I took my place on one of the two judging tables, impeccably professionally set up at the fairly recent competition, XX Concurso Nacional de Vinos, Premios Cofradía del Vino Reino de la Monastrell, in the city of Murcia. As my Spanish is a distance away from being fluent, I’m well used to being about 30 seconds behind the ambient conversation, whilst my brain tries to catch up.

However, from the aghast look on the faces of my fellow 18 judges, I wasn’t alone in thinking, towards the end of the session, that maybe the Judging Director, the eminent Señor Adrián Martínez Cutillas, retired Director of IMIDA (the Murcian Institute of Agricultural Research and Development) had lost a cork or two! The serving staff, up to this point so professional in their direction and delivery (the venue also serves as a restaurant and hotel training centre, whose stern director oversaw all!), approached the panels with two naked (so to speak) bottles of wine. Thus, to our collective chagrin, all was revealed – that’s the wine bottles, not the waiters/waitresses!

The usual 30 seconds after my fellows, I too was party to the deception, or rather, the lack of deception. These two bottles of wine were not actually in the competition, as they did not adhere to the rule that all wines submitted must be made of at least 50% Monastrell – it’s in the name, after all! Although, in a manner of speaking they were!

Wine made from a brand new, unique grape variety, created naturally in Spain!

Let me explain – these wines were the first to be produced using two ENTIRELY NEW, UNIQUE GRAPE VARIETIES! Which, fortuitously, leads me back to the title of today’s Cork Talk. Proactively,the wines had been made by grapes harvested from two different, brand new grape vines, grown naturally in controlled vineyards owned by IMIDA. As I said, fascinating!

And why could they, in one way, have been included in the competition? Well, in each case one of the parent varieties of this, the new variety, was, as you might have guessed, Monastrell – therefore, it taking two to tango, the pedant could argue that 50% of the wine was Monastrell! The others, for your interest, were on the one hand, Syrah; and on the other, Cabernet Sauvignon.

(Incidentally, on chatting subsequently with Señor Martínez, from the latter cross, brand new white wine varieties were also produced! I was amazed, but this was explained logically by Adrián who reminded me that Cab Sauv was also born of a crossing, many years ago, one of whose parent vines was Sauvignon Blanc!).

As far back as 2004 work began on this study. In fact, it was a spin-off investigation, following IMIDA’s collaboration with ITUM (Spanish acronym for Research and Technology of Table Grapes), charged with developing seedless table grapes, Murcia now being the largest producer of such grapes in Spain. The onset of climate change was obvious and the wine-making fraternity had (and has) to be proactive – or face the consequential loss of business! Enter Adrián Martínez and his team!

Despite my mother being a pharmacist, I’m no scientist, so the following is a very simplified, and needfully short, version of how these new varieties were produced, described to me in the car by one of the project’s other agricultural engineers as he drove me to lunch after the judging.

Pollen from Cabernet Sauvignon was crossed with flowers from Monastrell. This crossing produced seeds, which were then planted in isolation. Each seed that grows is now a new variety. In the case of the above cross, Cabernet/Monastrell, a staggering 382 different hybrids were produced, with Syrah/Monastrell producing 269!

The parent varieties of the new grape in this, as yet unnamed variety!

And the point of all this research? Well, in1863 the vine pest Phylloxera arrived in the vineyards of France (don’t ask me how, I’m no entomologist either!) and by the end of the century it had decimated the vineyards of Europe! It was a catastrophe for wine producers and consumers alike. Re-actively, a solution was eventually found.

Climate change will be the next catastrophe to hit agriculture, if we aren’t proactive – now. If it’s possible to ‘create’ grape vines that need less water and are resistant to rising temperatures, as well as, perhaps to different biological and insect pests, and any, as yet, unforeseen, attendant problems, then our precious wine will also be protected! Facebook Colin Harkness Twitter @colinonwine

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