Who’d be a Winemaker?
It’s that exciting/frightening time again – the 2015 Vintage is upon us! Indeed, as I write in just the 2nd week of August, in some areas of production in Spain and the most southerly areas of France, it has already begun. For the growers it’s an agonising mix of anticipation and worry – all of which is done with one eye on the vineyards and the other, on the sky!
All the toil of the previous eleven months, which started just after the 2014 ‘vendimia’ (harvest, in Spanish) and continues until the last grape is picked will have impacted on the finished article – the wine. Some of the 2015 Vintage wine will be available in only a matter of weeks, indeed there’s one bodega, the only one in the Cartagena Area of Production, that promises that at least one of its wines will be on the shelves in very early September!
However, according to Denominación de Origen regulations the wine made this year which is destined to be aged, be it a Roble, or Semi-Crianza (aged in oak for anything up to six months); a Crianza (aged for a specific minimum number of months in barrel and then in bottle, before its release); a Reserva (same again, but longer in oak and often bottle); a Gran Reserva (same again, but the total ageing, barrel and bottle added together, must be at least 5 years; or a wine that has come to be known as a Vino d’Autor (a wine that has been made according to the winemaker’s whim, which does not necessarily fit into one of the brackets above), will not be available for some time.
Then there are the other categories of wine – from Vino de Pago through Vino de la Tierra and eventually to Vino de la Mesa, which in fact does not always mean the lowest in the quality stakes! I agree, it can be confusing!
In simple terms the above means that probably the majority of the 2015 vintage will not be available until, at the earliest, the first few months of 2016. Many, of course, won’t be on the wine merchants/supermarket shelves for a number of years. So, for the poor winemakers there is the continued worry of the wait. Who’d be a winemaker?
And, of course, there is another reason why such an occupation can be precarious, to say the least. A phrase that we first heard, perhaps 20 years ago – Climate Change, or in the early days, Global Warming, comes worryingly to mind!
Although it was the scientists who officially documented the evidence and first raised the alarm, it was those in agriculture, including of course, wine grape growers, who started noticing subtle (and not so subtle) changes in their crops. Fortunately the politicians, well the honest ones, started listening to the scientists and then began pressing for change.
In the fields, the change had already started. In the case of wineries different growing methods were adopted, and continue to be so. In several cases, where possible, land at higher altitude was acquired and re-planting occurred. In the vineyards themselves canopy management became the buzz-technique, where leaves are left in place to provide some shade from the relentless sun.
All very well, but whilst we can shelter from the sun, we still need the rain. I’ve lived in Spain now for 18 years, having visited for several years before that, the first time as far back as 1973. There is no doubt in my mind that 2014/15 has been both the hottest and the driest here in South East Spain. Rain has been promised (note, I don’t say, threatened!) today as I write. Nothing significant has happened, nor has it for months. We are talking serious drought here, and it’s a major concern.
Wineries which have started their vendimia will hope that any major rainfall now holds off until all their grapes are in, to avoid a dilute vintage. Those, mostly in more northerly areas, will be hoping for some rain to give the grapes a final boost, but not torrential downpours, and horror of horrors, hailstorms, both of which can/will damage the grapes beyond use. Who’d be a winemaker?!
Bodegas Enrique Mendoza, DO Alicante, for example, has been proactive regarding the lack of rainfall. No, the family and staff haven’t been engaged in rain-dancing! Instead, at considerable cost, a few years ago, they installed a system, computer controlled, which automatically triggers a drip-feed of water to the vines when they begin to show signs of stress, to the point where their survival becomes questionable.
Foolproof? Well, apparently the system is – but it is, of course, dependant on their being water to feed the feed, as it were. Look, I’m sorry, holidaymakers, the bottom line here is that we need rain, significant, regular rainfall that will cool the vines and the earth; that will start to replenish the reservoirs; that will correct the underground water table; and that will begin to redress the terrible imbalance from which we are all suffering!
And it’s not just in Spain. I was recently in Provence, home to the lovely Provençal Rosé (or is it? See my Blog www.colinharknessonwine.com click Blog). We were hoping to escape the temperatures and humidity of Valencia at the end of July, beginning of August – not a chance.
Provençal producers are similarly worried about record high temperatures and lack of rain. In a couple of days following my writing this Cork Talk, I’ll be in Cahors, another area in France famous for its wines (robust and darkly coloured reds in this case), where I’m also expecting to see wilting vines and an early harvest in progress.
Who’d be a winemaker?!
In a few months time I should be writing about bodegas’ and DO’s opinions of the standard of this year’s harvest and of the wines we are likely to find, stamped, proudly, I hope, with Vintage 2015!
PS Please note there are a number of exciting wine events this Autumn, starting in September. Watch this space, and better still, join my e-mail list for regular ‘News from the Vine’!
Contact Colin: firstname.lastname@example.org and through his wine services website www.colinharknessonwine.com , where you can also subscribe to his newsletter (free of charge, of course) and therefore have first-hand and early news of the various wine events he organises, most of which are sold out very quickly! Colin is also on Facebook; Plus you can follow him on Twitter @colinonwine for the latest on the Spanish Wine scene!