Long Wines | 2018 vintage in Spain – a tale of two halves
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2018 vintage in Spain – a tale of two halves

As our winemaker Fernando Mora MW commented in our earlier report, 2018 has shaped up to be one of the coolest and wettest vintages that Spain has seen in recent years, although in his corner of Aragón, the warm weather at the start of September helped ripen the grapes fully.

It was the southeast that really struggled with cool spring weather causing a late start to the growing season and issues with uneven fruit set. Downpours compounded these problems in summer, causing rot and in areas such as Jumilla and Castilla-La-Mancha; grapes adapted to the more habitual hot and dry conditions struggled to ripen.

However, the story in northern areas of Castilla-y-León was much more positive, with record harvests, and very healthy grapes.

In terms of quantity, most areas look to make up for last year’s very short vintage, with initial estimates of a total of 42-43million hl, in line with 2014, 2015 and 2016 figures.

As the final reports come in from the regulatory councils of DOs across Spain, we’ve pulled together a summary of what we’ve heard from our contacts in each region.

THE NORTH

Rueda

Where as the Eastern half of Spain struggled with heavy rain, the conditions were described as “optimal” in D.O. Rueda in the North West corner of Castilla y Leon, with little rain and large temperature differences between day and night giving ripe grapes without losing acidity. In fact, the white wine producing region registered its largest ever harvest with 130.5 million kilos of healthy grapes, which, coupled with falling sales and a fairly large 2017 vintage, means large stocks and subsequent downward pressure on prices. According to our contacts, the grape prices are not yet agreed, but talk is of 70 cents per kilo.

Rioja

When we visited our Rioja partners, Burgo Viejo, in mid-October they were harvesting the last, highest altitude parcels, dates that are more in line with historic averages that the very early harvests of recent, hot years. They spoke of plenty of good quality grapes in the Rioja Oriental (the most southerly zone previously known as the Rioja Baja), although across the larger Rioja region the quality is said to be more heterogeneous due to issues with rot, particularly in the northern Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sub-zones. Despite the large quantities, stocks were low, so grape prices reached 1€/kg – the second highest in the last fifteen years. Wine prices are expected to remain fairly stable, perhaps with a small decrease or an increase in marketing spend.

 

Ribera del Duero

The Consejo Regulador reported the conclusion of the 2018 harvest on 31 October, its second largest ever in terms of quantity with 125 millions of kilos and good levels of colour and aroma. It is described as an Atlantic vintage with fresh, lighter wines. Although bud-break occurred at the end of April as usual, cold weather in May slowed things down and some plots were even damaged by frost, although nothing like the previous year. There was very little rain through the growing period so the grapes were healthy, with little rot. Prices are also expected to remain stable or to decrease slightly, with increased marketing spend.

Bierzo

After a very short harvest in 2017, frost hit again in some areas of León. The crop totalled 11.3 million kilos, 25% more than in 2017 but still much lower than the 16 million kilos harvested in 2014 and 2015. As in Ribera, the wines are fresher and more Atlantic in style. A lot of rain fell in June, which affected fruit set. There were some issues with black rot and mildew, which were treated accordingly, but good weather through out the growing season allowed harvest to be staggered as each grape variety ripened. After two short vintages and growing demand, prices are very likely to rise.

Toro

The harvest was moderately sized, but in a year where few other areas have reached more than moderate alcohol levels, the 14,5% alcohol makes the wines of this area particularly attractive this vintage. Bottled wine prices are generally stable.

Rías Baixas

One of the sub-zones had a short vintage and stocks are low, but the final yield of 38 million kilos across the Rías Baixas was deemed satisfactory by the DO in terms of both quantity and quality, despite some issues with oidium and rain. The Albariño grapes have the potential to make highly aromatic wines with moderate alcohol and slightly lower acidity than normal. Some wineries are going up by 10% whereas others are expected to retain their current prices.

 

THE SOUTH AND EAST

Castilla-La-Mancha

The world’s largest area under vine can usually rely on hot, dry and sunny conditions throughout the summer, so this year’s wet and rainy conditions hit the region hard. Rot was a problem and many of the late ripening varietals struggled to reach the required sugar ripeness, with reports of potential alcohol levels as low as 8.5%. The local association of cooperatives has been calling on the government to authorize the use of concentrated grape must to increase alcohol levels by up to 1.5%, which is permitted by the EU in certain conditions up to an limit of 13.5% abv. Without the usual bulk orders from France and Italy, prices are definitely set to fall, and winemakers’ selection and blending skills will be called upon to make the best of a difficult year.

Cataluña

As usual, Cataluña was one of the first areas to start harvesting this year, with many areas starting in early August, dates that returned to historic averages after a few years with very hot vintages starting as early as mid-July.

The winter was quite dry in this area, with producers concerned with water levels, until a lot of rain fell in spring, getting the growing season off to a good start. The summer was hot, although not as hot as in some years such as 2017, allowing the grapes to ripen more gradually, producing wines with a balanced acid and sugar profile and ripe skins. Rain fell from the third week of September until the end of October but without causing damage.

In general, alcohol levels are lower than usual, making fresher wines, but the long growing season led to good ripeness and grapes were healthy, although winemakers in DO Penedès did have to treat around 9% of the vines affected by mildew. Less rain fell in Priorat so the grapes are said to be in a perfect sanitary condition with good levels of colour and aromas.

In terms of quantity, many more kilos were brought in this year than last year.

Murcia – Jumilla and Yecla

Monastrell, the key grape of this area, needs plenty of heat and sunshine to ripen fully, hence why it is grown in this area of Spain that is usually very hot and dry. The unusually wet spring and humidity in late summer not only delayed harvest by over 15 days, but also caused rot issues. Vine growers tried to mitigate damage with defoliation techniques to increase airflow through the canopy and the application of fungicidal products.

Valencia

Conditions were similar to Murcia, with a lot more rain than usual in spring and summer storms. Our partner winery Anecoop escaped with fewer problems than most, as their vineyards are located at higher altitude.

We’ll keep you posted with any further updates.