Why are there grapes on the floor in June?

Although we knew that the 2018 vintage had been large in Rioja (see last year’s report), it was not until William Long saw grapes still lying on the ground this June that he realised quite how large it had been.

Grapes have value, particularly after two short vintages like we saw in 2017 and 2016, so it may seem strange to see grapes discarded in vineyards across Rioja. There are two possible explications for it: quality and legislation.

Regarding quality, there is a limit to the amount of quality grapes that each vine can ripen, and to get better quality grapes with more concentrated levels of polyphenols for high quality wines, green harvesting is sometimes carried out. This entails removing a proportion of grapes prior to veraison (when they change colour) so that the plant’s resources are concentrated over a smaller number of bunches, helping to ensure that these ripen fully. It is hard to tell exactly what colour the grapes are in the photo, whether they were ripe or not when picked as now, over eight months later, almost certainly raisined.

The other possibility is that they were discarded at harvest, either because they did not have the desired quality due to under or over ripeness, rot or other issues or because the vineyard had exceeded the permissible yield/ha as set by the Regulatory Council.

Whatever the reasons, it is certain that many grapes remained in vineyards across Rioja in 2018, as it was a particularly large harvest with 468m kg grapes brought into wineries – an increase of 30% on the previous year, and one of the largest of the past decade. The quality was varied, requiring selection both in the vineyard and the winery as hail and heavy rain fell in July, damaging some parcels and causing issues with mildew. The Consejo, which in line with its Qualified Designation of Origin status, tastes every wine in order to approve its release with the Rioja back label, qualified the quality as “good”, due partly to the heterogeneous nature of the vintage.

Luckily the parcels in the eastern most area of Rioja that supply our Finca Mónica were less affected by the cooler, stormy weather in the early part of the season, and although harvest was later than in previous years the quality was very good.