Vintage 2023: Small and challenging for Spain and the world | Long Wines
Harvest finished in D.O. Rueda, Spain

Vintage 2023: Small and challenging for Spain and the world

Spain has witnessed another challenging year for vine growers in 2023 with drought, frosts and heavy storms resulting in one of the smallest harvests seen in recent memory. These problems were not unique to Spain and global wine production is expected to be the lowest since 1961. However, falling consumption in many areas means that – aside from Cava and Albariño – we are not seeing dramatic price rises.

According to La Semana Vitivinícola, the total Spanish production is expected around the 33 million hectolitre mark, compared to 41 million hectolitres in 2022. One of the lowest ever figures due to the extreme weather conditions, primarily drought. Spain recorded its driest start to a year since records began in the 1960s. The arid conditions were particularly severe in Andalusia in the south and Catalonia in the northeast.

The other key meteorological condition that had a catastrophic effect on this year’s harvest is the phenomenon known by the abbreviation DANA in Spanish. Translated as a “cold drop” in English, it is an isolated depression at high levels of the atmosphere that causes torrential rain. Spain saw two such weather events during the first and third week of September, with particularly severe flooding across Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha during the former.

 

Volume regions hit hard

The largest region of all in volume terms, Castilla-La Mancha, saw production down by 25%, with the final production expected to be around 17-17.5 million hectolitres across the world’s largest vineyard area. This makes it the second smallest harvest of the 21st Century, with only the 2001 vintage being smaller. This is due to severe drought conditions throughout the year.

Cuenca, where the organic grapes for our Melea Organic range come from was very badly affected with volumes down 40% as our supplier comments: “The vintage was particularly challenging for whites, with around 40% less white grapes harvested than usual.”

As a result of this, white wine are expected to be priced higher than reds in some cases, although generate pricing increases look to be moderate.

 

Challenges in the east

In Aragón, Norrel Robertson MW claimed that barely a drop of rain fell between December 2022 and June 2023: “June brought some respite with up to 100mm to 150mm falling in 10-15 days, mainly in storms. This was make-or-break for many vineyards in Aragón. Without the rain, many vineyards would have dried out and died.”

In Catalonia, DO Penedès didn’t benefit from this rainfall in early summer, resulting in a 40% loss compared to the 2022 vintage.

The DO Cava experienced one of its earliest vintages ever, commencing at the end of July. Due to the scarce rainfall, the grapes are noticeably small in size with minimal pulp and volumes are small. Castell D’Or, which produces our De Pró Cava, started harvesting in August and said that volumes are much lower than usual due to hydric stress. This made it necessary to sacrifice of a portion of the crop to ensure the remainder could ripen.

The extreme conditions led to DOCa Rioja facing a challenging, stop-start vintage. Harvesting began on August 10th with Tempranillo Blanco in Aldeanueva de Ebro, slightly later than the previous year due to cooler nights. However, heavy rainfall at the start of September, especially in the eastern half of the region, brought harvesting activities to a halt. The combination of wet yet warm weather, with temperatures reaching up to 30°C, created favourable conditions for botrytis, compounded by hail in some areas, further damaging the grapes and raising concerns about both quantity and quality. Despite this, falling sales and considerable stocks mean that prices remain very low and a crisis of sorts appears to be brewing in the region.

In DO Jumilla, harvest was also very early, with Viña Elena initiating the process in early August with the Malvasia grape. Despite the scorching temperatures and dry farming conditions, the bush vines of this native grape variety have shown resilience, yielding satisfactory results.

Moderation in Castilla y Leon

Despite the winter drought, wine-producing regions in the north, particularly those influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Sea, saw more moderate yet varied conditions with spring frost in Ribera del Duero damaging buds. This was then followed by cycles of warm temperatures and heavy thunderstorms, with half the average annual rainfall falling from May to June. This caused problems with flowering and mildew. Summer conditions were more typical with heat and sunshine during the day but cooler temperatures at night.

The harvest in the DO Ribera del Duero commenced on September 18th. While this timing aligns with last year’s historic dates, increased rainfall and slightly milder temperatures compared to 2022 facilitated grape ripening. Despite the various hailstorms, frosts and periods of drought, 117 million kilos of grapes were harvested, compared with the short vintage of 2022 of 105 million kilos.

The harvest in the DO Rueda started as early as the 15th August, with the Sauvignon Blanc grapes picked first to retain their acidity. The spring’s intense heat, with night temperatures above 25°C, was counterbalanced by more moderate summer temperatures, leading to wines with perfectly balanced acidity and alcohol. 130 million kg were harvested, compared to 163 million kg the previous year.

 

Abundance in the North West

Wine-producing regions influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Sea were the only regions that escaped the drought, resulting in increased production in areas such as Asturias, the Canary Islands, Galicia, Cantabria and the Balearic Islands.

In Galicia, new hectares of vineyard, and the more favourable conditions in this Atlantic region saw the production reach 955k HL, the highest in a decade and 15% more than 2022. DO Rías Baixas in particular saw its largest ever vintage, with 44 million kilos.

Antonio Muñoz, Technical Director of the Bodegas Gallegas group remarked on the good health conditions of the grapes, “despite the fact that the harvests were paralyzed by the rains of September.”

Despite the larger harvest, prices across all Galician designations of origin continue to rise. Albariño continues to enjoy the highest average grape price, with an increase of 89% in the last 4 years.

 

PHOTO: Courtesy of D.O. Rueda