2011 harvest boosts Spain

By Gabriel Savage December 2, 2011
The drinks business
Spain's 2011 harvest looks set to strengthen the country's reputation as a source of good value wine.

Despite lower yields across the country as a whole, several of Spain's most high profile wine regions saw large harvests and good quality, fully ripened fruit.

In general, this was a vintage characterised by a cool July, "one of the coldest of the last 60 years" in Priorat, according to winemaker Alvaro Palacios. This was followed for the most part by hot, dry conditions and a relatively disease free crop, although a lack of water caused problems for some growers.

Among the regions reporting significantly larger harvests than 2010 was R Baixas, which saw a 30% increase in its Albari񯠣rop. Speaking to the drinks business, Felix SolRamos, marketing and export director for Felix SolAvantis, predicted that 2012 would be: "an interesting year for Albari.

He explained: "Galicia has had its largest crop ever and there is going to be a lot of this wine in the market, which is going to make this region interesting with good value price points."

There were also marked increases from other parts of northern Spain, including Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Bierzo and Toro.

In Rioja, the DO approved 383 million kilograms of grapes for wine production, compared to 371m kg last year. However, much of this increase can be accounted for by the DO's 165 hectare expansion in that time to 62,125ha.

Offering a view from Rioja Baja, production was down by 20% after "the hottest harvest that anyone can remember". Heat was also a problem in Rioja Alta, where Jorge Muga of Bodegas Muga found the region's dominant Tempranillo suffered in particular. "Garnacha has performed the best of all [for us]," he commented. "It is possibly making the best wine of the decade and Mazuelo is good too whereas the results for Tempranillo are more mixed."

Without the frost damage of 2010, but despite serious hail storms in May, Ribera del Duero released provisional production figures of 96.5m kg, a significant increase on the 71m kg harvested last year.It was a similar story further west in Bierzo, where a hot dry period in the run up to harvest, with rain perfectly timed in early September, led to a 53% increase in production on 2010 and 11.5% above the average from the last five years.

After a warm April and fresh July weather, Toro encountered its hottest harvest in the DO's 24-year history. Total production reached 19m kg, an increase from last year's 16.6m kg harvest, but similar to 2009 quantities.

Among those regions reporting lower production was Rueda, where the lack of rain meant that, despite an extra 890ha of vineyard coming into production, the region reported an almost two million kg decrease on 2010.

This smaller harvest is likely to be welcomed by many Rueda producers after extensive plantings came on-stream at the same time as demand collapsed when Spanish consumers were hit by the economic crisis.

Rain during fruit set also led to significantly lower harvests in Catalayud, while it was the lack of water which diminished harvests in Campo de Borja, Cari񥮡 and Somontano.

Commenting in the drinks business Spain Report 2011, due out with the December issue, Tony Brown MW, product manager for Boutinot, tipped the country for success in the UK market. He remarked how "recent price increases in Italy, France and Chile should further establish Spain's position as the place to go for good quality, high volume, entry level offerings."

Likewise, Spain is particularly well represented in the revamped Oddbins range, precisely because of the value it now offers. Head buyer Emma Nichols picked out the country as one: "with an awful lot to offer in terms of value for money, diversity and quality."

For a full update on Spain's wine regions, look out for the drinks business' Spain Report.