Last weekend in Requena I attended a celebration to mark the end of the grape harvest where the last bunches were picked from the 2017 harvest. The band of the Sociedad Musical Santa Cecilia de Requena played and the children dressed in traditional outfits danced. It was fun and a nice gesture as the event was staged for a film crew shooting a documentary for an American TV channel.
The harvest begins in mid August continues until now in mid October. Not all the grapes are picked at the same time as grape varieties ripen at different times. For example, Moscatel and Chardonnay ripen early while other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are among the last grapes to ripen.
No two vintages are ever the same and 2017 has been difficult for many regions in Spain, France, Italy and Germany where either cold spring temperatures, hail storms, drought and a very hot summer resulted in grapes being picked early and the vine producing lower yields. These factors are critical in terms of quality, availability and prices of the grapes.
I have spoken with winemakers in the region of Valencia to find out what to expect from this harvest. Curiously while drought has affected many areas, in Utiel-Requena they had quite a bit of rain last winter. Localised hail storms and cold temperatures in the spring followed by very hot temperatures in July complicated the ripening season. The result of which means the size of the crop will be well down on the previous year.
We will wait to see how good the wines are but it will be a year that produces some surprises both good and bad. The wines from Europe’s most high sought after producers will vary widely depending on the classification of the vintage. So pay attention to the vintage reports from your favourite producers.
However, for everyday drinking wines, the ones that make up the vast majority of wine consumed, the vintage is less important. With modern installations and improved winemaking techniques it is possible to salvage a difficult vintage to make decent quality wine.
One of the keys to a consistent style of wine is to blend in some wine from a previous vintage. This will ensure that there is not a dramatic change from one year to another. Buying wine can be daunting enough for most consumers without having to think about the year.
Another key part of the wine business is bulk wine. Speculators drive the demand and price. A shortage of wine in southern France means that they looks elsewhere to buy bulk wine. Bulk wine exports provide a vital source of income for Spanish producers. This means that regions such as La Mancha and Requena, huge producers of bulk, prices will increase for their wines. It is all about supply and demand.
So now the work shifts from the vineyards to the cellars and by early next year to first, raw wines will be ready to taste to evaluate but not to drink. No doubt there will be some surprises.