Harvest starts in Priorat with historic drops in production due to drought

Priorat is facing records this year that it in no way wishes to hold.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
24 August 2023 Thursday 16:27
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Harvest starts in Priorat with historic drops in production due to drought

Priorat is facing records this year that it in no way wishes to hold. What happens in this region can be extrapolated to other wine-producing areas, where the prolonged drought and high temperatures will cause significant reductions in the harvest, of a minimum of between 15 and 20% on average in Catalonia, according to provisional data. pointed out by Xoán Elorduy, head of the Incavi Viticulture Service. But in certain enclaves where the lack of water has been more severe, such as in some Gratallops estates, the fall will rise to 50% and up to 75%, calculates the biologist Ester Nin, oenologist at the Clos i Terrasses winery, in this Priorat town, and with its own project in Porrera.

Nin, the creator of wines that have obtained the highest rating in one of the reference publications, The Wine Advocate, makes it clear that the current one is "the vintage with the lowest production in the history of Priorat". A trend that has come to stay due to climate change. The drought and the heatwave accelerate the raisining of the grapes (when the fruit dries up), one of the reasons that has forced the harvesting to begin earlier.

“This last heat wave, when the grapes were almost ripe, has been the worst. We are seeing that the acidity drops sharply and the raisining begins, the plant does not have the capacity to hydrate the fruit, the grape passes and the degree increases; in some fields of Gratallops it has risen almost two degrees reaching 17.7, when the normal thing is to harvest at 15, sometimes at 16”, reflects Nin in her Porrera winery, on the Les Planetes estate.

The rain has been very uneven in Catalonia and specifically in this region, which accumulated between May and June 100 liters in some areas, such as La Morera de Montsant, Poboleda or part of Porrera, while less than 30 fell in others, indicates the President of the DOQ Priorat, Salustià Àlvarez. Already immersed in the era of global warming, one of the questions that arises is what measures can be applied to combat the water deficit. The reserves are at little more than 5% in the Siurana reservoir and Àlvarez launches an idea in extremis, studying the possibility of "bringing desalinated seawater in trucks".

The vineyard is a dry crop but in extreme situations, when it hardly rains, as in recent months, some winegrowers have proceeded to irrigate, allowed by the regulatory council of the DOQ Priorat before the moment in which the grapes change color, specifies Alvarez. In Clos i Terrasses they had to hire loads of water on board tractors from Falset.

Winegrowers also helplessly attend to unusual night temperatures. “Tonight – from Tuesday to Wednesday – we have reached 28 degrees! We have broken another record, our lands had never been subjected to these conditions, it is normal for it to drop below 20 degrees in mid-August. During the day the plant resists the heat, it is at night when it recovers to be able to continue its process and reach optimal maturation”, Nin describes.

To the rhythm of marching music and at full volume, a group of workers strives to select the beans, discarding those that do not have the required quality, to start the maceration process at Celler Nin Ortiz. "In Porrera we have started the harvest this Monday, seven days before 2022, each year we advance, and in Gratallops, last week," Nin specifies. A few kilometers away, on the Tros d'en Jaume farm, also in Porrera, Pau Peyri began harvesting the white Garnacha on Wednesday with the forecast of obtaining a production 25% lower than that of 2022. This is the same percentage to the drop that Nin foresees in the family lands of Porrera.

Peyri, 37, returned to Porrera at 18 to care for the lands of his ancestors, when the Priorat renaissance was at its height. Pau, like his grandfather, Faustino, chose to dedicate himself to agriculture; Not so his father who chose to leave the region and carve out a more secure future in the topography sector. “When I returned, in the Tros d'en Jaume there were only 700 vines left; I have been planting more until reaching the current 14,000 ”, he explained on Wednesday while he deposited the white Garnacha in baskets under a blazing sun. Peyri is one of the viticulturists who has decided to start harvesting the grapes at dawn, around four o'clock, to avoid the hours of most intense radiation.

"My grandfather harvested from the last days of September, but we have been four or five years in which we have to start at the end of August or beginning of September," he adds. In two of the three estates that Peyri takes care of, he reserves the grapes for other wineries, for Mas Doix and Vall-Llach; in the third he allocates the harvest to his personal project, Fills de la Llicorella. Although production has plummeted, he says that the prices they pay for it remain between 1.25 and three euros per kilo. Subsistence is not easy.

Salustià Álvarez comments that the towns most affected by the DOQ are Gratallops, Torroja and El Lloar, and that others, such as El Molar, La Vilella Baixa, Bellmunt and Porrera, have suffered the impact of the drought in part of their municipal territory. Gratallops, with a large number of wineries, including those of some of the protagonists of the Priorat push, Álvaro Palacios, René Barbier or Daphne Glorian, is one of the hardest hit localities, with 50% of the harvest affected, Álvarez indicates . In extreme cases the reduction rises to 75%.

The positive part, adds the president of the DOQ, is that "the health of the grapes is spectacular."

Nin explains that from California and from their own experience, they were already warned that given the climate context, if they wanted to continue putting the same number of bottles on the market, they would inevitably have to acquire more hectares of vineyards. So Clos i Terrasses bought nine hectares of vineyards, reaching a total of 24. "With 24 we will produce the same as with 15," says the oenologist. This will affect prices.

From the Incavi, Elorduy, indicates that this is an early harvest "due to climatic reasons, but also to other reasons, such as clonal selection, production methods and the styles of wine that are sought." In the face of drought, the solutions that Incavi investigates vary depending on each area. “We are looking for stronger feet; improve the structure of the soil so that it retains water, and modify the management of the vegetation, now we are practicing a type of pruning that gives more shade to the vine”, details Elorduy. They are also trying to recover varieties that were abandoned in the past and that can withstand more water deficit. The Mediterranean ones, such as Garnacha and Cariñena, are the most resilient.

Nin has opted for biodynamic agriculture, for techniques that protect the biodiversity of the soil and that contribute to maintaining humidity.