The silent death of the Penedès vineyards

* The author is part of the community of readers of La Vanguardia.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
05 September 2023 Tuesday 04:48
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The silent death of the Penedès vineyards

* The author is part of the community of readers of La Vanguardia

The strains from Alt Penedès could be said to be in the ICU, paraphrasing medical jargon. The great severe drought that has been accumulating for two years is killing the vines and, if the situation continues, 80% of this year's harvest could be considered lost.

Two years of continuous drought in the Penedès have left a subsoil without water reserves. As a consequence, the vineyard suffers in such a way that many vines are already dying before the desperate gaze of a peasantry that, impotent, cannot face an exceptional situation, never seen before.

The vine did not cry when it played and now it is the peasants who almost cry to save a production that could lead them to total ruin.

This photographic report, carried out in Castellví de la Marca, in Alt Penedès, shows the effects of the drought in the vineyard, which will not only affect this year's harvest, but will also affect the following year.

There is a danger of losing many vines because, even if they remain alive, it will not be profitable to continue working either. The collateral effects will also harm other sectors related to the cultivation of the vine, such as machinery... which will lead to a chain of disasters in the area.

The persistent drought and the general extreme climatic situation that the Penedès suffers is endangering the harvest and the survival of the vines, which in July were already without leaves, because they had barely sprouted.

Analyzing data on rainfall in the municipality of Castellví de la Marca, which is one of the most affected in the entire Alt Penedès region, in a year of normal rainfall of about 650 liters, the vines should have about 80-120 cm, but that this year, having rained only 95 liters in the last 12 months and with the current heat waves, the vines do not sprout, have sprouted very little or are dying.

This fact causes a significant loss of the harvest, which in the best of cases, they estimate that only 20% will be harvested, but in the worst cases nothing can be harvested.

The Unió de Pagesos association has requested in a statement both the Department of Climate Action of the Generalitat, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, that Alt Penedès be declared an "area highly affected by drought", taking into account that, of its 25,000 hectares, there are 20,000 affected. They foresee a loss of 80% of the current crop.

On the other hand, the Unió de Pagesos, JARC and the Association of Viticulturists of Penedès have claimed compensation with an amount between 5,000 and 6,000 euros per hectare for all those affected, since they could lose between 80 and 100% of the harvest of this year, and lead them to the unfeasibility of their exploitations, not only for this year but for the coming ones.

If half a year ago the members of the Covides cooperative predicted that some 600 farmers in the area planned to leave the vineyards in the coming years, now, with this persistent severe drought, they could immediately abandon their vineyards.

The problem that the drought has generated is that many vineyards will be affected next year with the death of many vines. In the last 80 years there have been no records of such low rainfall in the Penedès, the older peasants have never experienced it nor do they have memories of their ancestors having commented on it in their lives.

They only remember that the territory lost all the vines with the appearance of phylloxera, which devastated the vineyards throughout Catalonia between 1888 and 1890. Now, we could be in a similar situation. To find out, we will have to wait until next year and see which vineyards will survive or how many will not.