This week, Victoria Torres has climbed for the first time to one of the plots that remained unharvested because it was within the “exclusion zone” after the eruption of the volcano in La Palma. On an island in which the abandonment of the vineyard is counted by hectares for multiple reasons —the aging of the winegrowers, the difficulties of the land, the price of the plots—, the volcano has been just one more problem for those who dedicate themselves to make wine. And that the year was looking good: after several seasons of absolute drought, 2021 had marked seasons and even rain. However, the first days of the harvest – which Torres carries out in stages, between August 12 and October 20 – a heat wave, with temperatures of up to 45º, swept away part of the grapes in some of the areas of the island.
The Spanish wine revolution
With that and everything else, this La Palma winery expects to obtain some 14,000 bottles in 2021, somewhat more than in 2020 and 2019, years marked by drought. This year’s reds will be “fresh, spicy, beautiful,” he says, while acknowledging that circumstances force winemakers to continually adapt and reinvent themselves. In his case, diversifying and looking for plots in different parts of the island, something he did “out of curiosity”, turned out to be a wise decision. The Basque Iñaki Garrido, immersed in a wine project in Tenerife with Listán Blanco, explains that the complicated orography of the islands marks very different conditions in viticulture. Vineyards at lower altitudes are more exposed to fungal attacks and, depending on their orientation, can suffer from gusts of wind and heat stroke. The 2021 vintage, for Garrido, will be pleasant from the start: fresh wines, with good acidity and good alcohol content.
In Galicia, the young are better
Far from there, in the Galician Ribeira Sacra, Fernando González (Adega Algueira) expects a 2021 “super fresh and easy to drink”, although he has doubts about whether it will be a vintage of “great vines”. In this drier area, far from the concept of rainy Galicia, the falling water throughout the cycle fattened the grapes and the wines do not have the structure that drought provides. “We are very expectant, for young wines it is going to be a very interesting vintage, but in those elaboration wines, where we start stepping on the grapes on foot, where we no longer put so much stems, it reminds a bit of how the wines were long ago”, describes. To find the subtlety it seeks, the wine will “have to sharpen and spend time.” In any case, it will be a “different” vintage, in the opinion of this winegrower, one of the most emblematic of this area.
Miguel Anxo Besada, sommelier and owner of Taberna A Curva in Portonovo, points out that the absence of sun generated a certain nervousness in areas such as Ribeiro and Rías Baixas in the moments before the harvest and caused many differences between areas, where the grapes ripened at different rhythm. As he points out, 2021 will be a vintage of low-grade wines in these areas, “very drinkable”, but a vintage “more unstable than other years” and “very complicated to interpret”, which will require more work in the cellar. In El Bierzo they expect a “very good vintage”, with slightly fresher, finer wines with a low alcohol content, also a consequence of the rain that fell at the beginning of the harvest. “Elegant wines, with a lot of violet”, describes César Márquez, who works vineyards in Valtuille.
The effect of Filomena in the Ribera del Duero
Filomena and hailstones affected production in Ribera del Duero, but the area did not suffer spring frosts and it has rained “reasonably”, according to Manuel del Rincón, technical director of the Marta Maté winery and consultant on other wine projects. The wines of 2021 will have a lot of fruit and will be characterized by “freshness”. According to his forecasts, the young wines will be easy to drink without losing flavour, complexity and intensity, and the acidity —higher than in previous years— will make it possible to make “great wines for aging”. However, the characteristics will not be the same throughout the Ribera because the weather has not behaved the same in all areas, a situation that is replicated in more places. Not far from there, in Arlanza, the medium-altitude areas have been favored by the weather. They will have moderate degrees, freshness and good acidity, which gives them “good aging potential”, according to the oenologist David González, who is developing a project there and also advises wineries in other areas.
Adán Israel, president of the Association of Sommeliers of Castilla-La Mancha (ASUMAN), insists on the complexity of summarizing the vintage in his region, which has more than 460,000 hectares of vineyards, 12 payments, 9 denominations of origin and four basins hydrographic However, it explains some common circumstances: the Filomena storm and a subsequent heat stroke caused losses of varying intensity, depending on the area. The young wines of 2021 will be fresh, elegant and fine, in the opinion of this sommelier, who believes that the vintage can leave wines of considerable quality in this “so eclectic and so complex” region.
The September rains after a dry summer are key to understanding the result of this vintage also in Rioja. Rioja Alta and Alavesa benefited from these rains prior to the harvest. “The Tempranillos will have a vintage like the ones before, with a great balance between acidity and alcoholic strength, and a lot of color,” predicts David González, who also works in Haro. For Arturo Miguel (Bodega Artuke, in Rioja Alavesa), it will be a “relatively fresh” vintage. Waiting for its development in the barrel, he is optimistic and believes that 2021 “looks like it will be a great vintage in the area”. The weather was not a problem there, nor was mildew —a plant disease—, unlike the previous year, and the plants were able to acclimatize between the rains and the harvest, something different from what happened in Rioja Baja.
Drought and rain affect the Penedés
In the Alto Penedés area they have suffered from drought throughout the 2021 season, with the problems that this entails (less production, smaller and sometimes overripe grapes) and rains during the harvest, although it is also a situation that has varied depending on the region. . In Priorat, however, they have experienced what Salus Àlvarez, the president of the Denomination of Origin, calls “the harvest of illusion”: they had two years with low production crops, in 2019 due to heat stroke and in 2020 due to mildew. “2021 has been a record harvest in volume of kilos and in quality.” In total they have collected more than 7.3 million kilos of grapes. For Àlvarez, in the last 20 years there has been a great evolution in technical capacity and training in the wineries, so that “increasingly, the quality of the wines is more assured” and it is the particularities of each year that determine their characteristics. In his area, the conditions “were fabulous”, especially at the end of the harvest, and the wines will have the concentration and structure that are typical of the area. “Then each winery looks for its profile, but as a whole, it will be an exceptional year,” he says.
In Costers del Segre, in the province of Lleida, the winter was quite rainy, but the spring was a bit dry, explains Pilar Salillas, manager of the La Gravera winery, who points out: “Grenache always adapts well.” In spring, a couple of frosts burned some shoots, but “the force of the vineyard” caused some buds to sprout again. As he points out, in his reds there have been some differences between the foreign varieties, with higher alcohol content, and the Garnachas, which are more stable or slightly lower in alcohol content than other years, as has also happened with the ancestral varieties. For now, he has verified that the wine “has a lot of finesse, good freshness and is balanced.” For the winemaker it will not be one of the best vintages in history, although it will be very good.
Fight the game to the end
A year in the Balearic Islands in which a victory that was expected by a landslide has turned into “winning suffering until the last minute”, according to the football simile used by Francesc Grimalt (4kilos Vinícola). The explanation: it was a great year weather-wise but September was “very strange”, with rains that especially affected local varieties such as the Callet. For Grimalt, the 2021 will have more acidity and more fresh fruit in wines that can evolve well, in his opinion.
In the Levante area, winemaker Pepe Mendoza highlights the “self-regulation” of his vineyards, which have produced around 40% less in 2021, which makes him expect a “very high quality” vintage. The plants, as he explains, have completed the cycle very lightly and have provided grapes with good acidity. Mendoza expects wines with nerve, tension and a fine tannin, with aging capacity. “Where there is fruit there is life, and this year there is fruit,” he says. In the Jerez area, a vegetative stoppage prevented the grapes from finishing “topping off”, which, in the opinion of winemaker Ramiro Ibáñez, will mark the 2021 vintage: a heat wave that even caused grapes to be found in the same bunch burnt and green grapes, as described. Of course, Ibáñez considers that it will be an interesting year for the consumer, because the large vineyards behave better in these conditions and the difference in quality “will be palpable in the short term.” Unlike industrially produced wines, those from small producers will remain as witnesses of a complicated year 2021, because, as the Galician Fernando González (Algueira) explains, when you drink them “you are drinking a landscape, an area and a climate. For that we are winegrowers, to be honest and respect that”.