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Evolution of Northern Spain’s D.O. Navarra Vineyard

The Autonomous Community of Navarra in northern Spain extends from just south of the Ebro River, northwards to the French border in the Pyranees.  Wine growing is restricted to the southern half of the Community and becomes more concentrated near to the Ebro. Vines are divided geographically into two Denominacións de Origen (D.O.), with approximately one third belonging to D.O. Rioja and approximately two thirds belonging to the contiguous D.O. Navarra.

Navarra-Vineyard-area-by-coWine growing in the region of D.O. Navarra dates back to Roman times and flourished in the Middle Ages.  Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago were both consumers and advocates of the wine, which became well known throughout northern Spain.  The vineyard had to be replanted in the early 20th century following the arrival of Phylloxera in 1892.  The new vineyards on American rootstocks were given over almost entirely to Garnacha, whereas the pre-Phylloxera vineyard is believed to have been much more diverse, though details are sketchy.

For most of the 20th century, the wine industry in Navarra was dominated by co-operatives who produced much bulk wine for export.  Garnacha Tinta with its drought tolerance and high yields, was largely treated as a workhorse grape.  In 1974, Garnacha Tinta made up 93% of the then 25,016 ha of vineyards.  Much of the fruit was vinified to produce rosé wines, destined to be drunk not long after production and often showing oxidised notes.  White cultivars then totalled 650 ha, roughly 2.5% of the D.O. Navarra vineyard.

Garnacha-vs-TempranilloSince 1990 the overall size of the D.O. Navarra vineyard has ebbed and flowed in response to economic factors.  In response to changing consumer taste, winemakers have shifted from Garnacha-based rosés to red table wines based on a broader grape palate.  To achieve this, many Garnacha vines have been removed and new cultivars, especially Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, introduced into the D.O. Navarra vineyard.   From 23,336 ha in 1974, to ca. 10,000 ha in 1995 to 2,632 ha in 2012, the removal of Garnacha has been ruthless and relentless.

Part of the transformation has been facilitated by the increasing availability of irrigation water which, in 2005, meant that for the first time more vineyard area was irrigated than dry farmed.  This has given farmers greater opportunity to plant non-Garnacha cultivars, as well as non-vine crops.

Navarra-Vineyard-ComparisonThe D.O. Navarra vineyard of 2012 is almost unrecognisable compared to how it was composed forty years previously.  Is this a good thing?  If you hold to the view that a region’s vineyard composition reflects centuries of experimentation by small farmers and gradual selection of cultivars to those most suitable to the available terroir, then this could be the stuff of nightmares.  Much of the work on determining suitable cultivars and clones has taken place in the last 25 years at La Estación de Viticultura y Enología de Navarra (EVENA).  There can be do denying that the region is now producing many excellent wines, especially full-bodied reds.  Navarra has reinvented itself and is now an exciting wine region producing wines in a variety of styles and at a range of price points.  Let’s hope that climate change does not scupper the ambitions of experimental viticulturalists and wine producers alike.

Ribeira Sacra Wine Region in Figures

Exports from Galicia’s stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra D.O. are tiny.  In 2012 they totaled only 299 hl (40,000 bottles), yet they’ve still managed to impress a number of critics on both sides of the Atlantic.  Sufficiently so for President Obama to be served a Peza do Rei 2011 at a recent Gala dinner.

Ribeira-Sacra-Location-mapHow has a wine region that seemed to be in serious decline not so very long ago been able to reinvent itself?  The answer  includes improvements to rural infrastructure and producers with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to quality.  The five page free to download PDF Ribeira Sacra in Figures tracks the region’s recent history through data compilations to help explain a part of the story.



Rueda Wine Region in Figures

Rueda is Spain’s leading D.O. producer of white wine.  Since 1970 it has been at the vanguard of introducing new technologies and approaches in order to reinvent itself.  The 6 page free downloadable PDF, Rueda in Figures summarizes the readily available data to help explain the Rueda story.

Rias Baixas in Figures: Free Download

Rias Baixas is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a Denominación de Origen in 2013.  During this time it has undergone considerable growth and development, so now seems as good a time as any to take stock of its achievements.  The 5 page free downloadable PDF, Rias Baixas in Figures summarizes the readily available data to help explain the Rias Baixas story.

The Vineyards of Galicia, Northwest Spain

Wines from Galicia, Spain’s northwestern autonomous region, have been attracting welcome attention lately.  Albariños from Rias Baixas and Mencias from Ribeira Sacra are leading the charge and making their presence felt on restaurant lists outside of Spain.  Perhaps less known is the overall makeup and composition of Galicia’s vineyard arrangements, which play an important role in determining the styles, quantities and prices of wines from the region.

Galicia-area-pi-chart-2In 2012 Galicia had 26,233 ha of vineyards, all of which are used for the production of wine grapes.  Of this amount, vineyards in the five Denominaciones de Origen Protegidas (DOP) accounted for 9,689 ha or 37%.  There are three areas in Galicia with Indicaciones Geográficas Protegidas (IGP) status, but their total area amounts to a mere 20 ha.  Whereas regions such as Sicily are producing large quantities of IGP wine, you’re unlikely to see a Galician IGP wine in a supermarket anytime soon.  The remaining 63% of the Galician vineyard lack any geographical indication and are almost entirely used to produce wines which are consumed locally.

Galicia-Vineyard-size-distrThe bedrock geology of Galicia consists of Palaeozoic igneous and metamorpic rocks.  Subsequent tectonic activity and weathering have produced a rugged topography with many steep slopes and deep valleys. Along the coastline many of these valleys have been drowned producing inlets or rias.  Such topography means that in many areas mechanised farming is not possible, and labour costs farming terraced plots are high.  Individual plots are almost universally small, with the 2009 vineyard survey showing that 97% of Galicia’s 83,942 vineyard plots were <1 ha.  Producing grapes on such small plots creates something of a logistical nightmare for the bodegas and inevitably means that Galician wine producers lack economies of scale.

Galicia-DOs-areaOf the DOPs in Galicia, only Rias Baixas has been able to increase its vineyard area to any significant extent during the 21st century.  The other four DOPs are constrained by their geography and their vineyard areas have remained more or less constant.  Wine production from these DOPs isn’t going to markedly increase anytime soon.  So if you want to taste Palacios’ Godello from Valdeorras or Peza do Rei’s Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, you’ll have to be prepared to pay for these delights.  Hopefully you’ll take some comfort from an appreciation as to why production is so limited and why their production costs are so high.