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Increasing Alcohol Content in Red Rioja

The Consejo Regulador (regulatory authority) for the vineyards and wines of Rioja was established in 1926.  They carefully maintain and publish statistics of the Rioja Wine Industry, which allows a number of important parameters to be tracked through time.

In the 2013 vintage, the wineries within the Rioja DOCa produced 2.64 million hl of wine.  As part of the Rioja wine approval process, there is a regulatory requirement for a sample from each tank of wine to be subjected to analytical (and sensory) investigation.  Last year 3,973 wine samples were analysed by the Rioja Control Board, for parameters such as pH, volatile acidity and Alcohol content (abv).  Although the raw data has not been published, the summary data provides a useful snapshot of the vintage, and provides the opportunity to compare with earlier vintages as far back as 2001.

In the case of alcohol content for red wine there is, as would be expected with any agricultural product, a good deal of variation between vintages.  Underlying this scatter is an upward trend which amounts to an increase of abv of ca. 0.5% from 2001-2013.  (The p-value associated with the trend line is 0.03; values of less that 0.05 are generally considered significant).  The causes of this increase (e.g. climate? picking dates?) are presently unclear, and there is currently no reason to believe that it will necessarily continue in future.

How the Beaujolais Wine Region has Evolved in the 21st Century

Beaujolais has many claims to being regarded as a classic wine region, but it’s one which has had its fair share of difficulties during the 21st century.  Continuing urban sprawl, low wine prices and Europe’s decreasing interest in the Beaujolais Nouveau campaign have all contributed to what has been described as a Crisis Viticole. This has led to difficult, sometimes tragic, human consequences for winegrowers.

As the official body for Beaujolais wines, Inter Beaujolais have been keenly promoting the region through participation in trade fairs, tastings and masterclasses.  They have kindly released basic data on vineyard area, production and sales which help paint a picture of how the region has developed during the early 21st century.

Beaujolais-Historical-VineyVineyard prices in Beaujolais have dropped significantly over the past 20 years  According to Lyon Capital, the price of generic Beaujolais vineyard has fallen on average from €38,000/ha in 1990 to €13,900 in 2010.  Over the same period the average sales price of Beaujolais Villages vineyard has fallen from €49,800 to €12,700.   Beginning in 2005, winegrowers were offered a compensation of €6,300/ha if they chose to pull up their vines.  With seemingly grim prospects, a number of winegrowers decided to quit.  This had the effect of reducing the total Beaujolais vineyard from around 23,000 ha in 2005 to around 17,000 ha today.  Most of the vines uprooted were located within generic Beaujolais vineyards (down ca. 34% since 2005) and Beaujolais Villages vineyards (down ca. 30% since 2005).  Beaujolais Crus vineyards have lost only ca. 7% of their area since 2005.

Beaujolais-Production Vintage effects have a marked impact on wine production from the region.  The European heatwave of 2003 resulted in a much smaller harvest (and also one with higher than normal sugar contents).  Wine production for Beaujolais totalled only 0.85 million hl in 2003, against an average of 1.3 million hl for the two years either side.  2012 was a particularly small harvest owing to a cold winter, spring frosts, and a damp, hail-prone, summer.  Aside from vintage variation, longer term trends in wine production are taking place as a result of the loss of vineyard area.  These changes have significantly altered the wine production profile of the Beaujolais region.  So, for example in 2011, for the first time more Beaujolais Crus wine was produced than generic Beaujolais wine.

Beaujolais-wine-yieldsFor some wine commentators, the future of Beaujolais lies not with its well known (but arguably devalued) Beaujolais Nouveau, but with its10 Crus AOPs.  In this regard there has been much talk about the Crus producing concentrated wines from low yielding vines.  Yet the available statistics seem to tell a different story.  Over the period from 2002 to 2012, white wine production (which is tiny) has been produced, as would be expected, at significantly higher yields than for red wines. Meanwhile average yields for generic Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus have historically shown little difference and there have been a number of years (e.g. 2006-2009) when the average yields from Beaujolais Crus have been higher than those from generic Beaujolais!  The future of the Beaujolais wine region may turn out to be determined largely by quality-minded producers located within the Beaujolais Crus.  But isn’t it time to drop the simplistic association of yield and quality?

WineStats would like to thank Charles Rimbaud and his colleagues at Inter Beaujolais for providing the vineyard area and wine production data used in this article.

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.

Growing Degree Days in Marlborough, New Zealand

Of the many environmental factors which affect the productivity and quality of grape vines and their fruit, arguably the single most important variable is temperature during the growing season.  Photosynthesis in Vitis vinifera is temperature dependant, and this in turn affects vegetative and reproductive growth.  Different cultivars of V. vinifera have differing temperature tolerances, which largely drives the differing assemblages of cultivars observed in different wine growing regions.

Several measures have been proposed which seek to summarise the temperature records over a growing season into a single numerical value. These include the Huglin Index, Biologically Effective Degree Days (BEDD) and Growing Degree Days (GDD).  Of these GDD, defined as \sum((Tmax + Tmin) / 2) – 10°C), is probably the most widely used and has proven useful in helping to understand differences in wine growing conditions in different parts of the world.

Marlborough-vineyard-GDD-maTo fully interpret GDD data for a particular wine growing region, it’s necessary to examine how these values change both in space and time.  The Marlborough Research Centre maintains weather stations at Blenheim in the Wairau Valley and at Dashwood in the Awatere Valley.  Temperature data from these two sites has been integrated with information from other weather stations by the New Zealand National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).  This has allowed them to produce a grid of temperature data, which has been used to produce the GDD map.  This map shows the median GDD values based on data derived over a number of years.

The map shows the strong influence that topography has on growing season temperatures, with the elevated areas being markedly cooler.  Although on average the Awatere Valley is slightly cooler than the Wairau Valley, there is significant variation within each of these two subregions.

Marlborough-GDD-plotLooking at annual GDD figures at particular weather station(s) brings out the growing season temperature variations associated with particular vintages. Notable are the unusually high GDD values for 1997/98 and the very low values for 2011/12.  The former is probably the result of an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event which caused New Zealand to experience an exceptionally hot summer.  By contrast, 2011/12 was described by Wine Marlborough as having a summer which “never really arrived”.

For 2012/13, growing season temperatures were significantly higher than the previous year.  Gapes harvested from Marlborough in 2013 totalled 251,680 tonnes, up from 188,649 tonnes in 2012.  Already being called an outstanding vintage by some winemakers, WineStats will be attending the London New Release Tasting to see if 2013 exhibits high quality as well as quantity.

Vineyard Area, Production and Wine Yields in Chablis’ AOPs

Chablis is an isolated wine region of northern France, arguably the most northerly region in Europe producing high quality, still table wine.  World-famous for its production of food-friendly dry white wines from Chardonnay grapes, it should display mouth-watering acidity, restrained fruit flavours and so-called mineral characteristics.  The region is divided into four Appellations d’Origine Protégée (AOPs), based on the perceived quality of the land for growing and ripening Chardonnay.

Area-Growth-by-AoPThe area of vineyards in Chablis has expanded enormously since 1970.  Then there were only 757 ha in production, but over the next 40 years this increased almost seven-fold to reach 5,043 ha in 2010.  By 1995, Chablis Grand Cru and Chablis Premier Cru were both at, or close to, their maximum delimited areas.  Additional growth since then has been of the less well-regarded Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs.  The Chablis AOP had a production area of 3,318 ha in 2010.  Since the maximum limit for the Chablis AOP, as designated by the INAO, is 4,420 ha, there is still room for considerable future growth.  Similarly, Petit Chablis’ 2010 vineyard area of 843 ha still has some way to go before the INAO limit of 1,562 ha is reached.

Production-Growth-by-AoPThe increasing amount of grapes being grown in Chablis has allowed producers to ramp-up wine production.  In the early 1970s, total Chablis wine production was ca. 20,000 to 40,000 hl.  By 2006-2010 wine production had climbed to between 270,000 to 290,000 hl.  Prior to 1970, genuine Chablis (as opposed to, say, Gallo’s “Chablis” from California) was available to only a limited number of wine drinkers.  Now Chablis AOP and Petit Chablis AOP wines are produced in sufficient quantities to make them widely available in a variety of domestic and export markets.

Yields-by-AOCIn addition to increases in vineyard area and production, wine yield (expressed as hl/ha) has also shown a long-term upwards trend before levelling off at between ca. 50-60 hl/ha over the past 25 years.  Year-on-year climatic variations certainly play a role in determining the harvest size and complicating this picture, though perhaps not quite so much as might have been anticipated.  Following a series of poor harvests in 1977, 1978 and 1981, the Chablis region had a pretty good run until the heatwave vintage of 2003.

Although wine yield is but one of many factors influencing wine quality, it is often cited by wine critics and educationalists as being a critical one.  You might expect that within the Chablis region, wine yields within the AOPs would be arranged such that Chablis Grands Cru AOP would have the lowest yield and Petit Chablis AOP the highest.  Over the past quarter century Chablis Grands Cru AOP has indeed had the lowest wine yield, but there has been precious little difference between the wine yields of the Pemier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs.  Are producers of Petit Chablis AOP over-performing, or is wine yield not so relevant here? WineStats hasn’t been to sufficient Chablis tastings to have a view on this one.

WineStats would like to thank Cécile Mathiaud and Virginie Valcauda of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) for kindly supplying some of the data used in this posting.