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.
In 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.
The 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.
Of 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.