Nowadays, when you pick up a bottle of Spanish wine to read the back label, do you recognize the following grapes?
Mandó · Sumoll · Marina · Perruno · Tintilla · Querol · Pintaíllo · Tardana · Alcañón
Brancellao · Bruñal · Forastera · Merenzao · Uva Rey · Sousón · Caiño · Longo ·
Albillo Real · Cayetana Blanca · Jaqué · Subirat Parent · Tortosí · Trepadell · Arcos ·
Albarín…just to name a few.
What happened to Tempranillo, Garnacha, Albariño, and Verdejo?
For now, the main (most commonly planted) grapes like Tempranillo and others still dominate the Spanish wine landscape. But this is rapidly changing.
Agriculture, in particular the wine industry, is a large part of Spain’s economy. Spain, like many other wine producing countries, is grappling with the crisis of climate change, the most potent threat to the vines and farming. Rising temperatures, drought, and inclement weather have posed major challenges to winemakers, who are seeking solutions to combat climate volatility. Grapes are ripening too quickly, concentrating the sugars and throwing off normal harvest schedules. Pick too early and there’s poor balance between sugars and acidity. Pick too late and the result is higher alcohol levels from concentrated sugars.
Winemakers are employing strategies on a trial by fire basis, with some yielding promising results. What started out as a return to traditional farming techniques and the recuperation of indigenous varieties may be a part of the remedy. Many grapes were abandoned in the late 19th century due to the phylloxera epidemic. Other indigenous varieties were also abandoned for higher yielding grapes, such as the case in Jerez, where many clones of Palomino Fino were extirpated in favor of a singular high yielding version.
There is a movement in Spain by winemakers seeking to look to the past to build for the future. A concerted effort to natural winemaking, eco-farming and biodynamic practices, and careful study of biodiversity and polyculture are some of the measures these viticultors are taking to ensure the vitality of the soils and the health of the surrounding environment of the vineyards. The active recuperation of lost varieties has yielded an additional bonus – some of these traditional grapes take longer to ripen. In addition, sites that were once difficult for vines to grow have become the new breeding grounds for cultivation.
These approaches to combat climate change are just a start. The challenges these winemakers face are mounting and in constant flux. Winemakers will continue to produce wines made with Tempranillo, Verdejo, etc., adapting to climate forces in bad vintages with lower yields and changes in vineyard practices.
The good news is that these efforts have bore fruit for the consumer. A growing number of indigenous grapes of the past can now be sampled. Do the wines taste like they did a century or two ago? The climate was different back then, so there’s no way to compare. With minimal intervention in the cellar, we can get a good glimpse into what these wines were like. We all have to do our part to meet the challenges of climate change, and perhaps in that effort, we’ll still have plenty of great wines to drink for the foreseeable future.
We carry many of these wines crafted with these exciting native grapes. Pop by the shop or contact us for recommendations or further discussion.