The Catalan Office of Climate Change publishes a guide to the results of the LIFE MIDMACC project with which we have collaborated in the last four years.

Collecting samples with the research team of the LIFE MIDMACC program in Mas Marès (archive)

Since 2021 we have collaborated with LIFE MIDMACC project along with other territories in La Rioja, Aragon and Catalonia. The aim of this research is to analyze the benefits against climate change that land management with a mosaic landscape can have. Now, the Catalan Climate Change Office has released a guide, with the other partners of the project, which collects the main results and conclusions of the investigation.

In recent years, the increase in temperatures has been overwhelming, as we all know. In particular, the last year is the hottest on planet earth ever recorded. In addition, the mid-mountain areas of southern Europe, like our vineyards, are very sensitive to the impacts of climate change. The depopulation and abandonment of the traditional primary sector in recent years has led to reforestation and a homogenization of the landscape. At the same time, this has led to a decrease in environmental resilience and biodiversity.

Why did Mas Marès stop the fire?

With projects of recovery of the Mediterranean mosaic like the one we carry out at Mas Marès we try reverse this situation and achieve a more resilient landscape. During the February 2022 fires, mosaic agroforestry management was key to stopping the fire. MIDMACC LIFE studies corroborate that this management can also help prevent soil erosion, because it avoids overexploitation and the loss of biodiversity In addition it improves aspects that are so necessary today (and we believe also in the future) such as water resistance.

The guide Mesures d’adaptació al canvi climàtic a la muntanya mitjana mediterrània: una guia pràctica can be read online and is structured in three parts. The first deals with the analysis of the risks of the mid-Mediterranean mountains to the impacts of climate change. The second part reviews the results of the measures implemented (recovery of pastures, optimization/introduction of vines, forest management) in three areas of Aragon, Catalonia and La Rioja. Finally, in the last part, other adaptation measures are proposed for the mid-Mediterranean mountains.

Anna Espelt climate change
Measuring device of the LIFE MIDMACC project in the vineyards of Mas Marès (archive)

Celler Espelt has hosted the technical conference “Climate reality in DO Empordà: how to deal with it?” organized by the Department of Climate Action of the Generalitat of Catalonia with the collaboration of IRTA and DO Empordà.

We have been suffering from an unprecedented drought for three years and the forecasts are not promising at all. Today we took part in the technical conference “The climate reality in the DO Empordà: how to deal with it?” took place in our house. organized by the Department of Climate Action of the Generalitat of Catalonia, and the collaboration of IRTA and DO Empordà.

Durant la jornada s’ha fet especial atenció a la necessitat de fer una poda respectuosa, especialment amb la conferència “La Poda. Canviar per continuar” a càrrec de Vicenç Canals, director de l’Acadèmia de Poda d’INNOVI, i també sobre l’adaptació de la vinya en el canvi climàtic, a la conferència de Robert Savé, investigador emèrit de l’IRTA, amb la conferència: “Cal saber què passa i passarà per poder adaptar la nostra vinya a la realitat ambiental del segle XXI”. Tot seguit ha tingut lloc una taula rodona a la qual hi ha participat els mateixos Robert Savé i Vicenç Canals, juntament amb la participació d’altres cellers de la DO Empordà: M. Àngels Casanovas (ADV Empordàlia), Roger Hurtós (Cavas Castillo Perelada) i l’Anna Espelt (Espelt Viticultors).

Special attention was paid to the need for respectful pruning, especially with the conference “Pruning. Change to continue” by Vicenç Canals, director of INNOVI’s Pruning Academy, and also on the adaptation of the vineyard to climate change, at the conference of Robert Savé, IRTA researcher emeritus, with the conference: “We need to know what is happening and will happen in order to adapt our vineyard to the environmental reality of the 21st century” . This was followed by a round table in which Robert Savé and Vicenç Canals themselves took part, along with the participation of other DO Empordà wineries: M. Àngels Casanovas (ADV Empordàlia), Roger Hurtós (Cavas Castillo Perelada ) and Anna Espelt (Espelt Viticultors). The need to rethink where it is best to plant new vines, was a second point mentioned, as drought and flood zones might change. Recently we have seen that the wider planting frames and the return to the pot that we are applying in most vineyards are giving very good results. Finally, we believe that it will be necessary for the collaboration of administrations since climate change is going faster than was planned. This is especially necessary in viticulture, a long term crop, since our adaptation is already taking place at full speed.

We believe that the Conferences organized by Acció Climàtica are a step forward to continue working together on adaptation and viticulture. Thank you for coming home!

In a summer that has broken all historical records for warm temperatures, the harvest is a litmus test. The vines resist, as they can. The lack of rain helps the grapes being healthy. We don’t have to worry about fungal diseases, but the consequences of the drought go much further.

It has been three years since we accumulated an extreme drought in the territory. In the last three years, rainfall has dropped to values that are well below average. The lack of water is testing the endurance of plants to limits we have never experienced before. Now we can see the accumulated fatigue, the vines are in a state of extreme exhaustion.

Plants follow a cycle we all know of leaves, fruit, reserves. In other words, the plant goes through a cycle in which it concentrates its energy in the different phases that will then allow it to continue living. The leaves will help it produce sugar, photosynthesize and bear fruit. Once the fruits have been collected (or fallen if we don’t collect them) the plant will concentrate on reserving energy for the next spring, when it has to take out leaves again. In these three years the plants have been accumulating unprecedented water stress. Less energy to make leaves translates into fewer leaves, the bunches are getting smaller and smaller, their energy reserves are getting smaller every day and the plants are a little weaker and less vigorous every year.

This year it rained in the middle of the harvest, a scant 20 l. This would have ruined us in any other year, because it can destroy the health of the grapes. This year, however, the health of the grapes is unbeatable, our suffering (and that of the plant!) goes the other way. In the spring we were surprised that there were many flowers, especially in local varieties such as red dogwood and black dogwood, which are more adapted to the climate of the territory. The berries that have resulted have been small and with thick skins, we sense that there will be little production and a lot of concentration.

This vintage is the result of the last three years. Today we know that ripening has been advanced due to heat and drought. We continue to harvest, day by day. We’ll see how it ends.

This year we face the worst drought we have experienced in decades. We face the prospect of even more critical situations in the coming years due to climate change. We explain how we save water in the vineyard and how we move forward with the changes to come.

irrigation pond spelled drought
Low use of irrigation water in Vilajuïga – Photo Espelt

The vine is a rainfed crop, but this year we are facing a critical reality due to the lack of water. Precipitation has decreased dramatically: this year only 56 l/m² fell against the annual 554.32 l/m² in a normal year. If we also add the climate forecasts for the coming years, we need to make decisions now so that in the long term we can ensure the survival of the plants.

What are we doing to save water?

One of the measures we have been carrying out for some time is to select local varieties for the new plantings. These varieties adapt better to the climate of the area and therefore need less water. In our case, the main variety is Garnacha and other Mediterranean varieties such as Carignan or Monestrell.

We have also been making wider planting frames, decreasing the number of plants per square meter. This allows the plants to function with a lower amount of water, optimizing its use in drought situations.

Another measure adopted is the planting of vines in pots, as they require less water compared to other cultivation systems. Although this strategy has its effects in the very long term, it is a valuable investment for the highest quality vines.

To maintain a thorough control of the water used, we have installed an irrigation system that minimizes losses and optimizes water use at all times. This system includes an additional storage pond to prevent water loss through the canal. In addition, probes have been placed at different depths in the soil to ensure that the water reaches the plants efficiently, thus preventing them from disappearing at specific points. This focused and efficient irrigation system is key to the survival of plants in years like the one we are living.

Although droughts have already occurred in the past century, recent data on rising sea temperatures and climate models indicate that it is crucial to act now to deal with even worse situations. We are certain that there is only one way to act and that is to remain committed to this legacy that we have inherited. To the earth, we owe our life and sustenance. All the measures to take care of it and preserve it are essential for our work to have meaning.

It hasn’t rained in three years. Drought in the vineyard is a reality. The previous two years we saved the rainfall due to specific episodes of intense showers. Either way, despite the rains this weekend, we don’t have moisture deep in the soil. The vines are sprouting thanks to the water reserves that the plant itself has. We are headed, if it doesn’t rain, for a meager production of grapes.

A budding vine in Vilajuïga

Drought is an issue that worries us. The lack of rain and the high temperatures that the meteorology has ahead of us these days can negatively affect the production of grapes, as we said, but also the quality of the wines. At the winery, we have been trying to adapt to reducing the amounts of water we use, especially for cleaning, for some time. Restrictions will not be a problem here.

However, in the vineyard drought can affect the plant at different stages of its vegetative cycle and here we can no longer do so much in the short term. The most immediate effects will be noticed during the growth of the plant, in the next few days. It can slow down shoot growth and make the leaves smaller. When the plant is thirsty, it has to close its stomata to prevent water loss through transpiration, this reduces photosynthesis and therefore does not have as much energy to make new tissues.

In the coming months, if things continue like this, it will affect the size of the berries and consequently the quality of the wine, because we will lose intensity and aroma. If this ends up happening, there’s little we can do about it and we hope it doesn’t end up happening!

What are we doing

In the risky sport that is viticulture, we have been trying to get ahead of premonitions of global warming for some years now. That is why at one point we decided that planting local varieties was an effective way to fight the drought. The local varieties are more adapted to the environment, need less water and therefore better withstand the dry and windy climate of the Empordà. Another of the measures has been to lovingly prune each and every one of the vines, so that when they reach this point it is easier to push the sap.

In any case, none of these measures will be sufficient if we cross the threshold of warming of 1.5 ºC which according to the scientific community will be the beginning of a series of extreme weather phenomena. At the winery we have tried to reduce as much as possible our dependence on energy from fossil sources, which is why we have had solar panels for self-supply for a few years now. We have also managed to reduce the weight of the bottles by looking for less heavy glass and saving a few kilos in the final transport of the goods. All this is probably just the beginning of what we will have to do in the coming years. The rest is to entrust ourselves to the wisdom of the earth.

Mas Marès és una finca agrícola situada al Parc Natural del Cap de Creus. El nostre objectiu en aquestes vinyes no només és treure’n un bon vi, sinó també generar Espais Agraris d’Alt Valor Natural. En els darrers vint any que fa que gestionem aquestes terres, hem fet tot el possible perquè l’agricultura i la natura treballin juntes per crear un paisatge harmònic i sostenible.

Des del primer dia que vam començar a treballar aquí, el 2003, teníem clar que havia arribat a les nostres mans un lloc singular, un balcó al mar, unes vinyes que s’hi aboquen amarant-se de salins i tramuntana, però també una terra plena d’història. Som conscients que hem d’honorar el llegat que la terra ens ofereix, és d’on traiem els fruits més preuats per viure, l’oli, el pa, el vi, l’aigua. Tenim un únic compromís: treballar la terra respectant-la.

Els orígens

Mas Marès està envoltat de monuments megalítics que daten de fa més de cinc mil anys, com el menhir dret a l’entrada de la finca que ens agrada saludar cada cop que venim a veure les vinyes. La terra, les pedres, han estat aquí molt abans que nosaltres i hi continuaran sent quan nosaltres ja no hi siguem. Des del megalític, les mans dels homes i les dones que han treballat aquesta terra han anat configurant el paisatge que avui veiem. La nostra responsabilitat és continuar treballant-la amb la màxima cura, per preservar-ne el paisatge i els ecosistemes de tots els seus habitants.

Abans d’arribar fins aquí, però, cal dir que el paisatge ha patit molts canvis. Les vinyes han format part del paisatge del Cap de Creus des de l’arribada dels grecs. Ara bé, va ser amb l’establiment del monestir de Sant Pere de Rodes, fa mil anys, que es va iniciar la substitució gradual de la vegetació natural per conreus en feixes sostinguts per parets de pedra seca. Això va comportar la construcció de centenars de quilòmetres de feixes i cabanes arreu del massís i la substitució de la vegetació existent, essencialment suredes, per un monocultiu de vinya.

Més tard, amb l’arribada de la fil·loxera, el s. XIX, les vinyes es van abandonar quasi totalment i la vegetació natural va anar recolonitzant el territori. La brolla —vegetació arbustiva baixa, que reneix després dels focs— va ser una de les plantes que va guanyar més terreny.

paret de pedra seca

Un mosaic agroforestal d’alt valor natural

En els últims vint anys, hem intentat recuperar tots aquests elements fins conformar un mosaic agroforestal d’alt valor natural. Primer, intentem que la brolla formi illes entre les diferents vinyes, que serveixen de refugi i lloc de nidificació a diverses espècies que utilitzen les vinyes per alimentar-se. Amb la florida de les estepes, farigoles i caps d’ase a la primavera, i dels brucs a l’hivern, els insectes pol·linitzadors hi troben aliment.

Tot al voltant de la zona on són les vinyes hi ha espais oberts, espais de brolla molt esparsa o prats secs pasturats per les vaques que baixen del Pirineu cada tardor fins la primavera. Aquestes pastures tenen un alt valor ecològic, ja que hi viuen plantes específiques, hi ha abundants insectes i proveeixen llavors que són aliment dels ocells.

En segon lloc, recuperem tant parets de pedra seca, com els suros, les zones de vegetació primigènia i més vulnerable. Per tal de conservar aquests suros, estassem de brolla del sotabosc. Això ajuda que hi hagi zones d’ombra i també zones aptes per a la pastura de les vaques durant uns mesos de l’any.

En aquests ambients oberts, adevesats, hi creixen plantes especialitzades i delicades, com ara diverses espècies d’orquídies, i són també refugi d’insectes i els seus predadors. Als suros hi fan niu alguns ocells, i molts d’altres els fan servir de talaia des d’on canten o espien les seves preses. També a les parets de pedra seca, que n’hem recuperat més de 3.000 m, hi troben refugi entre les seves escletxes molts animals —invertebrats, rèptils, amfibis i petits mamífers—. A més, ajuden a retenir l’aigua i evitar l’erosió dels sòls, per tant ajuden a mantenir l’ecosistema natural al voltant de les vinyes.


Un tallafoc natural

Tot plegat conforma una franja resistent i protectora contra els focs forestals, que són part també d’aquest paisatge. El paisatge conreat i pasturat de Mas Marès actua com a franja de seguretat i protecció cap a la zona urbanitzada de Roses. El conreu ajuda a crear un tallafoc natural, amb poca càrrega de combustible i ajuda a tenir més eines per dominar-lo millor, i aturar-lo. Tal com vam poder comprovar a l’incendi del febrer de 2022.

Totes aquestes actuacions fan de Mas Marès un espai divers i afavoreixen la flora i la fauna salvatges, elements essencials per al manteniment d’un paisatge en mosaic d’alt valor. Amb tota aquesta feinada que portem a cap dia a dia, aconseguim un vins de gran qualitat i sentir que estem cuidant la terra amb la cura que es mereix, amb el compromís que tenim per preservar-la.

The harvest starts! Heat, drought, wild boars and all the variables you know make this year special. The harvest is a few days ahead and we have already started to collect the varieties of the plan and also the red hawthorn from Mas Marès.

August, the days are shorter and the heat seems to be giving us a break, at least at night. However, the high temperatures in July and the drought we are experiencing -it hasn’t rained hard for many months- have meant that exceptionally this year we had to advance the harvest by a good week.

We say exceptionally, but we know that this reality can be the general tone in the years to come. Climate change is unstoppable and we feel that we must adapt to it as best we can. Making progress in an integrated management of the territory, which takes into account the climatology, soil conservation and the fragile balance of the ecosystems, will favor that we can reap the benefits in the future as well. That is why, since we started the Mas Marès project, we decided that we would do everything possible to preserve the legacy that we as humans have received from nature. Land near the sea, with low bushes, corks and now also vineyards that favor the control and protection of unique species of Cap de Creus.

In these lands where Anna Espelt’s most personal project is built, a few years ago we planted Grey Grenache, with grafts from the old vines of Rabós. This week is the grape we start to harvest, this local variety of Grenache that is rosé. Planting local varieties has for some time been the most suitable decision for our land: they are more adapted to the territory and will therefore need less water and withstand the wind.

Emporda varieties, unique terroirs and a vintage that is just beginning. Happy harvest everyone!

Last Friday, Anna Espelt was on the special program of El Món a Rac1 from Llançà. With Anna Vallhonesta we talked about viticulture and traveling the world and returning to Born. Of what we have learned and of all the work we have left to do.

Anna Espelt el món a rac 1
Anna Espelt in El Món a Rac1

We are always glad to explain our work. Our land, the sea and the mountains, is what defines us and what marks the wines of the Empordà. Explaining ourselves and the territory means talking about our wines and understanding them a little more. We took a look at the why of the integral management between natural parks and vineyards and we talked about how we manage them to promote biodiversity in the lands we cultivate and about the sea, the tramuntana and the sun. Three key aspects that accompany us and that define our wines.

You can relive the interview and tell us about!

Slightly earlier than other years, the vines begin to change their colors. The color change of the grapes occurs when the last phase of fruit ripening begins. When the grapes start to appear ripe, it’s time to wait and see all the colors.

Grenache vine

Last year we told you about the small differences in the changing color time of the different terroirs we take care of. We are sure that this year the progression of this phenomena will be broadly similar, from the most flat terroirs to those of higher altitude.

However, the high temperatures of these days and the lack of rain, make us suspect that the whole maturation process is advancing slightly. We know that stopping climate change is not in our hands, we try to study what abrupt changes the climate emergency is causing. The conclusions we reach is that local varieties are more resilient to high temperatures, drought, wind. Therefore, they are also the ones who with less effort will be able to live happily in our terroirs. The changing colors arrive, little by little, but evenly. The viticultural work is done, for now. Now that the vines are in a new periode, all that remains is wait and see. In a few weeks we will be able to harvest these tasty fruits.

The end of the vineyard cycle is near. We already have well-populated berries and we are waiting for not last minute surprises. We have a look back on this intense year’s harvest.

We are facing this harvest with a desire to review the last few months. We worked hard and received the support of such spectacular visits as Jancis Robinson in September. There are eight generations of winemakers who endorse us, but there is always time for innovation. We now feel that we are facing a stage of maturity and consolidation. Our project based on respect for the land and the sustainable management of resources is more than twenty years old and that’s quite impressive even for us.

Our comprehensive management of the vineyards tries to take care of the biodiversity of the area. Encouraging the preservation and improvement of biodiversity is right now the cornerstone of our project. After the fire in Mas Marès, in February, we had a test (which we had never wanted) of the good work done in Cap de Creus. This Mediterranean mosaic project, an agricultural management system that combines different types of agricultural areas (pastures, vineyards and high protection areas) has been shown to be the best fire prevention.

Awards and pending work

After all, we try to make our wines as an expression of small pieces of Empordà landscape. This is the territory we consciously care for. We couldn’t do it any other way. The reward for this work over the years has been recognized recently by the awards received. In first place, Pla de Tudela – Anna Espelt (Best Picapoll Blanc segons La Guia de Vins de Catalunya 2022). Then it was the turn of Les Elies (Gold Medal Grenaches du Monde 2022). Finally, the silver medals of the WWA Decanter 2022 for Coma Bruna (100% Carignan) and Lledoner Roig (100% Grey Grenache).

Finally, the visit this spring of Dylan Grigg, an expert in viticulture, has helped us to make a panoramic reflection of everything we have advanced. We have done a lot of work on local varieties, on resilience, on bearded vines, on potted vines. It has also helped us to make a stop and see everything we have left to do. Little by little we are making our way!

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