local varieties

local varieties

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.

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.

La Vella is our white Carignan of old vineyards, planted in 1919. This wine is the culmination of a process of observation, research and study on the local varieties of the Empordà.

Some time ago, with Dylan Grigg we were sorting out all the vineyards we had, analyzing them, rediscovering forgotten varieties and deciding that we could never leave them nameless again. From this exhaustive study came the library of varieties, and hence our idea of making wines that would recover them, like this white Carignan.

La Vella is a tribute to the winegrowers who have worked hard to preserve these vines for a long time, despite the low yield, although the trend for many years was to uproot and put varieties that gave more grapes. Winegrowers such as Àngel Poch, who with perseverance and love for the land have made it possible for La Vella to become a reality today.

Thank you all for working the land with love for so many years!

You can now order La Vella in our shop online.

Àngel Poch La Vella white Carignan
Àngel Poch, owner and viticulturist of the white Carignan vineyards, La Vella.

Lledoner roig, red grenache, grey grenache. Different words to name the same type of grape. A local Empordà variety that we want to recover to make wines that reflect our terroir.

lledoner roig variety
Lledoner roig grapes, local Empordà variety

Let’s talk about the red hawthorn: the grapes. This is an exotic variety because they are neither white nor black but pink. Grapes from the Grenache family that complete the trilogy: Black Grenache, White Grenache and Red Grenache. Lledoner negre, lledoner blanc, lledoner roig, we call it the Empordà. The residents of Banyuls call it Grey Grenache. Rare grapes, because it is difficult to find a whole vine, and they are often mixed with other varieties.

A more vigorous variety than the Carignan, which often accompanies it. Very resistant to the north wind and drought, it gives us the best fruits – more pink than gray – when ripe well. This usually happens when you are in poor terrain. They must also be typical Empordà vines, less vigorous than those that came from France in the 1960s.

We have set out to recover this unique variety to make exceptional wines. Have you already tasted our Lledoner Roig, a single variety made from 100% of this exceptional grape?