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 work that the artist presents this weekend plays with color and has a clear provocative intention. The artist offers a particular view of the garden and the products of the land. In addition, he reflects on historiography, identity, tradition and Catalan cuisine.

Ernest Abentín, Ernest Abentín, photographer born and resident in Barcelona, works on both sides of the border (Empordà and Catalunya Nord). His work focuses on culinary themes and he has worked as an assistant to Francesc Guillament, renowned gastronomic photographer of the creations of El Bulli, Bodega de Can Roca or the chef Paco Pérez. During his stay in Paris he had contact with the world of dance and hence his interest in the body, movement and dance.

On a more personal level, Abentín has dedicated himself to photography about the territory, the people and gastronomy from a daily and local point of view. The food, the typical and homemade product receive a very personal look that goes beyond the photography of gastronomic dishes.

The Croma Catalana exhibition is precisely this x-ray of localism, eating, rituals, local products, the simplicity of customs. A vision of the territory and the people from a chromatic point of view.

Vivid is here with two activities: Nature in the Espelt vineyards and Wines and Landscapes in Cap de Creus. These are the activities we have prepared for the wine tourism festival in the Empordà during the month of April. Wine is made on land. Come and taste Espelt wines while discovering the nature around us.

Espelt Viticultors presents two activities at the Vívid, the wine tourism festival in the Empordà that takes place during the month of April.

The first activity is a walk through the vineyards of Mas Marés to learn about the management of the territory through agricultural systems of high natural value, a mosaic that protects and ensures the biodiversity of the area. We will get to know the area of Mas Marés and Pla de Gates, recently affected by a forest fire that was stopped thanks to the integrated management we do of these lands. We will also discover the fauna and flora that coexist harmoniously and that make us aware of the need to take care of the territory, the most precious legacy we have.

The second activity is with the collaboration of the IAEDEN (Alt-Empordà Institution for the Defense and Study of Nature). We invite you to make an itinerary on foot through the vineyards of Vilajuïga to discover all the natural treasures which are hidden in the framework of the Vivid Festival. With the ornithologist David Ibáñez, and in the midst of the bird migration season, we will have the opportunity to observe birds returning from the warm lands after winter. We will also identify aromatic plants that coexist among the strains, and if we are lucky otters!

During the two walks with Anna Espelt, director of Espelt Viticultors, we will taste wines that come from the vineyards that we will be visiting, and that Anna and her team work so hard to have all this natural richness. At the end of Natura’s itinerary in the vineyards, we can also pair them with a table of local cheeses from the Abricoc store.

Practical information activities:

Wines and landscapes of Cap de Creus

Nature in the Espelt vineyards

Des que el 2004 vam començar a plantar vinya a Mas Marès, al Cap de Creus, sabíem que volíem respectar al màxim l’ecosistema existent i fins i tot aportar-li més riquesa. Us expliquem què és el mosaic i com el treballem a Mas Marès fins crear el que s’anomena tècnicament un sistema agrari d’alt valor natural.

Ja fa quasi vint anys que vam comprar les vinyes de Mas Marès. De seguida ens vam posar en contacte amb el Parc Natural del Cap de Creus per treballar conjuntament en la gestió d’aquell tros de territori. Les vinyes estarien inserides en un espai natural que estimem, calia fer-ho bé. A més, conscients que la mà dels ésser humans hi ha estat present des de fa milers d’anys (dòlmens i menhirs ho certifiquen) calia una gestió integrada de totes les terres.

Mas Marès i tot el Cap de Creus és un paisatge que meravella a tothom que ens ve a conèixer. Darrere de la bellesa hi ha sí o sí una gestió, imprescindible. El 2004 amb l’ajuda de Xavi Vilavella, tècnic del Parc Natural en aquell moment, i de l’Anna Sanitjas, enginyera forestal que va fer el projecte tècnic de gestió i millora forestal, vam idear la distribució del mosaic a Mas Marès. El pla de gestió de les terres tenien i tenen en compte uns objectius compartits:

  • prevenció d’incendis forestals
  • augment progressiu de la biodiversitat
  • protecció de les espècies en perill d’extinció
  • eliminació de plantes invasores

Els elements del mosaic de Mas Marès

El mosaic o sistema agrari d’alt valor natural fa el territori més resilient al canvi climàtic, als incendis, i li aporta més capacitat per nínxols ecològics, per tant més biodiversitat. Les quatre unitats del mosaic de Mas Marès, al Cap de Creus, estan distribuïts estratègicament en quatre unitats que es retroalimenten creant un cercle virtuós, un ecosistema equilibrat:

  • pastures: s’han mantingut les velles, amb les vaques, i se n’han anat creant de noves, desbrossant. Són a la part Nord i per tant la zona més exposada a perills com el foc
  • vinyes i oliveres: amb coberta vegetal verda a la tardor, hivern i primavera. A l’estiu es treballen les zones que limitem amb el matollar, per a fer de tallafocs.
  • suredes: regenerar aquests espais és clau, són ecosistema madur, evolucionat en aquesta zona, perquè sempre n’hi ha hagut. Hem mantingut les que hi havia, hem netejat el sotabosc mantenint els plançons
  • zones sense intervenció: a l’extrem sud, és on hi ha els ecosistemes més establerts. Els deixem que evolucionin de forma natural cap a ecosistemes més madurs a nivell de diversitat. Interessa protegir-los al màxim.

Les zones es distribueixen en funció de la vulnerabilitat de l’ecosistema que volem protegir. En el cas del mosaic de Mas Marès, la zona Nord és clarament la zona més exposada a incendis i per tant a pèrdues. Per tenir un mosaic equilibrat és imprescindible la cura de totes les unitats que requereixen intervenció. Si ho voleu escoltar en paraules de l’Anna Espelt us recomanem aquest episodi de Bar de Vins.

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