Spanish wine-makers forced into Pyrenees by global warming

Elizabeth Nash
Sunday 18 September 2011 21:42

Spain's leading family of wine-makers are heading for the hills to keep ahead of the global warming that threatens their Catalan vineyards.

The Torres family have been making wine in the north-eastern Penedes region for four generations, but are now buying plots near the foothills of the Pyrenees as conditions in their traditional vineyards become increasingly dry.

"We are moving into cooler areas of northern Catalonia, towards the Pyrenees," said the company's chairman, Miguel Torres. "We have already planted vineyards successfully that we can use in the future." The company has planted 104 hectares of vines 1,000m above sea level in the foothills near Tremp – four times higher than their main winery near Penedes, west of Barcelona.

The company said: "Climate change is unfortunately a reality not only established by scientists; we ourselves, who work with the fruit of the land, are aware of the problems."

Catalan wine-makers will have to shift production north to avoid their vines shrivelling up, Torres predicts. The majority of Catalonia's traditional wine-producing regions will become "totally unviable" within 40 or 70 years, according to research that Torres's wine scientist, Xavier Sort, presented at the first international conference on wine and global warming, held in Barcelona in March. "In the next 10 years, we will see that grapes that do well today by the sea will move to the central valley," said Mr Torres. "Those in the central valley – tempranillo – will go up to the mountains."

Catalonia is not the only region to suffer: in Aragon, to the north-west, heat waves and droughts have brought forward the harvest and produced irregular maturation of the grape.

And in the La Rioja region, between Aragon and the Basque Country, climate change became noticeable five years ago. Grapes in the colder zones of Rioja Alta (Upper Rioja) started maturing better, producing harvests of a quality that surprised old hands. Growers found the traditionally lighter northern Riojas no longer needed to be boosted with heavier Riojas from the south.

"Many bodegas in the Rioja Alta region produced alcohol levels of 14 per cent – unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago," said Jose Hidalgo, a local producer.

The wine map of Europe is moving north, by about 20 to 25 miles every decade, Spanish experts reckon. Red wines from hot, dry regions such as La Mancha would contain more alcohol and less acid. Wine-makers also cited outbreaks of mould in Bordeaux and infections in southern Germany as warning signs. But they acknowledged southern England could become a serious producer.

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