The world’s leading vineyard is staring climate change in the face. Its most obvious effects threaten the prosperity of the Spanish wine sector and its 4,300 wineries, whose turnover exceeds 5 billion euros. Experts agree that vineyards are the crops most affected by factors such as stronger storms, more extreme droughts and more frequent heat waves.
Rising temperatures and soil impoverishment are the biggest challenges facing the sector. Faced with the emergency of this situation, wineries and small vine growers have set to work to try to alleviate it.
The relocation of cultivation areas to higher, cooler areas, the adoption of more respectful agricultural methods or the recovery of indigenous varieties are among the solutions being implemented by wineries, each according to their own needs and characteristics. As an example, there are the high mountain vineyard projects that have emerged in recent years.
“The main concern is the loss of competitiveness in the sector and the risk of not being able to guarantee the raw material as we understand it today, both in terms of production and quality,” warns Trinidad Márquez, head of the Technical and Environmental Department at the Spanish Wine Federation (FEV). “In the end, we are talking about increasingly complex harvests that entail a loss of efficiency, which means that all the companies in our sector are urgently applying adaptation measures”.
For the FEV, the priority is to quantify the investments needed by the sector in this adaptation process.
The wine employers’ organisation is the first to be aware of the new reality. The organisation’s executive committee met last week to review and update the action plan against climate change in the vineyard, launched in 2018. The objective now is to quantify the investments that the sector needs in this adaptation process and to obtain the support of the Administration in this area, studying possible funding channels both within and outside the framework of the CAP that will allow the sector to develop strategies to curb the alarming effects of climate change on the wine sector.
Emilio Restoy, president of the FEV, believes that the model of vine cultivation that we have practised for the last 150 years in Spain and Europe is going to disappear as such and we must know how to adapt to the new circumstances to ensure the future profitability of the sector. These are claims that seek to collectivise a struggle that requires more investment in digitalisation, research and vineyard development. “Years ago we quantified these actions to support the sector at approximately 2,000 million euros over a period of five years,” Márquez explains.
And if we had to define a common objective, it would be to care for the soil, with measures such as plant cover. This is the case of Bodegas Faustino, which is working to repopulate the flora and fauna of its vineyards in the face of the loss of organic matter. “We have managed to multiply the yeasts and return them to the vineyard with the aim of producing a product with zero chemistry in two years”, says Lourdes Martínez Zabala, CEO of the family business, on the recovery of natural antibodies to all external changes, including the arrival of new invasive species.
Bodegas Faustino has 1,998 hectares of vineyards in Spain, a third of them in La Rioja, and is in favour of maintaining its cultivation in traditional Spanish wine-growing areas. However, aware that grape quality is directly related to atmospheric parameters, the Martínez Zabala Family is developing numerous initiatives that are committed to quality and sustainable responsibility. This programme focuses on areas such as energy, water, waste treatment, transport and emissions reduction through the substitution of CFC gases. “The ecological smell must be absorbed by the system,” concludes Martínez Zabala.
Focusing on the land and committing to organic production means that all practices, from fertilisation to the use of phytosanitary products, must be as respectful as possible. However, wineries such as Protos try to compensate for possible difficulties of this kind by taking advantage of the great vintages. Thus, although the situation is not very predictable and varies from one vintage to another, “we make more bottles than we usually sell (given their quality and greater ageing potential), and we are prepared so as not to oversupply the market when the product stock is scarcer due to bad weather”, they point out.