23-10-2014

A year for the table

Photo by Vinologue

At the beginning of May, during the Fira del Vi, I stopped in to visit a friend in the village of Capçanes in Priorat as he was out removing excess growth in his small vineyard of Hairy Grenache and Carignan. As it was 20:00 and the sun was casting a loving glow to the vines and rolling hills so common to DO Montsant, he looked up from the work and said, “I can feel it, this is going to be a great harvest.” Suffice to say, he, I, and a group of friends harvested that vineyard about three weeks ago and ended up tossing about 60% of the grapes on the ground.

Such is the case for 2014 in Priorat, as well as a great deal of Catalonia (DO Costers del Segre have been allowed to chaptalize to get their sugar up to wine-able levels.) The weather has been strange and unpredictable. The white harvest went well overall, but for the reds, it’s been tough as it’s been damned wet. In the northern areas of the region such as DO Empordà, it looks like Ireland in a time when it should look Wild West and they managed to finish harvesting just three days before a Biblical deluge washed through the area cutting power and train service.

In the south, the rains haven’t been as plentiful but they’ve still wreaked havoc. More to the point, the normally drying winds haven’t been doing their thing this year. Typically you get a little bit of rain here and there but then the “garbinada” dries it out and problem solved. This year, nothing. The days and nights have been generally still and the humidity has ramped up to 80% by morning. This in turn has translated in to piles of botrytis and rot. Most of the DOQ Priorat vineyards have been spared the harshness of DO Montsant, especially the southern Montsant villages which in addition to getting slammed by hail earlier have had a hellish, humid climate this year. But, there’s been plenty of tossing in the DOQ Priorat side of things as well.

When I once asked a winemaker in DOQ Priorat how the good years and bad years vary in the region he told, “If you can make a wine, it’s a good year”. That said, this has been a tough year. On one vine they have been finding rotten grapes, raisined grapes, and under ripe grapes just to give you an idea that things are ripening from not at all to desiccation. But, those grapes that emerge from all of this are indeed excellent. What I’ve sampled on various occasions show wonderful elegance and while both Grenache and Carignan have tested the nerves of everyone, the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have been decently easygoing.

Oddly enough, production has actually been higher than in past years just to toss a little WTF in to the mix and that has been a welcome aspect to this harvest given that it is ultimately being called “un any per la taula” or “a year for the table” in that working with this harvest and getting great wines will come down to those who have a crack team sorting on the selection table.

The last batch of last harvest cellars have just now brought in their final boxes of grapes during a week that has ironically what everyone would have liked to have had during September in that it’s been about 22-26C during the day and dry as a bone. It’s not good news for mushroom hunters, but most winemakers I know are finally able to exhale and put the year behind them.