24-09-2018

The 2018 Harvest. So far so… normal-ish?

Just once I’ve love to hear some wine promotion body speak of their current harvest and say something along the lines of, “This year? It’s shit. Seriously, don’t drink it. Actually, you won’t be able to drink it as we’re not even bottling it and sending it all for distillation, it was that goddamned bad.”

This has yet nor will I doubt ever come to pass as wineries simply have to produce wine every year and then sell it with some of those years being better than others. So how has 2018 shaped up? Well, hailstorms and frost didn’t blanket France nor Spain this year so that’s always a promising start. Also promising was the fact that if you planted new vines this year, you were in the money as a healthy, wet spring set them off on a good footing.

The rains were also good for older vines as well initially as, at least here in Catalunya, we were coming off some very dry years with 2017 being wicked hot and just as much dry. But overall, it’s been a cooler year than 2017 although “cooler” in Spain just means you didn’t have a week over 40C. We still had plenty of heat which helped along maturity. But, there have also been steady afternoon downpours every few days through August. Again, good for the new vines and also good to relieve any vine stress but viticulturists have had their hands full with doing regular antifungal treatments (usually as SO2 or copper sulfate) in the vineyards. Those who stayed on top of things have seen good vine health leading into harvest which is very much underway and in some cases, already finished.

The crunch time has really set in now for those bringing in the bulk of their grapes and people are posing more finite opinions. If you were to sum up 2017, it would be “God it was hot”. 2016 was “Fuck yeah”. 2018 is currently “Ugh, so humid”. And this isn’t just a Catalunya thing as I’ve seen reports of much higher humidity in Bordeaux, South of France and I feel like other regions as well. We’ve had days that hit 80% which for a region that’s usually around 30% is a wee bit abnormal. Everyone I’ve talked to can’t remember a year as humid as this so that’s definitely the most memorable bullet point.

Humidity can largely be dealt with along as you don’t have rains come as well. What’s great to get the fungus botrytis going in Sauternes is a complete wreck for everyone else. But the humidity does have other issues than rot which this year is being seen with the swelling up the grapes. If it continues unchecked, you get breakage of the skins and then you get your inevitably get your rot problems.

Certain regions that are white-dominated like Penedès and Cava haven’t really had any problems in this regard and I’d quote some of the folks up there, but it’s pretty boiler plate, “Great harvest, good productivity, very clean grapes, shaping up to be an excellent vintage.” I think they cut and paste this from past reports and just change the year.

For Priorat, it’s weird. There are certain villages where the humidity hasn’t been an issue which are to say, the hotter ones. Cellars in Gratallops are having an excellent year with long ripening, lower alcohol and balanced wines. Talking with Daphne Glorian about Clos Erasmus, she’s all smiles and looking forward to great wines coming out of the vintage.

Others who are in the cooler villages are having problems though. The Grenache for instance is gigantic. Normally a pretty small-berried grape just a bit bigger than Cabernet Sauvignon in a normal year, the fruit is nearly unrecognizable as it seems nearly double its normal size. In addition to the risk of rupture and fungal infections, this has the effect of diluting the wine and so many will probably see 0.5-1% lower alcohol levels this year. Syrah has also been problematic as the skins are thin and people who usually do all their sorting in the vineyard, have had to pull out the sorting table in the cellar to do another pass to clean things up.

Albert Costa at Vall Llach told me that they’re already having rot set into some of the clusters in their vineyards in Porrera. The selection table is definitely seeing earning its keep this year. If this sounds similar to 2014, it’s because it is and they’re not sure what the results will be out of the younger vines. Older vines aren’t a problem. “They’re all doing great. They’re so established, a year like this has no effect on them.”, Albert told me.

It’s impossible to say what the harvest is like until it’s completely over but this has been an overall weird year. Everyone is cheering the return to higher, “normal” production levels after at least four vintages with lower yields but the weather has been wonky. For those who just need a good base material like in Cava, they’ll do well. For others more reliant on the vagaries and nuances of terroir, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes out the other side a year from now as it seems to not be a vintage to hang ones hat upon.