Water into wine

Water into wine

Wine has been in the news again this week with the announcement by Catalan Cava giant, Freixenet, that the well-documented water shortages in Catalunya have left it with no option but to temporarily suspend 615 jobs (out of a total of 778) at its winery in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in Penedès.

The company has argued force majeure, claiming that the drought, which has left Catalunya’s reservoirs at just 18% of capacity, has forced the company to cut output by 30% until things improve.

The news is yet another reminder of the speed at which climate change is having an influence on weather patterns and rainfall not just in Spain but all around the world. This time last year, we were in the midst of the driest April on record here in Spain followed by torrential rains and even hailstorms in large parts of the country. In fact, those of you who’ve been reading our content for a while may remember our blog post from June 2023, 'The rain in Spain…' which looked at the impact of rain in the vineyard.

But of course a chronic lack of rain or drought can cause just as much damage in the vineyard, and have a huge impact on both the quantity and quality of the grape harvest. At the stage we’re currently at in the vegetative cycle, a lack of water means the plant has to close down stomata, or the pores in its leaves, to prevent water loss which affects photosynthesis and can seriously slow down shoot growth and make for smaller leaves. If drought continues, that shrinkage will have an impact on the size of the grape berries which, in turn, will lose intensity and aroma and affect the quality of the wine.

Mediterranean winemakers have been getting used to hotter temperatures and increased water stress for several years now, and many are taking steps to minimize the impact by turning to drought resistant varieties (think Garnacha or Monastrell for example) or adapting their vine management techniques. The traditional goblet vine-training system - where the vine is left free-standing rather than trellised and looks like a goblet-shaped drinking vessel – has been used in the Mediterranean region since the Romans. It helps the plant resist drought better by pumping the sap more efficiently from the wood to the branches and offering a lower surface area of leaf which helps reduce evaporation.

Climate aside, the Freixenet announcement is also a timely reminder of the importance of the wine sector to the Spanish economy. A recent study by the Interprofesional del Vino (OIVE; the main lobby group for the Spanish wine sector as a whole) flagged that the sector is responsible for almost 364,000 direct and indirect jobs in Spain (ie 2% of the total), with 41,395 employed in viticulture; 103,980 in producing and ageing wine; and over 218,000 in marketing and selling wine. And in terms of the tax take too, the wine sector makes an important contribution, bringing in close to €4,500 million a year (x% of the total) in social security contributions, VAT, company and income tax.

So, the announcement from Freixenet is a worrying sign. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary setback and that they will be back to full production – and full employment – in the very near future.
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