Rioja vineyards ‘badly damaged’ by frost

The severe late-spring frosts that swept through Europe last month wreaking havoc in its wine regions have damaged a broad swathe of vineyards in Rioja.

Vineyards in Rioja Alta and Alavesa have been badly damaged by the recent frosts

Speaking to the drinks business during the London Wine Fair this week, Carlos Delage, export area manager of Cune, said: “The frost damage was very bad in Rioja – Rioja Alta and Alavesa were worst hit. People have been speaking about damages to their vines of up to 50%.

“Luckily, 2014, 2015 and 2016 were big harvests for us, so things hopefully won’t be that bad. Those who will struggle most are the producers making entry-level wines. These were the worst frosts in Rioja since 1999 and we’re expecting grape prices to rise off the back of it.”

Cune’s Carlos Delage with the estate’s recently revived barrel-aged Virua, Monopole Classico Blanco Seco

Fortunately for Delage, Cune’s jewel in the crown – its single vineyard Contino, escaped largely unscathed.

“Contino hasn’t been damaged – only the Malvasia vines in one corner of the vineyard took a hit. We’re lucky because we own plenty of land so we can work around it.”

Cune currently owns 450 hectares of vineyard land in Rioja. On the acquisition trail, the revered estate recently snapped up 69 hectares of “very old bush vines” in Rioja Alta and Alavesa, which wasn’t without its difficulties.

“It’s hard to buy good vines in Rioja as they don’t come up for sale very often,” Delage told db. 

“To buy these 69 hectares we were dealing with 250 different growers to oragnise the sale as the land was divided into hundreds of tiny parcels. People speak of Burgundy being fragmented but Rioja is the same,” he said.

Cune remains steadfastly dedicated to producing ageworthy Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, though Delage revealed that some producers of Reserva skip the year of bottle ageing entirely to save money and space, selling the wines almost directly from the barrel without giving them time to rest in bottle.

He is hoping that new legislation comes through that stipulates that Reservas must spend at least six months in bottle before they’re released onto the market.

“Producers like Muga, Tondonia and Rioja Alta are pushing the region up, while others are dragging it down,” Delage admitted. “Producers in Spain always compete to be the cheapest when we should be competing to be the most expensive,” he added.

Delage was happy to report to db that white Rioja sales are “flying” in the UK. In response to rising demand, Cune recently revived one of the wines from its archives – a white Rioja made with barrel-aged Viura and a touch of manzanilla pasada.

Called Monopole Classico Blanco Seco, the wine is made using Cune’s former winemaker, Ezequiel Garcia’s old recipe. Now in his ‘80s, Garcia made wine for Cune for over 40 years, retiring in the late ‘70s.

The wine spends eight months in barrel, with the manzanilla adding savoury notes of nuts, dried fruits and a salty tang.

Just 600 half cases of Monopole Classico Blanco Seco have been produced. It carries an RRP of £22 a bottle.

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