Video: Catena Zapata harvest comes up to 40 days early

Staff at Catena Zapata wine estate “can’t remember an earlier harvest year” than the one that has just passed, as warmer weather brought by climate change has caused grapes to ripen faster than ever.

Catena Zapata vineyards, Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza.

And while yields were down between 20%-30% due to a lack of rain during the summer, head winemaker Alejandro Vigil claims it “one of the best vintages of the last 10 years.”

The 2019-2020 harvest season was extremely dry, according to Catena Zapata’s annual harvest report. Rainfall was between 40% and 70% lower than the historical average, depending on the region, while river flows were 40%-60% lower than usual, and 11% lower compared to the 2019 harvest season. This, combined with warmer weather throughout the year and “scarce snowmelt”, led to lower yields and earlier ripening. In 2020, grapes ripened between 20 and 40 days earlier than usual, depending on the region and the grape variety

The greatest drought was in the high altitude Gualtallary Region, where accumulated rainfall decreased 282 mm compared to historical values (-70%). Next was Tupungato Region, where rainfall was 230 mm lower than the historical average (-63%), while temperatures throughout the season were above average.

In Mendoza’s “Primera Zona” or “First zone”, white varieties ripened one week earlier and red varieties ripened two weeks earlier than usual.

Catena harvested red grape varieties from vineyards in the Uco Valley a month earlier than usual.

Daniel Pi, winemaker from Bodegas Trapiche, warned that yields would suffer in Argentina due to a lack of snowfall next winter, as estates with high eltitude vineyards rely on meltwater from the Andes to irigate their crops.

“We are not having snowfall in the winter, which means that there is less water coming from melting from the snow, and the glaciers are reducing, because they are not being fed by the snow,” he told db in March.

Although there was one unexpected advantage to global warming bringing an earlier harvest this year. The harvest at Catena Zapata almost didn’t happen at all, according to managing driector Laura Catena, as lockdown measures were put in place across Argentina last month

The “big scare” of the growing season came on 19 March, Catena said in its annual harvest report, when the Argentine government declared an obligatory quarantine. The lockdown — one of Latin America’s strictest — banned the public from leaving their homes unless they need to buy essentials like food and medical supplies. Schools also closed, while only those working for the state or in health, food production, drugs production or the oil industry workers could be exempt from the rules and use public transport to get to work.

Fortunately, a government order came in “late in the day” that classed winemaking as food production in Argentina, “allowing us to continue harvesting through the first week of April.

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