Climate change is accelerating the start of Europe’s first harvest
Montilla-Moriles, a millennial framework, starts the harvest of its earliest varieties in a very pessimistic scenario in which drought, heat waves and low prices are putting at risk the entire sector.
Farmers are always the first to notice climate change. The crops alter their usual growth rate and even the harvests occur at dates when they had never been collected. The case of the vine is one of the most paradigmatic. The cultivation of grapes is one of the most delicate and ancient in the Mediterranean basin. Wine depends on grapes. And joy depends on wine.
In Córdoba, for millennia, there is a region that cultivates the vine: the area of Montilla-Moriles. Always this frame was the first of continental Europe to begin the harvest. But for about a decade now the winegrowers have been observing how each year the harvest is advanced. Lack of enough rain and extreme heat make it increasingly necessary to harvest earlier to ensure that the grapes harvested have enough acidity and sugar to produce good wine.
José Manuel Centella is president of the Asaja vineyard sector in Córdoba. «Possibly, the harvest is brought forward one or two days per year,» he says. Currently it is already being harvested in Montilla-Moriles (not yet occurs anywhere else in continental Europe), but because since 2020 began to grow other varieties in the framework of Cordoba, earlier grapes for the production of young wines. But the Pedro Ximénez grape, the holy grail of Montilla Moriles, will not begin to be harvested until August. A decade ago, the harvest never began before August 25 and became widespread in September. In 2022 it is estimated that the Pedro Ximénez grape will be collected between 8 and 10 August. «It’s impossible to deny that climate change is affecting the vineyard,» says Centella.
A millennial framework in danger of extinction
In the countryside of Córdoba the vine has been cultivated for millennia. In the excavations in the castle of the Great Captain of Montilla were found grape seeds dating from the ninth century BC. After the Roman domination, vine cultivation spread and remained even during Al Andalus, despite the fact that the Quran prohibits the consumption of wine. Jews and Christians lived together in the area, and Andalusian Islam was always much more relaxed and permissive (one of the reasons for the invasions from North Africa). Already in the Golden Age, the Cordovan frame lives a period of splendour, with the creation of Pedro Ximénez. But for years, Cordovan wine is in danger of extinction due to the threat of climate change and also a price crisis.
This year, probably, in Montilla-Moriles less than 4,500 hectares of vineyard are cultivated. It is the lowest area since there are records. The winegrowers are progressively abandoning a crop that requires a lot of effort and that increasingly compensates less. Only in this campaign, according to Centella, the costs of converting a vineyard into trellis have doubled. Energy costs, such as diesel, have also increased significantly. And the price that winegrowers receive is the same as that of previous years, when each time less is grown and production yields also fall.
The harvest of this 2022 in Montilla-Moriles can be exceptionally low. «The spring rain has saved that at least this year we can have grapes,» recalls Centella. The drought of autumn and winter has been historic in the area (it hasn’t rained so little since there are records, a century ago). Without the spring rains, the vineyards would not have produced and Montilla Moriles without grapes. It rained, there were grapes but the extreme heat wave in June and July have left the earth with hardly any moisture. This is causing the grape ripening to accelerate and a production that was already low last year has decreased significantly. «Heat waves are destroying crops. We are at a critical moment with low soil humidity and very high temperatures both day and night,» Centella sums up. «They are very high temperatures for many days and already coming from a heat wave in mid-June that was very severe and that made the vineyard stand», so it predicts few productions.
And no grapes, no wine. «There are vineyards that are going through a lot, those located in worse lands,» he says, something that discourages winegrowers, who increasingly replace more vineyard lands with olive trees or calm surface. «You don’t uproot vines because you do, but because the crop is not profitable or it doesn’t justify the sacrifice it has. You can’t hear any prices here, you can’t hear the urge for grapes. This discouragement that spreads throughout the sector generates that the vineyard is abandoned or uprooted by other crops that are more interesting», highlights and regrets Centella, which ensures that the only formula to resuscitate Montilla-Moriles is that «prices are tempting».
At present, what is paid «hardly covers the cost of production». In Jerez, wineries are running out of grapes, something that is raising the price and is encouraging farmers to plant vines again. It is the only formula or the sector «disappears».