Climatic conditions during this cycle have been not just very challenging but downright unusual; and so, for example, whereas winter rainfall in previous years has been of the order of 300 mm, this year it was just 100 mm.
Hence the issue of irrigation: in order to help the vines develop as normally as possible; and here at Menade, Marco chose to start during budding – some 4 months ago – applying just 40 or 50 litres at a time every couple of weeks since.
As we’ve pointed out before, anticipation in ecology – which is essentially about the relationships between organisms and their environment – is vital and therefore according to Marco ‘this will be evident in our wines, because there will be much greater differences in the development of the bunches that come from parcels with no water reserves’.
Indeed so grave is the drought that the Rueda Consejo Regulador authorities have permitted irrigation 2 weeks before the norm; and those who have not taken advantage of this special dispensation will have major problems with the homogenous ripening of their grapes. ‘Human intervention and the decisions people have taken in their vineyards will be key this year,’ underlines Marco.
In addition, of course, our region not only experienced frosts in late April and (again) in early March; but there were also hailstorms in late March. At Menade we were largely unaffected by the frosts thanks partly to the orientation of our vineyards but also due to the micronizing sprinklers that we’ve installed in some of our parcels.
These freeze the bunches prior to the natural temperature dropping radically and insulate them in an envelope of ice which protects them from truly extreme temperatures. Meantime, we were also lucky as regards the hail, which was specifically localized and thankfully passed us by.
As regards green harvesting, as you can imagine, our vines haven’t exactly been over populated with leaves this year and so we confined ourselves primarily to just recently removing the tips of some of the shoots given that the bunches have needed shade given the abundance of hot sunshine and the lack of rain.
‘It’s all been about pre-emption,’ continues Marco, ‘and to this end we’ve also irrigated aerially in order to refresh our vines and so that the stomas/pores in the leaves not seize up and impede the passage of gases into and out of the plants’. The micronizing sprinklers also came in useful during the aerial sprays; and if our many efforts pay off we will have a balanced harvest. Otherwise we will have two… ‘This year will be a winemaking nightmare,’ he concludes laconically.
On the plus side, however, the drought has meant that it’s been a year largely free of pests, fungi et al; and, whereas last year we had to apply more than 15 natural treatments, this year we only applied three from budding thru to flowering. ‘The first was concurrent with our initial irrigation and consisted of valerian in order to stimulate growth; the second was with cinnamon and a series of mixed plant infusions in order to strengthen the roots of the vines; and the third, consisting of milk whey from the local dairy in Rueda, was to stave off the threat of oidium’.
In all, therefore, the 2017 vintage is not going to be by any means easy, but, given our major expertise and so many hours in the vineyards, we’re confident that – in our case at least – quality will be high.