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The country


  • Vineyard in DO Rías Baixas. Piedad Sancho-Mata/©ICEX.
  • Vineyard in Lanzarote. Piedad Sancho-Mata/©ICEX.
  • Sherry winery in Jerez. Fernando Briones/©ICEX.
  • Spanish vineyard in Winter. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wines. Vineyard. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wine. Vineyards in Majorca island. Óscar Pipkin/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wine. Grape harvest. Juan Manuel Sanz/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wine. Vineyards in DO Vinos de Madrid. Patricia R.Soto/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wine. Barrels. Matías Costa/©ICEX.
  • Priorat vineyards. Matías Costa/©ICEX.
  • Spanish wine bottles. Matías Costa/©ICEX.

The country

Spain is a millenary country with a strong food and wine history; we provide you here with today’s main data in a nutshell. We also invite you to discover in a few minutes the diversity of Spain thru its 17 regions and 2 autonomous towns. And the richness of their culture, tourist sights, food production and gastronomy.

Wine in figures

Spain is one of the greatest wine producers in the world: in first place, in terms of planted surface area; third in production (after Italy and France) and in 2015 also first global exporter when it comes to volume, third if you take into account value. Wine has become an extremely important sector in Spain, not only for its economic impact, but also relevant in social and environmental terms, and in the way Spanish wine portrays an image of the country abroad and improves tourism. 

 

The vineyard in the world
Source: Datos OIV; produced by OeMv
Figures (thousands of hectares) 2012 2013 2014 (Prov.) 2015 (est) % s/total
Spain 1,017 1,021 1,022 1,021 13.55%
France 792 793 791 786 10.43%
Italy 712 705 690 682 9.05%
Portugal 233 229 224 217 2.88%
Romania 192 192 192 792 2.55%
Other EU contries 472 470 469 464 6.16%
EU Total 3,419 3,410 3,388 3,362 44.62%
USA 412 422 419 419 5.56%
Turkey 497 504 502 497 6.60%
China 707 757 796 830 11.02%
Argentina 222 224 226 225 2.99%
Chile 206 208 211 211 2.80%
South Africa 135 133 132 730 1.73%
Australia 162 157 154 149 1.98%
Non EU Total 3,393 3,452 3,491 3,510 46.59%
WORLD TOTAL 7,486 7,538 7,541 7,534 100%

 

 

1. SITUATION IN THE GLOBAL MARKET

Vineyard

According to figures from the OIV (International Organization of Wine and Vine), in 2015 the global wine-growing surface area remains stable compared to 2014, making the global total 7,534,000 hectares. The total Europe is diminishing progressively in planted surface-area, dropping from 4,093,000 hectares in 2008 to 4,024,000 hectares in 2014. This process is the result of a combination of factors, like the re-structuring of vineyards and the impact of the wine-growing crisis, which, in addition to this, has become less distinct in terms of specific areas and types of wine, and the process has also come at the tail end of the European programme providing aid for clearances. However the shrinkage of the european vineyard has been compensated by the maintenance of the planted surface areas in the rest of the world. While vineyards and plantations are reducing in Australia and Turkey, they are on the increase in China and have remained more or less constant in the USA, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
 

 

Global Production

Accordingto OIV estimates, 2015 global production (not taking into account must and grape-juice) is around 274,4 million hectolitres, an increase of 2% if compared to 2014. The biggest producer is Italy, at 49,5 million hl (18% of the global total), followed by France, at 47,5 million hl (17.3%) and Spain, at 37,2 million hl (13.5%).
Outside the EU, the production level in 2015 is slightly lower, at 104.56 million hl, than in 2011 (when it was 110.63 million hl). The USA is the non-European country with the highest wine production, at 22.1 million hl., Argentina holds 2nd place, with 13.3 million hl, which brings its figures down by 1.8 million hl from the year before, when they slightly rose. Chile takes 3rd place, with wine production at 12.8 million followed by Australia with 12 million.
 


 

Global Wine production
Source:OIV figures: compiled by: OeMv 
Figures (thousands hl) 2013 2014 prov 2015 est. % s/total
Italy 54,029 44,229 49,500 18.0%
France 42,134 46,804 47,500 17.3%
Spain 45,308 38,211 37,200 13.6%
Other EU 31,475 31,243 31,608 11.5%
EU Total 174,158 166,232 165,800 60.4%
USA 23,590 22,020 22.140 8.1%
Argentina 14,984 15,197 13,358 4.9%
Chile 12.820 10,500 12,870 4.7%
Australia 12,310 12,020 12,000 4.4%
Non EU Total 118,060 104,002 104,565 38.1%
GLOBAL TOTAL 292,218 270,234 274,400 100%

 

 

 

EU Production

In line with the most recent data published by the OIV and even using approximate figures which may have to be modified later, 2015 EU wine production is around 165.8 million hl, a 0.26% lower than in 2014. Wine production outside EU was around 104.56 million hl, similar to the previous year (104 million hl).  
According To European Commission figures, up to date in April 2016, EU wine and grape juice production should reach 173 million hl in the 2015/2016 season, constituting a 4.1% increase on the 2014/2015 season, stable in comparison to the average of the last 5 seasons. Production designated to wine-making is estimated at 165 million of which, 74.1 million hl will have ended up as Protected Denomination of origin wines (PDO/DOP, 44.8%) , 36.5 million as Protected Geographical Indication wines (PGI/IGP, 22.1%) , 8.2 as varietal wines with neither DOP nor PGI, and 46.5 million as other types of wines (28.1%).
By wine type, France takes first place as PDO wine producer, at 22.6 million hl, compared to Italy's 18.3 and Spain's 15.2. When it comes to PGI wines, Italian production leaps to 14.3 million hl, French to 13.2, and Spanish to 4.2 million. With regard to varietal wines, with neither PDO nor PGI, Spain brings up the lead, with 6.5 million hl, followed by France (0.7 million hl) and Italy (0.5 million hl). Finally, when looking at the category of other wines, Italy is the main producer, with 16.9 million hl, just ahead of France, at 11.4, and Spain, at 11.3 million hl.

 

Consumption

OIV estimates that 2015 global wine consumption is at about 240 million hl, which is a increase of 0.9 million hl (0.4%). With a positive evolution in consumption, USA, in first place, consumed 31 million hl (+1%), and UK, Spain and Germany also showed an increase of 2.4%, 1.3% and 1.1% respectively. China and Argentina have further growth (both with 3,2%). Oh the other side, with negative evolution is France, with 27,2 million hl, which showed a decrease in consumption of 1.2% or Russia (-7.0%).
Today, about 39% of wine is consumed outside Europe, compared with 31% in 2000.
 

 

Global Consumption of Wine
Source:OIV figures: compiled by: OeMv (In Milions hl)
Country 2013
2014 prov
2015 est
Var. % con 2014/15 % s/total
USA 30.3 30.7 31.0 1.00% 12.9%
France 20.8 27.5 27.2 -1.2% 11.3%
Italy 21.8 20.4 20.5 0.3% 8.5%
Germany 20.4 20.3 20.5 1.1% 8.5%
China 16.5 15.5 16.0 3.2% 6.7%
United Kingdom 12.7 12.6 12.9 2.4% 5.4%
Argentina 10.4 9.9 10.3 3.2% 4,3%
Spain 9.8 9.9 10.0 1.3% 4.2%
Russia 10.4 9.6 8.9 -7.0% 3.7%
Australia 5.4 5,4 5.4 -1,0% 2,2%
Portugal 4.8 4,7 4.8 1,6% 2,0%
South Africa 3.7 4.0 4.2 7.5% 1.7%
Romania 4.6 4.7 3.9 -17.3% 1.6%
Netherlands 3.5 3.4 3.3 -3.3% 1.4%
Greece 3.0 2.6 2.6 -1.7% 1.1%
Sweden 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.0% 1.1%
Austria 2.5 2.5 2.4 -6.5% 1.0%
Hungary 1.9 2.2 2.1 -2.8% 0.9%
Denmark 1.6 1.6 1.6 -2.9% 0.7%
Rest World 49.5 49.0 49.9 1.9% 20.8%
GLOBAL TOTAL 243.0 239.1 240.0 0,4% 100%

    

 

2. HOW THE SECTOR IS PERFORMING IN SPAIN

Spanish wine-making is crucial, not just for its economic performance, but also for the people who work in this sector, and for the role it plays in environmental conservation.

 

Vineyards

According to the OIV, Spain remains the country in the EU, and indeed the world, with the largest number of vineyards, with 1.021 million hectares devoted to vine cultivation (97.4% used for wine-making, 2% for table grapes, 0.3% for raisin production, and the remaining 0.3% for nurseries). However, more recent official statistics compiled by the MAGRAMA note that this surface area decreased to 954,659 hectares in 2015. In any case, it represents 30% of the EU total (followed by France and Italy, both with approximately 22.5%) and 13.5% of the world-wide total. Its wine-making tradition can be traced back to Roman times, though it isn't until recent times that exports have become a major concern, and generalized across the sector. The vine is the 3rd most cultivated crop in Spain, after cereals and olives.

 

Spanish production

Wine production in Spain has had 7 continuous seasons of great stability, reaching about 40 million hl (figures for wine and grape juice combined). In the 2013/2014 season, and according to figures released by the FEGA (The Spanish Agrarian Guarantee Fund),  production hit 52 million hl, as opposed to the 34.2 million achieved in 2012/2013 (definitive figures). For the season 2014/2015, the FEGA estimates a production of 43.4 million hl, a reduction of 17.4% if compared to the previous season. Of this 43.4 million hl, 38.2 are wine production and 5.2 must production.
For the season 2015/2016, according to MAGRAMA, Spain’s wine and must production is forecasted to decrease 3.3 percent compared to previous year. The last total production official forecast foresees 42 million hl (37.2 million hl excluding musts) positioning Spain third in production after Italy and France.
The Spanish wine sector may be oriented in searching the balance between production and sales with added value, according to OEMV, Spanish Wine Market Observatory.
The main Spanish wine production areas are Castile La Mancha, with 22.5 million hl of wine production in 2015/16 (-8.7%) and amounting for 60.5% of the total Spanish wine production, Extremadura with 4 million hl (-5.1%) and Catalonia with 3.31 million hl (0.6%).
Region of Valencia, Castilla Leon, and Rioja contribute around 5% of total wine production each. In 2015/16 according to MAGRAMA, PDO wine production is of 15.2 million hl (+4.5%) and the production of PGA wine is of 4.2 million hl (+2%). Production of quality wine without PDO/PGA is forecasted at 17.8 million hl.

 

Vineyard Surface Area

Geographical position, climatic differences and the variety of soils make the Iberian Peninsula and our islands a privileged location for the production of very different wines. In all, 17 Autonomous Regions in the country cultivate vines, and almost half of this total distribution is found in Castilla-La-Mancha (473,268 hectares and 49.6% of planted vines), which is the geographical area with the greatest concentration of vineyards in the world, followed by Extremadura (around 80,391 hectares, 8.4%), Castile-León (63,359 hectares) and Valencian Communith (62,676 hectares), Catalonia, La Rioja, Aragon, Galicia, Murcia and Andalusia.
In any case, the picture that is emerging is of Spanish vineyards in decline, although in 2015 there was a small increase of 0.4%. In 2015 the total vineyard surface was 954,659 ha, and in 2014 it was 950,541 hectares.
Wine performance depends on the combination of two main factors: a structural factor, marked by a deep investment in the vineyard occurred in the last years, helped by EU funding for wine restructuring, manifested in a change of the conduction system, establishment of irrigation and other improvements leading to higher potential production. The second main factor is the weather.
Spain has 90 zones which produce PDO wines, of which 69 are Denomination of Origin (DO), 2 are Qualified Denomination of Origin. (DOCa), 7 are Quality Wine with a Geographical Indication (Vino de Calidad) and 14 are Single Estate Wine (Vino de Pago), made in accordance with the European production model, with strict control over the quality produced, grape-growing practices, and the quality of the wines produced in each area. The first authorized Denominations were passed in 1932, awarded to Jerez-Xères-Sherry, Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Málaga, Montilla-Moriles, Rioja, Tarragona, Priorato, Alella, Utiel Requena, Valencia, Alicante, Ribeiro, Cariñena, Penedés, Condado de Huelva, Valdepeñas, La Mancha, Navarra and Rueda.
An updated map of Spanish Designations of Origin (Appellations) and a PGI Wines Map or Country Wines Map is available in our Issue section. You can also visit our Interactive maps to Spanish Denominations of Origin here.
From the most recent harvest, 51.1% will go to red and rose wines and 48.9% to white wines. The most common grape types in Spain are Airén (24%), Tempranillo (21%), Bobal (8%), Red Garnacha, Monastrell, Pardina, Macabeo and Palomino, in descending order depending on their cultivation. Of these varieties, Tempranillo, Bobal, Red Garnacha and Monastrell are red, and the others are white.
According to OIV, the International Wine Organization, the Spanish individual consumption was 19.9 liters of wine per capita in 2012. The human consumption is expected to stabilize due to the changing lifestyle. Spanish domestic consumption of wine in Spain still offers some troubling data, being at the bottom of the European consumption.
In 2015 the wine more consumed in Spain is the wine with DO with 60% of the total wine consumption.

 

3. BUSINESS STRUCTURE

The Spanish wine-making sector is currently undergoing an important process of modernization and updating. Because of this, since 2000, the surface-area undergoing conversion and re-structuring has surpassed 130,000 hectares, the result of an investment of approximately 800 million Euros. It is estimated that about 4,000 wineries in Spain make still wines, sparkling wines and liqueur. For the most part, these are small businesses and mostly they run on domestic capital, often family money, while a great number of them are made up of agrarian co-operatives.
You can find the following names among the major players in this sector: Freixenet, J. García Carrión, Codorníu, Arco Wine Invest Group, Grupo Domecq Bodegas, Grupo Miguel Torres, S.A, Félix Solís Avantis and Grupo Faustino.
Small wineries and co-operatives function alongside large companies, who operate in production centres in different areas, with the aim of offering greater variety. In an attempt to control quality throughout the production process, some wineries have bought out or extended their vineyards, as most supply to Spanish wineries comes from other vineyards or directly from co-operatives in the form of wine. There has also been considerable investment in the building of new wineries, the improvement of facilities and machinery and the adoption of different ageing techniques in order to offer a wider range of quality wines, although this level of investment has dropped off in recent years with the economic crisis. It has been interesting to observe, in this context, relaunching of activity and innovation of many wineries which have been trying out different grape varieties and using local varieties to produce wines more suited to the tastes of today's consumer.
The DOC Rioja holds the highest number of registered quality wineries, (919), followed by DO Cava (419) DO Ribera del Duero (280), DO La Mancha (257), DO Cataluña (212), DO Rías Baixas (181) and DO Penedés (146).
This fashion for modernization has even led to the construction of new wineries, projects which have been undertaken by world famous architects, the outstanding among them being in Rioja, the new Domecq winery, Ysios Winery (designed by Santiago Calatrava), the CVNE (designed by Philippe Maziéres), the Frank O Gehry project for Marqués de Riscal, the R. López Heredia Shop by Zaha Hadid, and the Rafael Moneo project, Señorío de Arínzano, for Chivite Wineries in Navarra.
It is an incredibly dynamic sector. Also a highly concentrated sector, with estimates showing that the 5 top companies together hold almost 28% of the market. There has not been much foreign investment among the major players, although joint ventures are being negotiated with other countries to improve the possibilities of global marketing, and forge alianses against the increasingly fierce process of internationalization which the Spanish wine sector finds itself immersed in.

 

4. EXPORT

Global Exports

Global transactions are increasingly more important in the wine sector. In the 5-yearly period 2001-5, from an average total of 72.2 million hl, they have risen to 104.3 million hl in 2015, according to OIV estimates. In terms of value, according to the GTA, which compiles data from the customs of various countries, the global amount of wine and grape juice exports will be 28,429 million Euros in 2014. The global market, considered by the OIV to be the sum of all exports from all countries, has increased over the last year, by 10.6%, and it shows an increase in volumen of 1.8%.
In 2015, and according to GTA figures, Spain is the first country in terms of global wine exports, with 24.1 million hl  but third in value, reaching 2,638 million euros with an average sale price of 1.09 euro. Italy is the second world wine exports in terms of volume (20 million hl) and in terms of value France is leading the ranking (8,269.8 million euros).
Adding up Italy, France and Spain, it represents in 2015 arounf 56.5% of volume and 57.3% of value of the total wine production in the world.
Looking at other producers, Chile is in 4th place as global wine provider in terms of volume, with somewhere above 8.8 million hl and is also fourth in terms of value. Australia is close behind in 5th place, while the USA and Germany are next on the list.
According to OEMV, Spain needs to sell less wine in bulk to other producers and more Spanish wine that indicates origin. The Spanish wine industry will look very different in 10 years’ time.

 

Spanish exports – 2015

Spain is a net exporter of wine being the worldwide leader in wine exports, ahead of Italy and France. According to OEMV, Spanish exports of wine and musts grew in 2015 by 7.5 percent in volume reaching 24 million hl, valued at 2,638 million euros or 4.4% more. Spanish exports of wine reached record levels during 2015.
According to figures provided by the AEAT (Spanish Customs), Spanish wine exports closed 2015 showing good growth in terms of volume, with an increase of 7.5% (+168.2 million liters), but an smaller increase in value of 4.4%, reaching 2,637.9 euros.
Although the wine industry has continued to make efforts to increase and give greater value to the bottled wines with the designation of origin, the reality is that the bulk has been imposed and mainly the cheapest ones. It has then resulted in an average sales price during 2015 for all Spanish wines of 1.10 euros per liter with a decrease of 2.9 %.
By products, bottled PDO wines increased sales by 6.8%, sparkling wines by 6.1% and the PGI wines by 15.6% in value, while bulk wines were stable. In volume bulk wines with no geographical indication where the leaders in volume, together wiht bulk wines with geographical indication and bottled IGP wines.
Spain increased the exports of still bottled wines by 5.7% in value and 6.7% in volume, reaching 1,611 million euros (+86.6 million) and 795.1 million liters (+50 million) in volumen, with an average sale price of 2.03 euros per liter (-1%). These wines are the 61.1% of the value and 33.2% of the volume of total Spanish wine exports. From these, the PDO wines were the leaders of the increase of Spanish exports, increasing a 6.8% in value (1,197 million euros) and a slower increase in volume, reaching 358.5 million liters (+2.4%), with an average sale price of 3.34 euros per liter. Germany and United Kingdom are the main markets for PDO wines, in volume, followed by USA (second in value after United Kingdom). IGP wines showed a big succes, increasing sales in volume by 28.6% and 15.6% in value, but with a strong decrease in the average sale price of 10.1% (96 cents per liter). Wines without PDO, IGP or variety indication fell both in volume (-1.1%) and value (-4.8%), with an average price of 87 cents per liter. Wines with variety indication increase sales by 15.3% in volume but lose a 3.2% in value.
As for other products, sparkling wines showed stable sales in 2015 in volume (+0.1%) with an increase in value (+6.1%), reaching 168.8 millions of liters and 435.5 million of euros, with an average sale price of 2.58 euros per liter.  Sales of semi-sparkling wine decreased, while liqueur wines  increased their sales in value (+1.5%) but lost some volume, by 2.4%.
In terms of target markets, and continuing with AEAT data for 2015, 56.2% of the exported Spanish wines went to the four main markets for our wines (France, Germany, Italy and Portugal), being the four top markets also for bulk wines. France is the leading destination, showing an increase of 8.6% reaching 651 million liters, followed by Germany, with 419.1 million liter (+9.8%). Italy keeps the third position, with 272.1 liters, showing a decrease of  14.6%, followed by Portugal (209.8 million liters; -14%). United Kingdom increased the quota by 1.6%, reaching 176.8% million liters, and occupies the fifth position.
However in terms of value it is Germany the country which gets the first position, with buyings worth of 403.4 million euros (+4.1%), followed by United Kingdom, with 356.1 million euros (+1%). France is the third destination for Spanish wines in terms of value, with 298 million euros(+3.6%). USA showed an increase in value of 10.9%, reaching 296 million euros, being one of the countries wich surpasses the average price of 3 euros per liter, together with Switzerland and Mexico.
 

  

Spanish wine exports
Source: figures:AEAT;Produced by: OeMv 
Thousand € 2013 2014 2015 % var. 2015/14
DO bottled 1,082.3 1,120.3 1,197.0 6.8%
DO bulk 49.1 31.9 27.2 -14.7%
Without DO bottled 424.9 404.5 414.5 2.5%
Without DO bulk 498.5 470.7 476.4 1.2% 
Sparkling 458.6 410.3 435.5 6.1%
Liqueur 59.3 64.7 65.7 1.5%
Semi-sparkling 23.4 23.5 21.7  -8.1%
         
TOTAL WINES 2,596.7 2,526.0 2,637.9 4.4%
Thousand lit.        
DO bottled 346.3  350.1  358.5  2.4% 
DO bulk 53.4 39.1  24.8  -36.5% 
Without DO bottled 356.7  394.9  436.5  10.5% 
Without DO bulk 844.7  1,235.3  1,371.7  11.0% 
Sparkling 160.6  168.7  168.8  0.1% 
Liqueur

18.7

20.8  20.3  -2.4% 
Semi-sparkling  20.1 19.3  15.7  -18.4% 
         
TOTAL WINES       %
€/l        
DO bottled 3.13  3.20  3.34  4.3%
DO bulk 0.92  0.82  1.10  34.4%
Without DO bottled 1.19  1.02  0.95  -7.3%
Without DO bulk 0.59 0.38  0.35  -8.8%
Sparkling 2.86  2.43  2.58  6.1%
Liqueur 3.16  3.11  3.23  4.0%
Semi-sparkling 1.17  1.22  1.38  12.7%
         
TOTAL WINES 1.44  1.13  1.10  -2.9%

 

  

Report produced for ICEX by The Spanish Wine Market Observatory.

 

 

History

From its origins to the Reconquest

It is unclear precisely where vines were first cultivated in Spain or who brought winemaking techniques to the Iberian Peninsula. Various sources believe the first vineyards were cultivated on the southwest coast of Andalusia, which may also have been the entrance point for the first vines reaching the peninsula.

This seems to be the most likely theory, particularly given the presence of the Phoenicians there approximately 3,000 years ago. They were a trading culture and founded a port in the southwest, which they called Gadir (now Cádiz). Later they moved inland, founding another city they called Xera (now Jerez), where they planted vines in the surrounding hills. The warm climate enhanced the strong, sweet nature of the wines, allowing them to stand up well to long journeys. By the early Christian era this factor, combined with the deeply rooted commercial spirit of the Phoenicians, made Spanish wines one of the most frequently traded products in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

The Romans continued to produce wine on the peninsula, introducing their own particular techniques over time - for example, the addition of resins and aromatic essences, and ageing in small clay amphorae in sunlit attic areas or next to chimneys. According to contemporary accounts these wines acquired fruity and floral aromas and flavours, and a much-appreciated smoky taste. The need to supply the vast empire and its legions with wine contributed to building up Hispania's already notable wine trade.

The decline of the Roman Empire and invasion of Hispania by northern barbarian tribes brought wine making in Spain to a temporary halt, although the subsequent arrival of the Visigoths counteracted this  influence. Due to their contact with the Romans in the outlying provinces of the Empire, the Visigoths placed great significance on winemaking.

The arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century slowed the development of winemaking as the Koran prohibited the consumption of fermented and alcoholic drinks. Despite this religious prohibition, the cultivation of vineyards continued and even prospered under Moslem rule even if they were reoriented to the production of grapes or non-fermented must. Certain dynasties were liberal in their treatment of the dominated Christians and allowed them to continue cultivating vineyards and making wine, particularly in the monasteries.

 

 

From the Reconquest to the 20th Century

Spanish winemaking really took off after the Reconquest of Spain by the Catholic Kings.  The re-established religious communities and monasteries played a significant role in this process; the monks and friars of various orders worked to recover the winemaking tradition.  Wine was vital for their religious rituals, and they also filled their cellars, supplying wine to pilgrims and local taverns. Thus, the vineyards flourished once again in areas surrounding the monasteries and abbeys, and later in other regions.

Throughout the centuries, wine not only became an essential part of local diet. Its potential for sale also took on enormous importance.  The emergence of commercial exchanges brought with them the birth of different wine producing districts, and created economic activity in the various towns and regions that supplied the Court.

In the 19th century the unfortunate arrival of phylloxera in northern Europe, which devastated the vineyards at mid-century, contributed to the consolidation of the winemaking industry. During this period, many French winemakers settled south of the Pyrenees, finding this the only way to preserve their livelihood.  They brought with them their grape varieties, machinery and methods, among which were the planting patterns of the vines, control of fermentation and the use of sulphurous anhydride. Some of the Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot vineyards existing today in La Rioja and Ribera del Duero date back to this era.

The phylloxera blight served, therefore, to bring modernisation to Spain's vineyards and wineries.  When, at the end of the century, the blight finally reached the peninsula, a solution had been devised to put an end to it: grafting onto an American rootstock immune to the blight. As a result the recovery of the vineyards was much less traumatic in Spain than in other European countries.

The 20th century proved to be crucial to the Spanish wine producing industry. At first, cautiously, certain reforms were introduced to improve the quality of wine. New industrial techniques began to replace some old-fashioned traditions. The industry also had to confront the Civil War, which condemned the vineyards to abandonment, and, at the end of that, the Second World War, which brought the European wine market to a standstill. The sector began to recover in the fifties.  Since then, Spanish winemakers have undertaken the re-organisation of their vineyards and the renovation and modernisation of winemaking processes and wineries, to place Spain on an equal footing with winemakers elsewhere. 

 

The quiet revolution

The transformation of the image and quality of Spanish wines during the last quarter of the 20th century has been truly remarkable.  During this period, a group of hard-working pioneers began to introduce and apply new wine producing techniques being used elsewhere.

In particular, recent years have witnessed the emergence of a new generation of master winemakers who have learned to blend tradition and quality with innovation, giving rise to unique wines of unprecedented quality that enjoy unqualified success worldwide.

Vines, Soil and Climate

Spain's vineyards are characterized by their often extreme climatic conditions. Vines may be found growing in desert or volcanic regions or in landscapes blanketed by snow. They can grow successfully in places with very low annual rainfall, like the central and south-eastern dry regions, or in extremely damp areas like those of north-western Spain, influenced by Atlantic weather. In fact, in some areas the strength of the winemaking tradition is encouraged by the grapevine being the only plant capable of surviving and flourishing in extreme temperatures. Nonetheless, in general terms, vineyard development benefits from a warm and relatively dry environment with plenty of sunlight, long summers, and winters that are not too harsh.

Temperature is a key factor in regulating vines' basic functions such as respiration, transpiration and photosynthesis, which are activated by warmth. If temperatures are high, ripening speeds up, yielding sweet and sometimes fortified wines (licorosos). In the northern growing regions, or those at high altitude, where temperatures are lower, ripening is slower and more difficult, producing wines with a lower alcoholic content and marked acidity.

Moderate conditions play a vital role in the vine's physiological characteristics. In northern and north-western Spain, vines receive 2,000 hours of direct annual sunlight, and in the Gulf of Cadiz and certain south-eastern areas, more than 3,000 hours annually - one of the highest figures worldwide.

Rainfall is a key factor in the development of the vine, affecting not only the harvest's volume but also the fruit's quality. Winter rainfall improves the quality of the wine harvest while a modest shortfall of summer rainfall helps to produce abundant grapes, although not necessarily of the best quality. Very often the best vintages coincide with hot, dry summers.

Other weather features also affect Spanish vineyards. Frosts can damage the plant when it is producing new shoots during its growing cycle. On the other hand, vines can endure temperatures as low as -15°C if a cold spell strikes while they are dormant in winter. Wind can be a positive or a negative factor, depending on its speed, strength, persistence, and dampness: in general, moderate, slightly humid winds are beneficial. Mists and fogs always have a negative effect, especially during the growing season.

Finally, it should be noted that Spain possesses many vine-growing areas that benefit from special microclimates. The O Rosal, Priorato, Ribera del Duero and Sanlúcar de Barrameda regions are famous examples, but the list could be much longer. These microclimates, together with particular aspects of physical geography like the contours of the valleys and slopes, give each area special growing conditions and, hence, wines with a marked regional character.

 

Vines can survive in a great diversity of soils. The main requirement is that soils should not be too damp. However, to obtain real quality it is necessary for the soil to achieve a balance of positive conditions, physical and chemical.

One aspect which needs to be taken into account is soil structure -that is, its particular combination of physical elements (clay, silica, chalk, humus). The most suitable soils are those capable of maintaining underground air pockets, which allow the plants' roots to breathe. Another important aspect is texture, a result of the relative proportion of finer elements such as clay, lime and sand. Structure and texture determine a soil’s compactness, its permeability to air and water and its retentive capacity. These, in turn, determine the ease with which the roots can grow through the different soil layers and how well excess water runs off the soil.

Other important factors are, firstly, the depth of the topsoil that can be explored by the plant's roots; secondly, soil temperature, which affects biological processes taking place in the earth; thirdly, the soil's colour, witch influences its temperature and the air closest to it, affecting the final ripening of the fruit; fourthly, the soil's stoniness -that is, the presence of stones or small pebbles, which can help by improving the aeration and health of the roots; and, finally, the soil's composition, since this determines the mineral substances necessary for the vine's existence. Thus, for example, phosphorus, calcium and potassium all positively affect quality while high levels of nitrogen and organic matter yield larger harvests but diminish the fruit's quality.

Wine Making and Ageing

Winemaking and viticulture the world over have undergone spectacular changes since the 1970s, with the introduction of new concepts such as the effective control of harvests, monitoring of the primary aromas of the fruit and proper order and hygiene in wine cellars.  These new methods have been implemented and assimilated to such a degree in Spain that some of the most modern wineries in Europe are now located in this country. But even before the different methods of making wine can be applied, it is important to take into account certain key aspects that will influence the final product.

Harvest

The grape harvest generally occurs between the end of August – beginning of September and mid-October, when the fruit has reached the desired degree of ripeness.  The harvest is of vital importance, as this is when the first selection of the fruit is made: the success of the entire subsequent winemaking process will depend largely on the care with which this selection is undertaken.

Moreover, the fruit must be transported to the winery with the utmost care to ensure that the grapes do not undergo excessive pressure.  If the grape is damaged or broken, it will lose its juice, causing undesired premature fermentation.

The Colour of Wine

The great majority of grapes used in wine making have pulp with the same colour -an opaque white to yellow-, regardless of their variety. The colouring pigments characteristic of, for example, red wine grapes, are nearly always located in the skin. Therefore, in the production of red wine, it is essential that this colouring material present in the grape skins transfers to the must.  This explains the principal difference between making red and white wines.

The Extraction of Must

The extraction of must is the first process in the making of all types of wine. The harvested bunches of grapes are unloaded into a container shaped like a truncated pyramid reception hopper, from which they are then transported to the squeezer.  There, the fruit is pressed, in a very precise process known as crushing, which breaks open the fruit's soft pulp but does not break seeds, stems and skins.  These elements would contaminate the must with unwanted aromas and flavours, as well as raising its acid content.  In the case of must destined to make red wine, a similar process, called stalking, removes all the stems.

The crushing process produces a thick paste consisting of the grepes' pulp skins, seeds and stalks.  Avoiding contact with the air, this paste is moved into a series of presses to begin the process of winemaking.

Please go to Regulations Governing Wine in Spain to find out more about quality indications and ageing requirements.

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