Spanish Winemakers Go Cooler to Stay in the Game

The Torres Vineyards, above the town of Tremp in the Catalonia. i i

The Torres vineyards stand above the town of Tremp, in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia. The winemakers have begun to take climate change into consideration when choosing the location for production. Jessica Goldstein, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Goldstein, NPR
The Torres Vineyards, above the town of Tremp in the Catalonia.

The Torres vineyards stand above the town of Tremp, in the northern Spanish region of Catalonia. The winemakers have begun to take climate change into consideration when choosing the location for production.

Jessica Goldstein, NPR
Spain map, including northern location of Tremp. i i
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Spain map, including northern location of Tremp.
Lindsay Mangum, NPR

Fine Wines from Catalonia

The Spanish state of Catalonia is known for its unique culture and language. Only recently has it begun to receive attention as a producer of fine wines.

Read the Story

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As distinct factors like weather and technology influence the demand for wine, many countries and winemakers are adapting, while some are changing their strategies altogether.

  

France: Find out how a future of warmer summers could bring unexpected pleasures for French winemakers.

Brazil: Technological advances in both irrigation and refrigeration have made vast parts of the globe ideal for viticulture.

China & India: As the European demand for wine dwindles, some winemakers are turning to the Asian market.

Pinot noir grapes grown in the Torres Vineyards. i i

Torres wine began to grow pinot noir grapes in the town of Tremp about six years ago, where the higher altitudes and cooler weather served for better growing conditions. Jessica Goldstein, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Goldstein, NPR
Pinot noir grapes grown in the Torres Vineyards.

Torres wine began to grow pinot noir grapes in the town of Tremp about six years ago, where the higher altitudes and cooler weather served for better growing conditions.

Jessica Goldstein, NPR

Most of the time when we think about global warming, we think about dire consequences — disappearing ice caps, rising sea levels, more intense storms. Higher temperatures will have myriad effects on our lives and culture. But not all of these effects will be catastrophic.

In Spain for example, winemakers are heading for the hills.

For a while, Pancho Campo of the Spanish Wine Academy had a message no one wanted to hear. He had conducted a climate study on a major wine-growing region called Penedes, near Barcelona and close to the Mediterranean coast.

"The first thing that we observed is that temperatures have increased an average of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit). And that is a lot," Campo says. "Also, we have observed that rainfall patterns have changed. It rains more when it should be dry, and the way it rains is very aggressive."

At first, Spanish winemakers ignored his results — they said the weather was always changing. But in the past year or two, more have started to listen, and they've realized they are going to have to adapt.

Winemakers are thinking about changing their growing patterns to grape varieties that can tolerate more heat, and they are also altering their watering schedules. Some are even moving from the traditional wine-growing areas near sea level.

"They're going to higher altitudes – a place called Tremp. Higher altitudes, lower temperatures," Campo says.

Keeping Cool

About six years ago, Torres wine started growing pinot noir grapes about 5 miles and several hundred feet above the town of Tremp, located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the mountains that divide Spain and France. The area is stunningly beautiful — high mountains to the north, and an undulating valley falls away to the south. And it's pleasantly cool, even in the bright morning sun. The natural landscape is dry and brown; the Torres grapevines are the only thing that's green.

"We were thinking about having a special flavor, special finesse that you cannot find in other, warmer areas," says Albert Puch of Torres wine.

He says climate change was far from their minds when they first began growing grapes in Spain.

"But now when the scientists said there is the global warming coming, this state has more relevance for us," Puch says.

Changing Tastes

Puch says it's not just the weather that's changing, but also the market. He says consumers are no longer interested in where a wine comes from, or what year it was produced. They're only interested in how it tastes.

It used to be different. For example, in neighboring France, the great wines of Bordeaux are still produced according to strict rules about where the grapes come from. If the climate is bad and it rains when it should be sunny, then the grapes will be bad. French winemakers accept that some vintages will be better than others.

Puch says that attitude no longer works for many wine drinkers. He says Spanish winemakers used to be like the French, but now they're competing with winemakers from Chile, Argentina, California, Australia and New Zealand.

"They said 'I want to make a good wine, with a funny name, and that's it,' " Puch says. " 'And a good price.' And they rule the market. If it's a global warming, it's a global market, too."

And so Puch and Torres wine will do what it takes to make a popular wine. If that means moving to cooler vineyards higher up in the mountains, then that's where they'll go.

Produced by Jessica Goldstein

Modern Fine Wine from Catalonia

Catalonia, a self-governing state in northern Spain, is known for its Catalan language, unique cultural identity, and fiercely independent people. But it wasn't until relatively recently that the area began to receive international attention as a producer of fine wine.

Catalonia produces the majority of Cava, Spain's version of Champagne. But it also produces a variety of wines, from dry whites to full-bodied reds.

Ian Dorin, Spanish wine buyer for Winelibrary.com, says Catalan wines tend to "pack a bigger punch of fruit and alcohol" than other Spanish wines. He says Catalan wines are more modern — less earthy and more similar to wines from newer markets like California, Australia and South America. This may be because Catalonia is less restrictive than other wine-producing regions in Spain.

"The freedom for selecting whatever grapes you want to use or how long to barrel age a wine for gives the area its uniqueness," Dorin says.

The region of Priorat in Catalonia grows grapes on exceptionally old vines. These ancient vines produce some of the highest-quality wine. Dr. Jay Miller, Spanish wine critic for The Wine Advocate, says Priorat ranks as one of the top three wine-producing areas in Spain.

"The best wines of Priorat have a distinctive minerality, fragrant, complex aromas, and power combined with elegance," Miller explains.

Miller says there is a range of quality. The more difficult Priorat vintages can be hard, tannic, rustic, alcoholic and over the top.

Both Dorin and Miller agree that the biggest drawback to Priorat, and Catalan wines in general, is the cost. Good, inexpensive wines are few and far between — prices may be more suited for special occasions. But drinking wine with a personality as distinctive as the Catalan people who produce it could be a great way to celebrate.

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