Great European wine grapes, just not many to harvest

Tue Sep 25, 2012 5:04am EDT
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By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Europe is in the midst of another crisis: not debt, but grapes. Yields are sharply lower, down nearly 40 percent in some of parts of Portugal, which means winemakers will have fewer grapes to blend and, in the end, fewer bottles to offer.

The situation is even worse in parts of Burgundy, where hail storms pummeled vineyards in Pommard, Santenay and Volnay destroying nearly 80 percent of the harvest, according to the Burgundy Wine Board (BIVB). When the growers were not fighting cold weather or hail, mildew and fungus threatened.

"People have been fighting them strictly," Cecile Mathiaud, a BIVB spokeswoman, said. Noting the uneven growth of the grape bunches, a condition known as millerandage, she said it "is bad for quantity, but it is usually the promise of quality."

One Portuguese winemaker, Bernardo Cabral, of Casa Santa Vitoria, echoed Mathiaud's forecasts, saying, "Fortunately, small berries are correlated with high concentration. So, at this moment, we have very high quality wines in process."

David Baverstock, the winemaker for Portugal's Esporao wines, who is about halfway through the harvest said, "There are cases of yields being down by as much as 40 percent compared to normal, probably it will turn out to be somewhere between 20-30 percent on average."

In the Loire, one of France's largest wine producing regions, they are just beginning to start the harvest, but they too anticipate lower quantities.

In Spain, the regulatory board of Rioja wines confirmed that its harvests would be smaller as well.

But "the good news is that consumers won't feel any effect of this lower-yields harvest as Rioja has sufficient reserves in terms of volume to fulfill global demand," a spokeswoman for the regulatory board said in an email.   Continued...