The 2020 vintage around the world
Although there are no official figures yet, the OIV has estimated a below-average total global yield, similar to that of the 2019 harvest. The global production volume is estimated to be around 258 million hectolitres.
Within the European Union, the climate conditions in general were kind, with good plant growth, and in general production has been higher than in 2019, except for in Italy, the largest wine producer in the EU, where the output has fallen by 1% compared to 2019.
Elsewhere in the world, results were similar, except in the Southern Hemisphere, where a drop in volume was recorded compared to 2019. This was partly due to drought suffered during the growing cycle in countries such as Australia, South Africa and Chile. As well as bush fires in California’s Napa Valley or again in Australia.
The 2020 vintage in Spain
It would be fair to describe 2020 as a year of extremes in Spain. In general it was a hot year, but with conditions of high humidity as well. The winter proceeded with mild temperatures, resulting in the hottest winter of the 21st century, with temperatures reaching highs of 14.6ºC during the final quarter of the year.
Such extreme temperatures show climate change in action. As well as having a big influence on the growth cycle of vines, they also have an impact throughout the natural ecosystem. For example, according to one report, cranes – migratory birds which visit Spain to spend the winter in a milder climate – have brought forward their return to Northern Europe by 17 days due to the ‘excessively warm’ temperatures in Spain.
The same trend continued through the spring, with hotter than average temperatures recorded. May was a particularly warm month, with temperatures 2.7ºC above average. Spring was also very wet, with 40% more rainfall than average.
The summer continued hot, especially in July, which proved to be the one of hottest on record in the 21st century after July 2015 and 2006. Again, rainfall was abundant.
Finally, in the autumn temperatures returned to more average levels, though bordering on hot at times. September was mainly dry, which created favourable conditions for harvest all over the country.
In the Iberian Peninsula as a whole, the harvest began early. In the early-harvesting regions where soils are warmer, picking began 12-15 days earlier than usual; while the harvest began five days early in Rioja and eight days early in Rueda.
Vintage focus: Rioja
In Rioja, the growing cycle was similar to the rest of Spain, with higher than average rainfall and higher temperatures, factors which meant that growers had to monitor the vines carefully, checking for the possible appearance of mould.
Budbreak happened by 10 April, with the rain in April and early May boosting the rapid growth of the plants. It was necessary to trim the vines to improve exposure and ventilation through the canopy.
In mid-June the fruit setting became widespread. In those zones which had been most affected by the rain during flowering, setting was less and looser, more open clusters were formed. At the end of June veraison had started throughout the appellation, taking place quite quickly due to the hotter summer temperatures.
These high temperatures accelerated the build up of sugars in the grapes and lowered the acidity levels. A few weeks later, after the September rains, the grapes reached a point of balance, so that picking was widespread by the end of the month. With the threat of a wet October looming, as well as the second wave of Covid-19, the harvest was one of the shortest recorded.
In the coolest zone of the DOCa Rioja, conditions were wet but hot during the summer months, leading to a degree of stress for the vines. However, that helped to block the development of fungal diseases and ensured optimum ripening. Precipitation was spread over the whole year but rainfall was especially heavy in the spring and there were also cases of torrential rain and hailstorms.
In general the winter was mild. It was only in the final week of the year that temperatures of below -2ºC were recorded on seven mornings. The spring was hot, favouring the start of the cycle of weeping and bud break in the vineyards. The average temperature for the whole month of May was over 15ºC, which translated to midday temperatures of almost 30ºC. At this point in the cycle, the evolution of the vines was up to 10 days ahead of its usual schedule.
The summer began with mild temperatures until mid-July, then until the end of August every day saw temperatures rise above 30ºC. Generalised harvesting began by 25 September, just a few days earlier than in a typical year. The result was wines with ripe fruit, less malic acid than in other years, with good weight in the mouth.
In this sub-zone with the greatest Mediterranean influence, the harvest proceeded without any problems, with a lower risk of a proliferation of fungal diseases and less rainfall.
Budbreak began in mid-March, becoming widespread at the end of March. In general terms, it was a rainy year with similar amounts of rainfall to those in the Rioja Alta. The rest of the rainfall was distributed over the course of the year, though most particularly in spring.
The main challenge in Rioja Oriental was managing the high rainfall and the unusually high moisture levels, especially for growers following organic methods. Some producers, such as Ramón Bilbao applied natural treatments, such as milk whey, which prevents the proliferation of moulds.
Temperatures in Rioja Oriental rarely fell below zero. The lowest temperature recorded was -3.7ºC on 14 January. The hot summer brought high temperatures and maximums of 35ºC on several days during July and August. This led to a marked acceleration in ripening and the first grapes from early-ripening varieties were picked in mid-August.
The first grapes harvested lacked balance, with a reduction in acidity. Later ripening vineyards at higher altitude ripened more gradually. In mid-September, with diurnal temperature differences of up to 20ºC in the vineyards, vines were able to mature with no stress and reach the optimum point of ripeness at the right time.
Vintage focus: Rueda
The year 2020 marked the 40th anniversary of DO Rueda and was a moderately hot year, warmer than 2019, with balanced rainfall. In general winter was mild, with moderate rainfall. The appearance of the first frosts coincided with New Year’s Eve, when the lowest temperature of the growing cycle was recorded, at -4.69ºC.
A warm spring saw a level of rainfall that provoked bud break during the first week in April. Spring proceeded without problems, while summer was hot and dry. The highest temperatures arrived at the end of July with 37ºC recorded on 30 July. In August, the temperatures became milder, which promoted more gradual ripening with a balance between the development of the aromas, accumulation of sugars and acidity.
Harvesting began in the DO Rueda on 22 August for early-ripening varieties, with harvesting of Verdejo grapes generalised by the beginning of September. Ramón
Bilbao began harvesting its Sauvignon Blanc on 6 September, then Verdejo from 9 September.
Production volumes in Rioja and Rueda