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Spain: Shortages of Rioja, Record Crop in Ribera
By Al Goodman
Overall, Spain fared relatively well with its red wines in 1999, from the Tempranillos that dominate in Rioja and Ribera del Duero to the Garnacha-based wines of Priorat.
In Rioja, the country's most prominent wine region, the appellation board reported "high-quality" reds across the board for the 1999 harvest. However, the quantity was 25 percent less than the record 1998 harvest and, significantly, below the amount needed to meet the current demand for Riojas. The key problem was a devastating bout of frost in April.
"After the frost, the short harvest was not a surprise," said Francisco Hurtado, winery production director at Marquès de Riscal. "But the quality is very good in our area because of the low yields per acre."
The weather did not pose a problem in Spain's other major red wine appellation, Ribera del Duero, because its growing season starts later than Rioja's. Ribera reported a record harvest, surpassing the previous mark in 1996, and the appellation board's spokeswoman Isabel Adrin said that wineries were "pleased" with the quality. "They talk of healthy, whole grapes," she commented.
To improve the quality in the large harvest, Bodegas Hnos. Pèrez Pascuas cut production by one-quarter in its Ribera vineyards to achieve concentrated, mature grapes that rival the excellent grapes of 1996, said winemaker Josè Manuel Pèrez.
The small but trendy Priorat appellation in northeastern Spain reported "good" quality except in the few vineyards that were damaged by frost. The quantity of the harvest was slightly higher than in 1998, due largely to continued planting of new vineyards to meet the growing demand for Priorat reds.
Winery owner Alvaro Palacios said that weather conditions made it a tricky, labor-intensive harvest in which he reduced production to ensure healthy grapes. Palacios said that neither of his marquee Priorat wines, L'Ermita and Finca Dofi, would be excellent, as they were in 1998, but he predicted they would be "elegant and convincing," if lighter in body.