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What makes a good vintage?

Well, what can we say about 2020 so far?! When we talk about a good vintage there are many factors to take into consideration. It’s not just the weather that has a role in the final quality of the grape, although it does have a massive influence. There are many other elements that can play a key part: the soil quality, the humidity, the orientation of the vines, the way the vines are planted, whether the vines are watered or not, the various plagues that could cause harm to the vines and how humans intervene and treat the vines.

'Terroir' and the vines at Bodegas Bordoy

All of these factors come under one name, ‘terroir’. Sometimes winemakers are fortunate enough to benefit from many favourable conditions that ultimately result in a great wine. However, there are other times, such as this year, when it does not matter what the winemaker does. Mother Nature decides to take control and the winemaker is resigned to the fact that he /she will not have a good harvest.

For so many reasons (though maybe one in particular), 2020 is already a year many of us would prefer to ‘forget’. This is especially true for many winemakers and wine growers in different regions.

Sadly, here in Mallorca, many of the vineyards have had one of the worst years on record. We spoke to one of the wineries we work with and the Grandfather of one of the winemakers said that in all his time working amongst the vines, he has never seen such a bad crop before. Some vineyards haven’t been as badly affected as others, but generally, the quality and quantity of the grapes is not good this year.

The main issues in Mallorca have been the humidity and the lack of a cold winter. A cold winter is beneficial as it kills a lot of the fungi that can grow on the leaves and grapes. As we have also had quite a wet and warm spring, the conditions for the fungi to develop have been fantastic. This is such a shame. Earlier on in the year, we really enjoyed seeing the island looking so lush, green and full of flowers.

In contrast to the current state of play in Mallorca, we have heard that many other regions in Spain are having a record breaking harvest, way above normal.

So, what does this mean?

To me it means two things:

1) Here on the island, the lack of tourism this summer contributed to a massive drop in wine consumption, so wine sales plummeted. The wineries are now full of wine they can’t shift and they are struggling for storage space, particularly now that the new harvest enters the production phase. There are rumours that some wineries are not harvesting at all or they are simply picking a small percentage of their crops. At the end of the day, one bad year in the fields should not be considered a catastrophe. It does mean however, that we are more likely to be drinking young 2019 wines way into 2021. In a way, I hope more people will realise and appreciate that it is possible to drink and enjoy a white wine from two years before rather than dismissing it as too old.

2) In the Mainland and beyond, wherever a record harvest has been forecast, bigger issues can arise. Many wineries are already struggling to store their overstock of wine (due to the pandemic) and therefore have little space for their fantastic harvest. So what can these wineries do? Logic says that prices will go down and we should be able to find some great bargains, but all of this is still in the air as the COVID19 situation is still unravelling. The longer bars, restaurants and hotels remain closed, the less wine is sold and consumed and this is a real headache for many of the winemakers.

So, to summarise, will 2020 be a good vintage?

It will really depend where your wine comes from. This isn’t something that can be generalised. Even within the same wine region 2020 could bring about an excellent wine or it could be a wine to forget. The best you can do, as a consumer, is get some informed facts before you buy and ask for advice from a sommelier in the restaurant, at your local wine bar or in your local wine shop. Normally sommeliers, bar and restaurant owners try all the wines they sell or serve beforehand so they will know what to recommend.

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