Pepe Raventos, Raventos i Blanc, Penedes, Spain

Misery and joy: harvest 2023 in Penedés

55% less rainfall in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia

Cover photo: Pepe Raventos from Raventos i Blanc giving interview about the harvest

The 3rd consecutive year with barely any rain, loss of quantity, also some loss of vines in the vineyard, yet there is hope. Is it a grape variety? Is it irrigation? Is it just simply adapting and raising price? We have asked a couple of key players of Penedés wine scene.

According to La Semana Vitivinícola (Sevi) Spain may have the worst harvest in history with 16.6% less production than last year. Galicia and Rioja are not hit as much as other regions–due to the cooling effect of the Atlantic Ocean, they even experienced some increase of the production. Catalonia on the contrary suffered from extreme heat and drought, therefore this is the province with the most significant loss: the crop is around 28% less than last year. How do the producers cope up and what can be the solution? Penedés, the most important sparkling wine producing wine region of Catalonia is the centre of cava production, however, sparkling wine scenery is much more diverse by now–but they all equally had to face the same challenge.

A vintage of suffering

Raventos i Blanc estate was the first winery to leave Cava DO behind, even though they are the descendants of Josep Raventos, the producer of the very first Spanish sparkling wine– later named cava–in 1872. Pepe Raventos owner turned the estate into a biodynamic farm and he concentrates on local, even ancient grapes including the re-discovered Sumoll variety.

In a recent report by the Catalan TV3 television channel Pepe Raventos gave a summary of the vintage with 55% less rainfall than in the past 10 years. The interview took place among 80-year-old vines, and Pepe started with the sad news: “This vintage will be remembered as the vintage of suffering. The nature, the trees, the animals all suffered, thus the people did as well, who live here.” Yet Pepe Raventos is not overall pessimistic: Xarello and Sumoll, two local grape varieties proved to be resistant to heat and drought, they indeed provide hope for the locals. “We anticipated a risky vintage and we carried on different tests to see how we should face the future.” He also insisted on the importance of winemakers working together, join forces to solve problems, as a team. “No doubt, the severe weather conditions will affect prices – he added.

Roger Canals Vins El Cep

Roger Canals of Vins El Cep conducting a tasting of cavas

The most challenging in two decades

Vins El Cep is an organic and biodynamic estate within Cava DO–in fact they are the very first biodynamic producers in Penedés. They also As Roger Canals, marketing manager of Vins El Cep commented, harvest 2023 had been one of the most difficult harvests of the past 20 years. “The dry conditions and the water shortage that we had resulted in loosing 50-60% of the production compared to a normal year. However, the grapes that we had were healthy because we did not have any microbiological problem. We lost some acidity but at the same time we won in concentration and extraction of flavours. Regarding the quality of the grapes and now the wines we can say that the harvest has been successful. Even though, sadly, some vines died. We really hope to have more rain in 2024 because we definitely need more water to keep on going with our production.”

Jesi Llopart Corpinnat Penedés

Jesi Llopart from Llopart Corpinnat

“The oldest guys did not make it”

Corpinnat members–the family wineries who left Cava DO in 2018 and apply the strictest rules in Penedés wine region–also reported record hard vintage. Jesi Llopart from Llopart family, one of the founding members of Corpinnat commented that it had been a harvest of healthy and good quality grapes but with low yield. “At Llopart we have been selecting the vines since the end of spring, we did green harvest to improve the quality of the final harvest. We could have great quality thanks to the selection we had been doing earlier.”

Marcel Sabaté, co-owner of Sabaté & Coca, another founding family winery of Corpinnat also reported less crop, though again with more concentration of flavours. Like Vins El Cep, he also mentioned the loss of some of the vines. Strangely enough, the drought killed some of the oldest plants of the vineyard. Normally old vines are supposed to survive the harshest weather due to their deep roots, however this time there was so little rain, that whenever the raindrops fell onto the hot surface, the humidity evaporated immediately and it did not reach the depth–thus the some of the oldest vines deceased. Would irrigation solve the problem? Well, first of all, there is not much water available, and Marcel believes that irrigation can also be harmful on quality. “Yes, I can imagine some sort of irrigation in the future, if we have to cope with more years of drought. We might make some reservoirs, but I always feel that watering the vines results less flavours in the grapes. If we have to use irrigation, it has to be done only earlier in the growing season, and only if the plants are in serious danger.” But when Marcel Sabaté summarizes the vintage, he is more or less happy with the less crops of greater quality.

Marcel Sabaté from Sabaté i Coca, photo from VAdeVi article

All in all, vintage 2023 was challenging and threatens with a dry future, but winemakers are thinking of plan B, we don’t have to worry about our glass of bubbly. We may have to pay more–since there is less crop–but it complies with the trend of “drink less, but better”.