The unusual 2011 harvest in Rioja

Last Friday the Rioja Regulatory Council released the official figures for the 2011 harvest.  In my opinion, this year was unusual for three reasons.

The harvest started and ended earlier than usual due to a warm, sunny spring and summer. This is positive because the weather often turns cold and rainy towards the end of the harvest, especially in the higher parts of Rioja Alta and Alavesa.  In fact, this is why a lot of wineries from Haro have vineyards in Rioja Baja – to blend the fully ripe grapes from the Baja with those with lower sugar from the western end of the region.

Abundant sunshine and high temperatures made for exceptionally high sugar but unripe tannins.  Throughout the summer and early fall, vineyard managers and winemakers complained that they had to decide whether to pick when sugar content would produce 13-13,5% alcohol but green tannins or wait for the tannins to ripen with potential alcohol reaching 16% and even higher.

It will be interesting to taste the wines once they’re bottled.

The third difference is the exceptional health of the grapes with very little incidence of mildew.

According to the Council, 383 million kgs of grapes will be protected by the D.O. Ca. Rioja, compared with 395 million kgs in 2010.

I estimate that sales will be about 274 million liters, 2,6% higher than 2010.

 My projection of the figures (‘000,000 liters):

                                                                      2011                  2010

 Production of wine                               268                 255,9

Shipments                                                 274                 267,1

End-of-year inventory                      844,6               842,6

Ratio Inventory to shipments           3,08                3,15


From the macro point of view, it doesn’t appear that much has changed from 2010 to 2011.  The harvest is slightly smaller, sales are marginally higher and the inventory to shipments ratio is about 3,1 years.

This last number is widely used in Rioja to determine pressure on grape and wine supply.  The Council figures that a ratio of 2,8 to 3,2 years is optimum.  If it’s lower, it means a shortage of wine and higher grape and wine prices.  On the contrary, if it’s higher, too much wine is available and prices are likely to fall.

 Given the fact that the 2011 number is near the upper end of the scale and sales are stagnant, grape and wine prices will probably remain low.  As I’ve said before, this is good for consumers but unfortunate for farmers.

(Photo credit:  Logroño Turismo)