Heat waves force early harvest of Spanish wine, night picking

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BELMONTE DE TAJO, Spain, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Their head-mounted flashlights dangling in the darkness, vineyard workers at Bodega Andres Morate look like fireflies from a distance as they wheel their rolling carts from one vine to another by cutting bunches of grapes at night.

Forced to start harvesting a few weeks earlier in the season due to brutal summer temperatures and drought influenced by climate change, some Spanish vineyards like this family business outside Madrid have also switched to night-picking grapes to avoid working in the sweltering August heat.

The grapes are usually harvested in mid-September, but Andres Morate started this year on August 24 on his 20-hectare plot.

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“It’s not business as usual… Without the heat, we used to harvest later, but harvests have been brought forward in recent years,” he told Reuters.

“And now there’s drought on top of everything…it’s been one of the toughest summers ever and every year (temperature) records are broken.”

Climate change has left parts of the Iberian Peninsula at their driest in 1,200 years, according to a study published last month in the journal Nature Geoscience. Spain suffered three unusually long heat waves this summer that stoked devastating wildfires.

Although the grapes grew profusely, the dry heat made them less juicy, Morate said.

Morate, who prides himself on sustainable and eco-friendly production without the use of chemical fertilizers or irrigation, explains that to achieve the best results, the grapes should develop at a gradual rate from their formation on vines until they are harvested, but lately the weather has accelerated this process, to the detriment of the effects.

Working at night, from sunset until 2 or 3 a.m., has its benefits not only for the pickers, but also for the grapes before they are pressed to make wine, he said. . The fresher they are when they arrive at the cellar, the more their aroma and flavor are concentrated.

Picker Javier, 33, said: “Working at night is much better, it’s not too hot, there are no insects, you like to work more. During the day we couldn’t be here, we would just cook. “

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Writing by Andrei Khalip Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Elisha A. Tilghman