Catalonia's organic wines are growing exponentially

Mediterranean climate, awareness and sales in northern Europe contribute to doubling amount of eco-friendly hectares of grape in 5 years

Enric Gil, co-owner of Celler Can Roda winery in Martorelles, pictured in the vineyard there, August 31, 2021 (by Guifré Jordan)
Enric Gil, co-owner of Celler Can Roda winery in Martorelles, pictured in the vineyard there, August 31, 2021 (by Guifré Jordan) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

September 5, 2021 12:20 PM

It is grape harvest time in Catalonia, the most crucial time of the year for vineyards. At the Celler Can Roda, in Martorelles, north of Barcelona, they are pretty optimistic compared to last year, when they lost 85% of crops.

One of the worst issues of climate change for organic vineyards like this one, visited by Catalan News recently, is that vintners cannot predict what will happen next. 

Last year, too much rain led to an infestation of mildew, while too little this year has led to smaller grapes. 

With the Catalan Institute of Vine and Wine, INCAVI, saying that the impact of the drought will lead to a 10% reduction in production, the lack of rain is quite obvious just with the naked eye.

"The vine's first reaction is to fold its leaves," explains Enric Gil, a wine expert and one of the co-owners of the winery. "Its second one is to dry its leaves and lose some of them and, if the vine still has no water coming from rainfall or the land, its third reaction is to suck up the water in its grapes." 

Organic producers, such as the Celler Can Roda in the Alella wine region, are always the most concerned because the products they are allowed to use to protect their vines are mostly reduced to sulfur and 4 kilograms of copper a year. Yet, despite this meaning losing up to 10 or 20% of production, they are convinced that going organic is the future. 

"Consumers are betting on organic producers, especially in Europe, northern Europe," says Enric Bartra, a researcher and wine expert at the Catalan public institute for vine and wine, INCAVI.  

"There's big pressure from authorities in wine regions to go organic, but also an increasing awareness of vintners of what world we'll leave to our children," adds Gil. 

Both also argue that because rain is not that common in Catalonia's Mediterranean climate, vine disease is not as widespread, and organic farming guidelines are easier to follow. This is another reason why the eco-friendly industry is booming here.

"In 2000, there were 400 hectares of organic vineyards. Last year, there were 23,000 hectares, 50 times more," says Bartra.

Indeed, a boom in organic production is ongoing, because these 23,000 hectares already account for 44% of the total vineyards, 54,000 hectares, among the top figures in Europe – and almost half of the total amount of all organic crops in Catalonia are grapes. 

Only five years before, in 2015, the number of hectares used for organic wines was half, at 11,706 hectares, with roughly the same overall hectares where grapes were grown. 

Penedès was among the pioneers, and continues to be one of the leading wine regions in terms of organic production, explains Bartra, but for instance Alella aims to go completely eco soon.

82 million bottles of Catalan wines – not counting the sparkling cava ones – were sold last year, 39m of them in Catalonia and 23m outside Spain. But this is only one side of the business, the other being wine tourism, which is also booming.

"Catalonia has been growing wine for 2,000 years, so, this is undeniably culture. People ask for culture, and wine is culture," explains Gil. 

Wine tastings, breakfast or brunch among the vines, visits to cellars… The cultural offering is as broad as the different varieties of white, rosé or red wines in the country. 

Coinciding with the harvest, activities related to this alcoholic beverage are being held across Catalonia, with the September 4-5 weekend being the one with the most events scheduled.

Listen to the podcast below to learn more about the world of Catalan wines.