Heavy rains hurt vineyards

This summer’s unprecedentedly heavy rains have wrought havoc on vineyards. Drinkers will have to console themselves with fine wines from earlier years, because this year’s vintage in many areas will not be of high quality. The same goes for other European wines from areas also affected by exceptional weather conditions. Producers are striving to save what has survived, and Greek wine production may be subject to tinkering unless strict controls are imposed. A hard year This has been a difficult year. A winter freeze destroyed vineyards, chiefly in Tyrnavos. Continuous rain caused high humidity, which favored the development of fungal diseases. This led to increased spraying with chemicals to stop fungal rot. «Normal weather conditions in Greece are such that vineyards don’t need a lot of spraying but this year they needed it,» says oenologist Panos Zoumboulis. But repeated spraying harms the must and the yeasts don’t function properly to make wine. The rains of August, which occurred just as the grapes were ripening, caused more problems. «Grapes need specific humidity. If it rains shortly before the grapes mature, they absorb moisture, lowering their sugar content and consequently the level of alcohol,» agriculturalist Ilias Kantaros told Kathimerini. In order to raise the alcohol level, winemakers add concentrated must, a process which is permitted by law. Many steps can be taken to ensure that a wine is not significantly different from other, better vintages. But as one expert, who prefers to remain anonymous, says, «No matter how good your machines are, if the raw materials are no good, the wine will be mediocre.» Winemaker, oenologist and chemist Yiannis Boutaris says this year will be «a very average year but the quality of the wine should be all right. How a vineyard reacts is the result of its condition before the rain. When a vineyard has suffered from overcultivation – frequent watering to boost production and large quantities of nitrogen fertilizers – naturally it is vulnerable to diseases and damp.» No grape harvest at all Many winegrowers from the Nemea Wine Producers’ Cooperative have decided not to harvest their vines at all, but Boutaris and many other producers consider this to be a mistake. «A vineyard isn’t like a cotton crop, where you pull out the whole crop if you have a disaster and sow another one the next year.» Members of the Greek Wine League (SEO) who operate in the Nemea area have opposed the cooperative’s decision, saying they have harvested their vineyards selectively, so that there will be some Nemea wine, even though the quantity will be small. D. Papanikolaou, deputy director of the Nemea cooperative, believes this is a praiseworthy effort, but says the fact that 17 private wineries in the area are still closed shows the extent of the damage. SEO President Nondas Spyropoulos agrees that efforts to save at least a small part of the produce should not be abandoned: «You mustn’t give up in a difficult year. You have to go to the vineyard and take whatever produce it can yield.»