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Climate change forcing Spanish winemakers to head to higher ground to produce UK favourite Rioja reds

Ms Pérez, viticulture director for Bodegas Queirón, is worried about the 2022 vintage after a blisteringly hot summer she says has affected insect and plant life and could interrupt the ripening of grapes.

“We can talk all we like about sustainability, but what good does it do if we don’t keep new generations living and working the land and vineyards here in Quel,” said Ms Pérez, who is overseeing a move to 100 per cent organic production and using straw waste from local mushroom farmers as fertiliser.

In the opposite, northwestern, end of the Rioja wine region, under the rugged peaks of the Cantabrian mountain range, Ohio-born Melanie Hickman is as concerned about her bees dying from the stifling heat as the award-winning wine she and her Basque husband David Sampedro make using strictly organic and biodynamic methods in the village of Elvillar.

The idea is to make great reds and whites but with a low carbon impact. The Bhilar winery and their family home are off the power grid, with all their own electricity coming from solar panels, a wind turbine and a storage battery.

The couple are also moving upwards in altitude, buying up old vineyards and nursing the soil back to life with the use of three Breton draught horses.

Their constellation of tiny vineyards all have a mix of vines, from graciano to grenache, and are surrounded by herbaceous shrubs and almost-forgotten fruit trees, such as the dry-plain peach, which Ms Hicks may start selling to gourmet chefs.

“We’re showing another side of La Rioja, taking all the chemicals out and allowing simplicity and improvisation in, as we do in the winery too. Biodiversity is everything; so we’re adding as many layers as we can.”


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