Friday, 11 May 2018

10.5.18 Growers warn Bodegas: Pay Now for Quality or there will be No Grapes

Francisco Guerrero, the president of the independent growers’ association Asevi, has used these powerful words to express the growers’ frustration, indeed desperation, at low grape prices and almost zero profitability. There is no investment and both machinery and vines are ageing. “The bodegas need to realise now that independent growers are in danger of extinction. We have always looked after the vineyards and if they continue to delay payments, they will be left with no grapes while demand is increasing for other uses such as Sherry casks for the Whisky trade”.

The growers are complaining bitterly about the long established system of paying for grapes per kilo instead of for quality. The bodegas don’t want to change this as it is cheaper for them, especially with the resurgence in Sherry which is closely linked to the differentiation of pagos as the maximum expression of quality. Until now all the grapes were mixed regardless of the pago of origin or terroir, but some bodegas are now pushing for differentiation of pagos, although they are reluctant to pay more for the grapes, the only way to achieve classification by area, since the cooperatives mix all the grapes which arrive irrespective of the pago or terroir from which they come.

Asevi has asked the Consejo Regulador to define the quality of the grapes so they can be classified, but not in terms of sugar content, which is done elsewhere in Spain, “but which wouldn’t work here”, but in terms of other parameters such as the soil and climate which have been widely studied and would serve as guidelines.

Francisco Guerrero (centre left) foto:diariodejerez

Up till now, attempts by the independent growers to get the bodegas on side have failed. “We raised with Fedejerez the need to make the vineyards profitable. Some vineyards have incorporated new cultivation techniques which offer higher sugar levels, like in Balbaina where they are historically low but are now up from 11° to 13° Beaumé, which saves the bodegas money on alcohol, but no benefit has filtered down to the growers. Guerrero recalled that since the National Competition Commission ruled on grape prices in the area a few years ago, imposing heavy fines on many bodegas, “the growers have been obliged to negotiate prices individually, and they thus have a lot to lose as the bodegas are squeezing them and grapes are perishable”.

“We are very worried; the state of the vineyards is constantly getting worse and only the minimum possible is being done so as to reduce costs, and that shortens the useful life of the vineyard, which is also suffering from mechanised harvesting” complains Guerrero, who claims that a vineyard’s useful life has been halved from 50-60 years before to 25-30 years now, reducing growers’ margins further. He says that pessimism is growing that vineyards will be abandoned and growers will leave, and so the possibility of them joining cooperatives or joining together has been raised, and that is something which would give them more power against the bodegas given that between the independent growers they own some 2,500 hectares of vineyard out of the slightly over 6,500.

The recuperation of old traditions of the area, such as unfortified wines or using overripe grapes offer a sliver of hope since these are more expensive wines which would translate into better prices for the growers. But time is running against the interests of the growers who blame the boom of the 1970s and 1980s for doing much damage, not to mention the oenologists who decided that wine should be made in the bodega and the source of the grapes was irrelevant. Although nowadays it is no longer like that, and the terroir is regaining importance, in practice the growers are still not seeing any benefit from the recovery of Sherry and its prestige of old.

In fact, as Guerrero points out, many growers have turned to planting table wine grapes like Tintilla for Vinos de la Tierra de Cádiz and winemakers can’t get enough of them at much higher prices than Palomino which, he says has lost 40% of its price over the last 20 years.

This report by A Espejo appeared in yesterday's Diario de Jerez

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