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Bierzo producer launches campaign to save old vines

Published:  29 April, 2024

For star Spanish producer Raul Perez, who’s done much to put Bierzo on the map of wine, the key to production has always been the use of field blends of old vines, bringing depth and consistency to wines.

But now old vines, which account for much of Bierzo’s viticultural landscape, are under the threat of being grubbed-up, with growers abandoning them due to bureaucratic regulation.

Nacho León, a leading artisanal organic producer and owner of Demencia Wine, and colleague of Perez, says as many as 500 hectares of old vines could be wiped out, unless they become officially registered in Spain’s regional Registro Viticola, REVI.

In a bid to salvage Bierzo’s viticultural heritage in northwest Spain, León has launched a new campaign backed by the Bierzo DO’s regulatory council, and dozens of growers including Raul Perez.

It includes a petition called Save Bierzo’s Old Vines, which since 10 April, has gained more than 5,000 signatures.

Growers, many of whom are elderly, have received letters this year from the regional government of Castilla y León encouraging them to grub up old vines.

León said that growers had been threatened with fines unless they comply with current EU legislation. He said the regional government should have registered all vineyards when they were planted; many of them do not appear in the viticulture registry making their regularisation impossible.

In Bierzo, old vines of Mencia, Godello, Alicante Bouschet, Palomino, Bastarda, Malvasia and Dona Blanca, many of which are more than 70 years old, are typically grown in minifundio (small, family-owned holdings).

The transmission and regulation of property and the lease of these vineyards were often historically made using verbal contracts, without requiring both parties to formalise written contracts or other conditions.

Under EU’s vineyard restructuring programme, the Spanish government, and local authorities, receive funds which are made available to growers to replace low yielding, old vines with more productive vertical shooting positioning vines.

León said talks this month with Castilla y León’s agriculture department, run by Spain’s far-right Vox party, had led nowhere.

“There is a lack of political will to save old vines. The ship is sinking, but that said, our campaign is gathering momentum,” León told Harpers.

“We urge the Castilla y León regional government to official register Bierzo’s old vines in the viticultural registry (REVI), and for them to put an end to needless bureaucratic procedures placed on growers.”

“Bierzo’s old vines have been preserved for more than a century by tradition, and the love and efforts of winegrowers and families. We must conserve Bierzo’s unique genetic wine heritage.”

Harpers is running an in-depth piece looking into the wealth of old vines across the winemaking world in our May print and digital issues.