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Grape harvest begins but the future is uncertain

Conditions are difficult for pickers who work on steep slopes.
Conditions are difficult for pickers who work on steep slopes. / E. Cabezas
  • Local wine producers expect to pick four million kilos of grapes, but lack of business in the restaurant trade is likely to affect sales and they may be forced to seek new markets abroad

Bernardo, Salvador, Pepe, Francisco and Paco form one of the teams of grape-pickers who, between now and October, will be harvesting the 110,000 kilos of grapes which are expected this year for the A. Muñoz Cabrera (Dimobe) winery in Moclinejo, a company founded in 1927 which produces around 30 wines under the Malaga and Sierras de Malaga denominations of origin.

When the weather is very hot here, in the heart of La Axarquía region of Malaga, the mask to safeguard against Covid-19 becomes really uncomfortable and the workers say it is "horrible" to have to wear one for more than eight hours of hard labour.

On slopes as steep as 45 degrees, which are difficult to climb even for the donkeys and mules they use to transport the harvest, these men use great care and skill to pick the Muscat of Alexandria grapes in a year which is marked by uncertainty for the Malaga wine-producing sector because of the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, the drop in sales to bars and restaurants has led to fears of lower prices, because of the difficulties in selling the wines.

"For the moment we are harvesting well and bottling wines from previous years, but it is true that the market is pretty stagnant. Our only alternative is to try to sell more elsewhere," says Juan Muñoz, the grandson of the original founder of this bodega in La Axarquía.

In recent weeks they have managed to agree the sale of 480 cases to Taiwan and 120 to the USA, "although our strongest market is usually Malaga province and parts of Andalucía," says Muñoz, sounding concerned.

Despite the unpromising scenario he, together with his brother Antonio and his sons, are still "excited" about their new wine projects, such as the Tartratos, the first sparkling Moscatel produced by the 'brut nature' method, which they launched on to the market for the first time in 2015. This year Dimobe hopes to produce a total of 130,000 bottles, while with Viñedos Verticales, the firm he has created with Valencian enologist Vicente Inat, they hope to put 30,000 bottles on the market.

uan Muñoz, in the Muñoz Cabrera family museum in Moclinejo, with one of the items on display.

uan Muñoz, in the Muñoz Cabrera family museum in Moclinejo, with one of the items on display. / E. C.

On the 36 hectares which are owned by 29 wine producers in total, the Muñoz Cabrera family grows other varieties of grape as well as the Muscat of Alexandria, including Romé and Pedro Ximenez. "This part of the La Indiana area is where the phylloxera plague began at the end of the 19th century, and in just a few years all the vines had been lost. Let's just hope the coronavirus pandemic doesn't ruin the Malaga wineries of today," says Juan Muñoz, sadly.

For now, the heat does not appear to have affected the quality or quantity of the grapes for the Malaga, Sierras de Malaga and Pasas de Malaga denominations of origin. The growers say they expect the quality to be good or very good, and a production of around four million kilos.

Calendar

The grape harvest began almost in unison in the Norte, Axarquía and Montes areas on 27, 28 and 29 July, picking the Morisco, Alexandria and Merlot varieties respectively. These were the usual dates for the harvest to start, and not significantly early compared with previous campaigns.

According to a statement from the regulatory council for these denominations of origin, Manilva will begin harvesting its grapes this week, and producers in the Serranía de Ronda are expecting to start picking the earliest varieties before the end of August.

Up until the end of July there had not been any weather incidents which were likely to have a direct effect on the harvest. The average temperature in Malaga was slightly higher than usual but not significantly so, and despite the heatwaves which followed soon after, there do not appear to have been any negative effects.

From now on it will depend on the temperatures and how long the heat lasts. The range of daily temperatures is most decisive for the grapes at this stage, but at present these appear to be normal.

With regard to rainfall, this has been slightly lower overall since last autumn although during the winter and in the spring it was slightly above average. So far, the amount of rain has been positive for the wine producers and their grapes and they are keeping their fingers firmly crossed.