La Vendimia

Lanzarote’s wine harvest is the earliest to take place in Europe, and early last month we took to the famous landscapes of La Geria to see how the grapes are harvested.

The harvest of grapes is such an important element of Spanish life that it has its own name – la vendimia. On Lanzarote, it’s an eagerly-awaited event, providing the raw material for one of the island’s oldest and most important products, as well as seasonal work for plenty of people.

Lanzarote is one of the warmest parts of Europe, which means that vines start to produce fruit earlier than anywhere on the continent. The grapes ripen through the early summer, and the harvest normally begins in mid-to-late July.

This year la vendimia started a little later. As many locals and tourists will have noticed, the weather in June and July this year has been noticeably cooler than in previous years – in fact there have been several days when heatwave-struck Britain and Ireland have beaten local temperatures here.

This “crazy weather”, as a local grape picker described it, has meant that the grapes took longer to ripen. In the traditional vine-growing area of La Geria, most were ready by early August, while others parts of the island had to wait even longer.

However, the weather hasn’t affected the volume of grapes. This year’s harvest is estimated to reach 3 million kilos – one of the largest in history, and wine experts have also stated that the grapes this year are of an exceptionally good quality.

As we drive along the LZ 30 road through La Geria, the first sign of activity we see is two men bending over rows of vines outside the Bodega la Florida. They tell us they’ve started work at 7 am, and are grateful for the cooler weather the early morning brings.

It looks like back-breaking work, but they’ve already stripped seven or eight rows of grapes, placing the fruit in yellow plastic crates that will later be taken to the bodega. I ask when they’ll be finished and the picker sweeps his hand over the landscape and says “We’ve got all these fields to do yet, but there’ll be a lot more of us tomorrow.”

La vendimia provides work for several locals in the summer, and although the work is tough, there’s always a communal atmosphere, plenty of socialising and the festive nature of Lanzarote is never too far from the surface.

Although mechanical harvesters are used elsewhere in the world, the unique nature of Lanzarote’s vineyards means that every single grape is picked by hand. This also allows pickers to keep an eye out for rotten or unripe grapes, which are discarded.

At Bodega La Geria, we watch grape pickers delivering pick-up trucks full of crates of grapes to the winery. The crates stack up before a specialised machine for washing the grapes is turned on. Huge amounts of grapes are washed in hot water, and each crate is heat-cleaned, as well, before returning to the fields.

Around the back of the bodega, several wooden barrels are standing alongside stacks of new, empty bottles. The barrels are for the increasingly excellent red wines of Lanzarote, which are classified according to how long they have been matured in barrels, and the bottles will receive the vintages from previous years. In front of the bodega we see the black listán negro grapes that are used for Lanzarote reds.

However, it’s the green malvasia grape that is Lanzarote’s main crop. Each vine can produce up to 25 kilos of grapes, which lie haphazardly on the volcanic picón beneath each vine. The foreman at La Geria hands us a freshly washed bunch, and they are superb – perfectly sweet and fragrant, and at just the right point of ripeness.

Outside, a workman is painting the pretty little church outside La Geria, preparing it the annual festival on August 15th when camels carry grapes back to the bodega to be crushed barefoot by visitors in the old-fashioned way.

On Lanzarote, the past is never too far from the present.

Growing Recognition
Lanzarote’s wines were recently awarded a special prize in the Island of Lanzarote Awards, announced by the Cabildo each year. Rafael Morales, President of the island’s Wine Regulating Council, expressed his gratitude for this accolade, saying “We believe our wines are a sign of the island’s identity and a local product that also promotes tourism. We should always highlight that these wines are created in a unique place, which brings visitors from the whole world.”

Lanzarote’s wines are, in the main, a local pleasure. Over 90% of bottles are sold in the Canaries, but the Wine Council has gradually been working to increase recognition of this unique industry abroad. Earlier this year, for example, Bodega La Geria’s 2017 dry malvasia and Bodegas Rubicón’s moscatel won a Gold Medal in the Small Denomination of Origin Awards in Madrid, while El Grifo bagged two gold medals at the Berlin Wine Trophy awards for its Listán Negro 2016 red and the unique Canari dessert wine, which replicates the popular export wines of the 17th and 18th century.