Development of the growth cycle.
Riojan vineyards developed well throughout the 2005 harvest growth cycle, thanks to the weather which, on the whole, was favourable for obtaining top quality grapes. Special mention should be made of the excellent health of all grape varieties.
The previous growth cycle ended with good augusting, an absence of frost and scarce rainfall. The dormant period was characterised by scant rainfall and moderate snow throughout the region and rain continued to be scarce during the months leading up to budburst which was good and occurred at the normal dates for Rioja, some 7 to 10 days earlier than in 2004. In late April, the Control Board Technical Services commenced monitoring reference vineyards and observed 100% budding of primary buds. Fertility was also satisfactory, with figures between 1.2 and 1.6 clusters per bud for red grape varieties and slightly less for Viura grapes.
Setting was complete throughout the region by mid-June, with good canopies and health indicators, remaining about 10 days ahead of the previous year. In general terms, the Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and Viura grapes set quite well, while the Garnacha tended to be more irregular, with significant coulure. A year-to-year comparison of the 110 reference vineyards showed greater irregularity and fewer clusters per vine in Rioja Baja and Rioja Alta with similar figures for Rioja Alavesa. The Mazuelo plants had a high number of clusters, and so did the Garnacha, although cluster development was more uneven. Cluster size in Rioja Alavesa was similar to last year's, smaller in Rioja Baja and variable in Rioja Alta.
Despite moderate figures until the end of the setting period, rainfall was well distributed in 2005 and water requirements were covered throughout the budding and setting stages. In June, a significant number of thunderstorms dispersed throughout the region contributed substantial amounts of water. However, in the ensuing stages, the vines require a considerable quantity of water and July was particularly dry. In spite of this, by the end of the month the plants were in good health and canopy development was moderate but well-balanced. Although rainfall figures were lower than normal from January onwards, the level of water stress was acceptable, only having a significant effect in some vineyards on dryer plots with light soils. These suffered from moderate basal defoliation. Irrigation was forbidden from 1 August in Rioja Baja and 8 August in the rest of the Designation.
Veraison took place normally from mid-July with the growth cycle continuing to be 10 days ahead of schedule compared to 2004, although within normal figures for the region. According to the conclusions of the first Ripening Survey carried out by the Control Board on 22 August, the general condition of the vineyards was excellent, both in terms of canopy development and with regard to plant health, while the ripening process evolved correctly and within the normal schedule for the Region.
Harvest began in isolated spots in the easternmost part of Rioja during the first days of September but it was slowed down in view of the excellent state of the vines and grapes and of moderate daytime temperatures and cool nights, which propitiate slower sugar formation and better phenolic development -an ideal situation from a quality perspective. The harvest became widespread in Rioja Baja from 17 September, while white grapes began to be picked in the central area. Good weather accompanied the beginning of red grape harvest in Rioja Alta and Alavesa during the last week of September. With about 10% to 15% of grapes still unpicked, a rainy period beginning on 12 October posed difficulties for the end of the harvest and affected the weight and characteristics of the grapes.
After almost two months -which is normal for Rioja- the last grapes of the 2005 harvest were picked on 29 October. The results were more than satisfactory, as the grapes arrived at the bodegas in excellent health and with analytical parameters that correspond to an extraordinary quality. This was the Control Board's opinion, and it corroborated the impressions of most technicians in the industry with regard to the magnificent quality expectations for the wine made from this harvest.
The 2005 harvest has not only been generous with respect to quality, but also from a quantitative point of view. During the 2005 harvest, there were a total of 59,309 hectares in production (54,632 planted with red grape varieties and 4,677 hectares with white), an increase of 1,172 hectares with respect to the previous year. The vineyards produced a harvest volume of 444.74 million kilograms of grapes, of which a total of 397.20 million kg will be protected by the Designation, in accordance with maximum allowable yields (6,500 kg per hectare for red grapes and 9,500 kg per hectare for white grapes) set by the Control Board for this harvest. Maximum allowable yields are set to meet optimum quality objectives -one of the basic strategies of the Designation. This year, the Control Board Technical Services confirmed the compliance of grape growers in applying the most suitable growing techniques to attain this objective, such as the removal of clusters during veraison ("green pruning" or "cluster thinning") in many plots. Taking into account that approved grape-wine yields are set at a maximum of 70%, the volume of approved wine for the 2005 vintage will be about 280 million litres.