Development of the growth cycle.
Riojan vineyards developed well throughout the 2004 vintage growth cycle thanks to the weather which was suitable for obtaining a high quality harvest. Abundant rain and snow during the winter was followed by increased precipitation around and during budburst, ensuring the vines would have all their water needs covered throughout the year.
The growth cycle began late due to cold temperatures in March, April and the first half of May. However, it increased in speed after this, making up for lost time. This year the vineyards in Rioja were not affected by frosts. The monitoring of reference vineyards by the Control Board's Technical Services began in late April. Budburst was very good, with 100% of primary buds breaking and abundant secondary budding requiring sucker removal. Fertility was also satisfactory, with figures between 1.2 and 1.8 clusters per shoot for red grape varieties and slightly less for Viura vines. Setting concluded by late June; satisfactorily for Tempranillo, Graciano, Mazuelo and Viura, and more irregularly for Garnacha.
Canopy development in most vineyards was good by early summer, with abundant foliage in fine health. The plants evolved satisfactorily through July; temperatures were suitable and there were no major incidents of pests or diseases. Scattered thunderstorms throughout the region brought additional water, contributing to the vine's healthy state, although in August, the humidity resulted excessive in some cases, causing some outbreaks of mildew and botrytis, particularly in younger plants. However, this was not significant for vine development. The most serious occurrence was a hailstorm on 2 and 3 August, which affected a total of 1,250 hectares in various municipalities of the Central Rioja and Upper Najerilla areas.
Veraison began during the first week of August, with temperatures below normal and marked differences between day and night, resulting in slower ripening and a delay of two to three weeks in the growth cycle. By the end of August, the vines showed good growth and health and ripening parameters were evolving very favourably. Rain showers between 1 and 10 September throughout the region accompanied by high temperatures and muggy weather caused some outbreaks of botrytis, which affected vineyards irregularly depending on soil type, orientation, grape variety, training system, cultural practices, canopy development and treatments.
A period of exceptionally good weather began on 11 September and lasted until the end of harvest; it was dominated by sunny days with moderate temperatures and cool nights prompted by northerly and north-westerly winds. This type of weather is perfect for the vines' health as botrytis infections dry out and the grapes ripen very well, although the ripening process was slow and somewhat irregular. Vineyards tended with traditional practices, moderate production levels, good ventilation and good canopy development progressed very nicely and offered good quality potential. In vineyards with higher yields, cluster thinning was carried out to improve growth.
A selective harvest with exceptional weather.
The first grapes were picked on 6 September, although the harvest proper began on 15 September in Rioja Baja, slowly spreading upriver throughout the region. By mid-October the harvest was in full swing in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and the last grapes were picked on 9 November. The areas most affected by hail and excessive rain were not in very good condition but selective harvesting ensured that the grapes arriving at the bodega enjoyed excellent health, with colour and alcohol potential figures very suitable for ageing.
The irregular ripening of clusters required selective harvesting and much patience in order to optimise the quality of the vintage. The good weather permitted staggered picking and enabled grape growers to spread the harvest over up to one month in some municipalities. The number of clusters picked in boxes and selected on selection tables also increased significantly this year.
During the first part of the harvest, the grapes had moderate levels of alcohol potential and colour, therefore the resulting wines will be more suitable for selling young. However, most of the grapes that came in after that were very healthy with good alcohol potential and good concentration of colouring matter and aromatic compounds, so they will undoubtedly produce very high quality wines that will be ideal for ageing.