Welcome to Castilla-La Mancha
Sun, Cervantes and sandstone
Photo: Juan Mayobre
Wednesday 27 April 2022
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What comes to mind when someone says Castilla-La Mancha? You’ll probably know it’s a region in Spain – and then you might dredge your memory and come up with Don Quixote, Cervantes’s eponymous character, who spent much of his time in the region tilting at windmills.
But did you know about its wines too? You rarely seem to come across them unless you really look for them. You might almost call it a quixotic search.
However, Castilla-La Mancha is the largest delimited wine region (PDO – Protected Designation of Origin) in Europe. In 2020, its vineyards extended to 154,344 ha of vines, mostly grown as low bushes among the famous windmills dotting the landscape.
By contrast, the entire vineyard hectarage of South Africa is a mere 122,000 ha, and in Australia, it is 146,000 ha. We have heard little of La Mancha because the yield of this region is small – just 8.7 hl/ha in 2020 (Australia: 75.2 hl/ha). This is due to geography and climate.
Historically, from the 8th to the 15th centuries, under ‘Moorish’ rule, this region was known as al-mansha, meaning ‘parched earth’. In other words, this is an arid landscape. Rainfall is unreliable – ca. 300 to 400mm p/a (UK: 885mm p/a), and vines have to work hard to find water.
What is more, the planting density is low, with between 1,000 to 3,300 vines/ha, depending on whether the vines are trained as low bushes or on trellises. The average European figure is 10,000 vines/ha.
The region’s altitude of some 650m above sea level also plays a part. It mitigates high summer daytime temperatures, but nocturnal temperatures can plummet. The daily temperature range in summer can be between 15 and 40° C. Winters bring sub-zero temperatures and frequent frosts.
But sunshine is plentiful, so grapes ripen easily. On account of low humidity, fungal diseases are practically unknown.
Despite all these apparent ‘drawbacks’, wine production is flourishing here; and this is something that Don Quixote would certainly salute!
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