WINE experts across the Mediterranean have launched a crusade to protect native grape varieties.
Vineyards across Spain are being restructured at a rapid pace, as high-yielding varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay take over.
Fernando Martinez de Toda, a La Rioja-based agricultural engineer, first noticed the effect 25 years ago and launched a research project to protect native species.
“People were taking out lesser-known varieties to put in French varieties or better-known Spanish ones like tempranillo,” he said.
Since then, he estimates that his project has rescued 40 rare varieties of native grapes, through stashing and cultivating samples.
“People called us crazy, but we were losing varieties without even knowing what we were losing,” he said.
“We decided just to keep them somewhere and see if we could find a future use for them.”
Martinez’s team have introduced five varieties to La Rioja, certifying them for wine production in La Rioja’s denominacion de origen.
According to Martinez, it is one of the first times in the world that varieties had been authorised from a research project.
He continued: “When you use varieties that are native to the region, they have a completely different footprint.
“It’s an obligation that we have – we can’t deprive future generations of the varieties that made it all the way up until us.”