History of the Wine Industry in Spain

Firmly rooted in tradition and steeped in history but at the same time modern and vibrant, Spain is a study in contrasts. Whether it is climate, culture or geography, Spain offers spectacular variety.

From rustic to refined, traditional to innovative, red, white, sparkling and fortified, the wines of Spain along with her legendary cuisine, friendly people and spellbinding natural beauty have something very special to offer visitors. A wine vacation in sunny Spain is a feast for the senses you will never forget.

History of Spanish Wine

The history of wine in Spain is so old that no one really knows who first brought vines to the area. By the time the Phoenicians arrived some 3,000 years ago and founded what are now the cities of Cadiz and Jerez, viticulture was well established and Spanish wines became widely traded throughout the Mediterranean and North Africa.

When the Romans conquered Spain they brought new winemaking methods and styles but when Rome fell and various tribes invaded, winemaking suffered until the Visigoths arrived. A new blow came with the 8th-century invasion of the Arabs and their religious ban on alcohol. But wine continued to be produced and in the Middle Ages it flourished with the rise of Catholicism.

In the 19th century the vine louse phylloxera began to destroy all of the vines in Northern Europe. Winemakers from France crossed the Pyrenees Mountains bringing with them new grape varieties and modern techniques. By the time phylloxera reached Spain, the discovery that American rootstock was immune and could be grafted onto European vines resulted in less damage to Spanish vineyards.

The first half of the 20th century left Spain wracked by war and economic disruption. Since the 1950’s Spain’s winemakers have worked steadily to improve quality and with their entry into the European Union, new legal standards for wine were put in place. Today, a new generation of winemakers have quietly begun crafting spectacular wines and experimenting with varietals that would have been unthinkable only a short time ago. Wine remains an important commodity and an integral part of Spanish culture.

Spain Wine Production

Spain is a large country geographically and has more acreage under grape cultivation than any other country in the world although many vineyards are low-yielding. Overall it is 3rd largest in terms of world-wide wine production.

Wine grapes are grown throughout every region of the country with Castilla-La Mancha having nearly half of the planted acreage, followed by Extremadura, Valencia, Castilla-Leon, Catalonia, Murcia, and Rioja. About two-thirds of all wines produced in Spain are table wines with about one-third comprising high-quality wines that follow the European production model.

Red wines outnumber whites just slightly in terms of volume but are far more notable. The most widely planted varietals are Arien, Tempranillo, Bobal, Garnacha, Monastrell, Pardina, Macabeo and Palomino. Although excellent wines are made throughout Spain, some of the most famous regions include Rioja for Tempranillo based wines, Jerez for Sherry, the Penedes for the sparkling wine known as Cava, Ribera del Duero for Tempranillo blends and Priorat for Garnacha (Grenache).