• Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    by L. J. Johnson-Bell
  • Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Home Cellar Guide Hb
    Home Cellar Guide Hb
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Great Wine Tours of the World
    Great Wine Tours of the World
    Barnes and Noble Books
  • The Wine Collector's Handbook
    The Wine Collector's Handbook
    by Linda Johnson
  • De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    by Johnson-Bell Linda

  • Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match


The Secret in the Vineyards is Out ...


The Secret Is Out
As recently as five years ago, if I were on a press trip and I or one of my colleagues brought up the topic of climate change, our questions were ignored and glossed over. But during my most recent vineyard visits, it has been the winemakers who bring the topic up. This could be simply because they no longer have any choice. The evidence is so physically visible. We are walking among shriveled vines and parched soils. The screaming headlines after the 2012 harvests alerted us to the fact that Europe is experiencing its worst grape harvest in fifty years. But for those of us who have been judging wines and visiting vineyards for twenty years (and more), this is not news. NASA reports that the year 2012 was the ninth warmest in their analysis of global temperatures that stretches back to 1880. In itself, that sounds fairly unremarkable, they remark. But as climate scientists note, what’s important is the long-term trend. The 10 hottest years in the 132-year record have all occurred since 1998, and 9 of the 10 have occurred since 2002.
“What matters is, this decade is warmer than the last decade, and that decade was warmer than the decade before,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “The planet is warming.” This is manifested in the fact that, for example, Bordeaux’s alcohol content has been creeping higher and higher for years now, due both to a desire to emulate the high-alcoholic (heat-induced) Napa wines so beloved by the American wine critics, and to having fallen victim to Mother Nature’s unwittingly ironic plan to do it for them.
The New World wine regions of California, Australia, New Zealand, and South America have already been experiencing problems for much longer. These countries do not have indigenous grape varieties. The Vitis vinifera species was brought to them via the Europeans. Purists are perfectly entitled to argue that trying to grow grapes in a non-indigenous climate and soil was always going to end in tears. Australia is losing vineyards to extreme drought and rain conditions and has been producing hot, heavy, over-extracted brews for decades. Even allowing for natural variability, when paired with climate change, climate records get broken (Karl Braganza, A Land of More Extreme Droughts and Flooding Rains?, 2012).
But now, as the Cabernet-colored heart of our fine wine regions in Europe is finally hit, the issue has become mainstream and is no longer the preserve of the eccentric or scholarly few. The world is paying attention. It was acknowledged in the French press as early (or as late!) as 2003 that an unprecedented summer heat wave devastated the European wine production, which hit a ten-year low in crop yields. France suffered a loss of billions of euros. While the warming of the climate of Bordeaux, and other “then” cool-climate regions, in the second half of the twentieth century was welcomed for allowing more consistently ripe harvests and maturation, now the changes have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction and the effects are anything but favorable.
Winemakers warned that the increasing number of hot days during floraison (the fruit’s flowering season) speeds grape ripening, but not necessarily its maturation. These are two different things. This means a longer growing season and earlier harvest, which correlates with lower yields and poorer-quality grapes. Usually, low yields are considered a sign of wine quality; keeping yields down is a practice quality winemakers employ. Low yields are a good thing when they are a product of perfect climate conditions and expert vineyard practices. But when yields are rendered low due to extreme heat, drought, disease, rain, or hail, the fruit can be distressed or over-concentrated. This translates into unbalanced wines, wines whose longevity is compromised - that are not worth cellaring. But as the modern consumer no longer buys wine to cellar but for immediate comsumption, longevity is a quality only sought after by the wine investors, for whom wine is a commodity.



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