Thursday, September 30, 2021

Changing Vineyards

                   Photos Show the Devastation of the Glass Incident Fire on Wine Country
There's a lot of talk in wine circles today about climate change and how it is affecting vineyards and the types of wine grapes to be grown in the future. Climate change deniers are vocal and persistent but the evolving vineyard environment tells a different story.
Changes taking place in vineyards around the world is happening is nothing less than a revolution that bodes well for the wine consumer.
Environmental problems that have been affecting grape growing are numerous, but growers are finding ways to cope.  Smoke taint, once a rarity, is something that growers and winemakers deal with now almost every year.  Persistent drought dogs grape growers who are facing increasing competition with other farmers for evaporating supplies of water.  
These natural hazards  are mostly beyond the control of growers and winemakers, but many of them are are spending sleepless nights worrying about loosing a harvest. 
According to a flood of articles in the wine press, sustainable practices in the vineyard has surfaced as a positive answer to these persistent problems.  As I see it, growers and winemakers, in all major wine regions, are not just looking at sustainable vineyard practices, but are becoming pro-active about sustainability.  
In the near future, that means the types of wines you see at your local wine shop may be changing.   And the changes promise to be mind-boggling.  Imagine a different red wine from Bordeaux, made from grapes other than the Bordeaux five, that will cause a shift in the long-standing rules governing which grapes are legal in the Medoc or St. Emilion.
Here are highlights of just a few of the articles I have read recently.  Keep in mind, that grape growing and vineyard development are dynamic, so what you read here now may soon change. 

Sustainable growing:  This is more than just a buzz phrase.  Liz Thach reports in Forbes magazine that the Napa Valley has "Napa Green," a sustainable certification program addressing environmental stewardship.  Sonoma County has a "Climate Adaption Certification Program."

And there are similar sustainable growing programs elsewhere in California, as well as Chile, Portugal, Italy (with Europe's largest organic growing area), South Africa (where 95% of growers and vintners follow a sustainable program), and Washington state (where growers and winemakers have been dealing with smoke taint).
Smoke Taint: The topic of smoke taint has growers and vintners lining up on both sides of the argument.  Some say that vineyards close to large fires will have tainted grapes and thus tainted wine. Others are saying the claim is over blown and not as wide spread as reported in the media. 
Winemakers analyze grapes for effects of smoke taint from wildfires
Smoke taint on grapes
Meanwhile, the issue of smoke taint on grapes and in wine, has gone to court.  A Sonoma County grape grower has been denied by a Lake County judge to force a Lake Co. grower to release 45,000 gallons of wine alleged to be tainted by smoke from recent fires. (CHECK THIS)

Different grapes: No matter where one stands on the effects of smoke taint and the definition of sustainable grape growing, the undeniable fact is that these problems are forcing growers and vintners everywhere to look at different grapes that are better suited to handle the ravages of climate change. 
Hybrid grapes are getting a new look, especially in eastern U.S. vineyards.  In Vermont, vintners are applying the same care in the vineyard for hybrids as they do with Vitis vinifera, such as Marguette (a Pinot Noir hybrid), Louise Swenson and La Crescent, both white hybrids, plus Arendell and Rougeon.  
And the grape experiments are even happening in conservative Bordeaux, where growers are looking at different grapes, including once ignored hybrids. While climate change is impacting the growing of standard varieties (Cabernet, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.), hybrids and old, mostly forgotten, native grapes are proving to be more resistant to climate change.  

Bordeaux vintners have been running a test of 52 different varieties, selecting a small number, including the Portuguese Touriga Nacional red and white Alvarinho (Albarino in Spain).
Aside:  Touriga Nacional is Portugal's top red wine grape that shows its real character when combined with other grapes like Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Franca, Tinta Cao and others to make Port, the great fortified wine.  Rich in berry flavors, with a hint of pepper, Touriga Nacional can be aggressive, a fault that is tamed when blended with other grapes.
Elsewhere, in California, the tongue-twisting Greek grape Assyriko is being experimented with in the Lodi region and growers near Calistoga are making room for new varieties such as Touriga Nacional.

Concern on Santorini as Assyrtiko grape prices rocket - Decanter
Assyriko  grapes on a traditional vine
Vineyard experiments aside, reports are showing that wine output in France is predicted to be down by 29% for 2021, below the levels of 1991 and 2017, all three years hit by heavy spring frosts, and growers are wondering if this is due to climate change.  
A positive aspect of climate change is warming temperatures will allow grapes to come to full ripeness more often than just the one or two years out of a decade.  And while traditional wine grapes, especially in strict AOC ruled Bordeaux and Burgundy, will not disappear any time soon, changes in the vineyard are coming.  
To fight the impact of climate change, wineries are working toward zero carbon emissions, by incorporating such diverse practices as using horses in the vineyard instead of tractors and by using lighter-weight glass bottles in the winery. 
Change is good may be a tired cliche, but the changes taking place in the vineyards can only mean good choices for consumers in the future.  Stay tuned. 
Next blog: Wines of Israel   
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