Given the severity of the recent hurricanes impacting the Caribbean and southern American states, one is lead to believe that things ain’t what they use to be.
The same, it appears, holds true for grape growers and wine makers around the world. In northern French grape-growing regions, for example, temperatures have averaged about 10 degrees higher over the last decade, according to a Vinfolio Wine post in 2015.
Another study suggests that by 2050, much of Italy and southern France may become unsuitable for wine grapes, and that California production by that time might drop by as much as 70 per cent. Others have suggested that there might be no wine made in the southern hemisphere by then.
I can understand the dilemma that Australian wine makers might face, though I don’t think that things would be as dire in parts of South America due to their ability to take advantage of cooler temperatures near the Andes; however, drought issues associated with loss of glacier and snow caps could impact significantly.
The impact of this temperature shift on Merlot in parts of France, Clive Coates M.W. reports, is that there is less acidity in the grapes at harvest, resulting in “a fruit bomb with no hard edges.” In addition to this problem, other issues in the vineyards include increased canopy growth, less fruit budding, vine root sickness and mold.
Canopy refers to the leaves that the vines put out, sheltering the fruit. The grapes, though, need the right amount of sunlight to ripen properly. The increased foliage needs to be thinned, and this requires more labour. Not only is this an added cost, it plays into another issue, available labour. The same applies for control of mold.
The hot weather is hard on labourers, and they need more frequent breaks during the day. In California, Science Daily in July said that there can be labour losses up to 27 per cent because of environmental heat impact on a labourer’s metabolic and cardiovascular systems. This is accompanied by about a 15 per cent decrease in the time a labourer can actually work.
The wild card in this is availability of labour. Agriculture in both the United States and Canada depends heavily on migrant workers. Many of these could be un-documented workers from Mexico. With the current American crackdown on undocumented aliens, the labour pool has dried up significantly. It affects Canada as those migrants normally would have to cross the U.S. in order to enter our country.
Coupled with the shrinking labour pool is competition in California for labour from another burgeoning industry – marijuana production. This is taking place, I understand, in air-conditioned green-houses, a far more congenial environment for workers, and the work itself is not nearly as strenuous.
In our vineyards in B.C’s Okanagan, another issue associated with climate change is the frequency and severity of forest fires. Loss of vines to fires would be one thing, but maybe even more troublesome is smoke taint. Smoke molecules can cling to grape skins, and can end up in the wine. The problem is that the taint might not be noticeable until months after the wine has been made. As I understand, there is no treatment currently to eliminate the taint, and by the time it has been detected the lost investment of time and money can be quite significant.
Climate change is much more than a temperature rise. Severity of storms and freakish weather incidents are part of the package. This year in July, huge hailstorms decimated much of the crop in the Beaujolais region. It is getting hard to predict what Mother Nature is going to throw at you.
I would imagine that schools with viticultural programs are already hard at work trying to cultivate clones of noble grapes and new hybrids that will perform well with the changing climate realities.
We are already finding an up-tick in vineyards in regions of Ontario and Michigan where previously grapes were not part of the agricultural picture because they were too cold. Will Georgian Bay and the western shore of Lake Ontario be the next new appellations for quality wines? As Fat Waller famously said, “one never knows, do one…”
Limited Time Offers until October 8
Every month, the LCBO presents a number of products at a reduced price. Many of the wines tend to re-cycle, coming up every few months. Here are some that I think are worth considering, some from Vintages and others from the regular list.
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Chardonnay, $13.65, ($2.50 off) Very decently priced, this is a good and consistent Australian chardonnay offering sound varietal character, some butter, a touch of oak, apple and nectarine. Roast chicken or baked salmon, bring it on.
Gustave Lorentz Reserve Pinot Blanc, 2015, $15.95 ($2 off) From Alsace, this is a clean white wine with decent complexity, it is crisp and balanced and is a good match for shellfish.
Flat Rock Manor Pinot Grigio 2017, $11.95. While it isn’t an LTO, there is good value with a wine on the general list from a property that has been in existence in South Africa’s Stellenbosch since the 1700’s. At the price, we mightn’t have high expectations, but we would be quite pleased with this effort which has been enhanced with a dollop of Sauvignon Blanc and a dash of Chenin Blanc. It has the acidity one expects with Pinot Grigio, but it also has a lovely density and silkiness on the palate which makes it a pleasure to drink. With citrus, stone fruit and melon notes, it makes for a fine aperitivo or accompaniment to lighter or creamy main courses.
Terra Vega Carmenère, $8.90 ($1 off). This is a sleeper! A kosher wine from Chile in the Vintages section, this wine has loads of dark fruit with hints of licorice, leather and toast. Expect good length and spice on the finish.
Beringer Founders Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $15.55 ($3 off). From California, this red wine pushes the edge in terms of sweetness with 10 grams of sugar per litre, but it is quite popular. Plump and smooth, the blackberry/dark cherry fruit is reined in on the finish with good tannin and adequate acidity.
Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz 2015, $16.95 ($3 off) From Australia’s Clare Valley, this has won several gold medals and displays wild berry, dark cherry and oak with the bright fruit off-set by fine tannins on the finish.
Sandbanks Sleeping Giant Foch Baco Noir, $17.95, ($2 0ff) At one point, Marechal Foch and Baco Noir were more widely found in Ontario, before the wineries were able and willing to plant and master the traditional noble French varietals. The hybrids could handle our winters, and these two, in fact, make very good wine. Plum and vanilla along with a dark cherry ripeness may be noted, in a wine that is both tart and ultimately smooth. Fire up the grill and give this one a test drive with your barbecued ribs.
September 20 Vintages Release
Domaine Bellevue Touraine Sauvignon 2016, $14.95, earned gold at the Sauvignon competition in France. Grapefruit and lime are clearly noted, and it cries out for fish or Camembert.
Gorgo San Michelin Custoza 2015, $15.95, from Italy’s Veneto is a high-flyer, selected for both Lufthansa and American Airlines business class, and boasts a Decanter 94. Decanter refers to peach, lychee, lime, and lemon peel on the nose, a “viscous and concentrated mouthfeel”, grapefruit and sage on the palate, and a “long tangy and exotic mouthfeel”. Try it.
Cave Spring Cellars Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2015, $16.95, is a delicious output of an aromatic chardonnay clone, and winealign.com rated it 90, describing it as “floral, elegant, and restrained with green banana, peach and vanilla.”
Auntsfield Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, $20.95. Hold on to your hats, SB lovers, as this New Zealand example received an astonishing 98 from Decanter in a group blind tasting – “weighty with quite intense… gooseberry and nectarine flavours [and] impressive purity and length.” If this is your go-to grape, how can you resist?
Man Family Skaapveld Shiraz 2015, $13.95. Neal Martin of robertparker.com liked this South African red well enough to give it a 90, noting that it has seen 12 months in oak, 50 per cent used, and that it is balanced and integrated with dark berry fruit showing through the “supple tannins”. While the John Platter guide suggests early drinking, Martin thinks it should perform well over the next few years.
Tarima Monastrell 2015, $14.95, also has “Parker Approval”. Monastrell is the Spanish name for what goes by Mourvèdre in France. Giving it a 91, Parker says it is “rich dense and Provençal in its flavor components” with an “expansive heady mouthfeel… a big time winner in the values sweepstakes.”
Pratesi Locorosso 2014, $15.95, is a 100 per cent Tuscan Sangiovese, exhibiting freshness, pepper black raspberry and orange rind, according to wine.com (87) and sporting a 90 from the Wine Spectator, which calls it “fresh and accessible”,
Kaiken Las Rocas Ultra Malbec, 2015, $19.95, is a re-release, first appearing back in July. Natalie Maclean called it “supple and delicious”, and her site noted plums, fresh herbs and spice. (92)
Compare the previous wine with Trapiche Gran Medalla Malbec 2013, $24.95, which garnered 95 at the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards. “A fantastic palate slightly over-extracted but sensationally vibrant with a velvety texture and a plethora of black fruits and violets.”
The comparison will give you an insight into how different critics judge, and may help you to decide which ones assessments are in line with your own tastes.