What climate change really means for the wine industry

While the shifts in weather patterns has meant warmer weather in England, much to the delight of vineyard owners, winemakers from California to Bordeaux are struggling with climate change.

This summer’s heatwave has resulted in much media coverage of the UK wine industry’s rise, due to bigger crops and better vintages. However, the impact of climate change on the industry as whole is much wider and more complex than some excellent bumper vintages in the south of England.

Future unsure

Realistically, the ramifications of climate change won’t necessarily make the UK better than anywhere else to grow vineyards. The problem comes with the erratic weather patterns and unpredictability of temperatures and conditions.

Hurricanes, floods, unseasonal drought and early frosts all damage vineyards and make life much more difficult for the winemaker. All winemakers are extremely attuned to the smallest changes in the weather and the likely affect on their crops. The changes in weather patterns over recent years can be traced through the wines themselves, and it’s something that has been worrying winemakers for many years now. With every heatwave and record-breaking hot summer, the viability of maintaining vast hectares of the wine making world is increasingly called into question.

More alcoholic

Grapes are accumulating higher levels of sugar (which then becomes alcohol on fermentation) much faster than they used to. This leads to problems with quality and style of wine. Winemakers need to decide whether they harvest much earlier, which will mean they retain acceptable levels of alcohol at the cost of complexity and depth or do they produce wines with extremely high levels of alcohol that might be undrinkable.

When the weather is hot, the vintage is earlier and whether grape varieties, the location of vineyards, the irrigation needed and everything else involved will allow wines to be produced in the future to the same quality and quantity as we enjoy now is something that many experts are worrying about.

Below are five wines that are the produce of winemakers with an eye on climate change.

  • Torres Vina Sol, Penedes, Spain 2017: The Torres wine making operation was fast to not only identify the problems caused by climate change but to act on it as well. They invested millions into research into water efficiency, carbon capture and relocation of the vineyards to future proof its wines, including this all year-round dry white.
  • Langhan Estate Rose Brut, Dorset, England NV: It’s true that climate changes have boosted England’s ability to produce high quality sparkling wine. It’s allowed winemakers like Langhan to ripen chardonnay pinot noir and pinot meunier consistently to make balanced wines like this one.
  • De Martino Old Vine Cinsault, Itata, Chile 2016: This is an example of a wine from southern Chile produced by dry farming. As irrigation of vines is considered essential, and resources are depleting, dry farming is a viable alternative.
  • Hancock & Hancock Cabernet/Touriga, McLaren Vale, Australia 2015: In the south of Australia, rising temperatures are causing producers to switch to grapes from southern Europe. In this case this has led to a blend of French cabernet and Portuguese touriga to make a dark, fruity red.
  • Willi Shaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2016: Climate change has had some positive changes for some regions. As well as England, north Germany has warmed up and now has fewer cold and wet vintages. At the moment, this means they can produce a delicate Riesling like this one, but it’s unclear as to what the effect will be in decades to come.

The Thames played host to London’s first floating wine festival

Last week, London welcomed the city’s first ever floating wine festival, designed to introduce wine aficionados to new bottles on the Thames.

An exciting new way for wine lovers to indulge in their favourite tipple, the festival took place on board Tamesis Dock. This 1930s Dutch barge is a converted bar and events space permanently docked between Vauxhall Bridge and Lambeth.

It was the perfect venue to host a wine festival, which aimed to bring winemakers and wine lovers together for the first time ever on the capital’s famous river.

Wine Over Water

The festival, called ‘Wine Over Water’, gave guests the opportunity to sample new wines, chat with other festival goers, all while enjoying amazing views of the Houses of Parliament, Battersea Power Station and the London Eye.

Some of the wines available to sample were provided by Wanderlust Wines, who also hosted the event. For just £25, festival goers from London and further afield tried eight wines from countries including South Africa, France, Hungary, Romania, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Wine experts

Winemakers from all around the world presented wines to guests. They also shared the stories behind the bottles, and the passion behind the wines that they all work so hard to create.

The two-day event took place on 22 and 23 September and welcomed a large group of wine lovers. As well as wine tastings and talks, there were presentations on current trends in the wine world and blind tastings with wine-related prizes.

Food wasn’t forgotten, of course, as guests enjoyed various marine-themed snacks and nibbles to go along with their wine. As well as the tasting samples, there was also plenty of opportunity for people to buy wine during the festival too.

 

It’s likely to become an annual event so look out for next year’s festival if you fancy a tipple while admiring the sunset over the Houses of Parliament.

Wines to enjoy this autumn, no matter the weather

Autumn is a strange season for wines. In some parts of the country, we’re still enjoying the final throes of a long, hot summer, and in others, temperatures are dropping. Either way, we’re not quite in crisp white wine with salad and seafood territory, nor are we fully ready for rich, deep reds for hearty Sunday roasts.

The best way to look at it from a wine perspective is that autumn is the season where anything goes!

Variety is key

If you’re still having barbeques then go for a chilled, delicious Pinot Noir or Picpoul to keep the summer going. Or, if the rains teeming down and there’s a decided nip in the air, go for a bold wintery red. Just because it’s early in the season, doesn’t mean these aren’t still warmingly delicious.

So, the message is to have a good variety of wines ready for any eventuality as we go through the early autumn season. And, of course, always keep your eyes on the upcoming party season too.

Whites for Autumn

For whites, choose something that is refreshing and light for the late summer sun, but also has a bit of strength to work well with a home-cooked meal too.

A South African Colombard fulfils both of these in a way that no many whites can. It goes beautifully with hearty dishes, such as pies and stews, so it’s ideal for early autumn going into winter. However, it’s also delicious as a light accompaniment to supper al fresco in the warm late summer sun. It’s basically a wine that works all year round, which sounds good to us.

Another good choice is something like Domaine Saint Paul Colline Picpoul de Pinet, simply because it’s really good with all kinds of food. From grilled seafood to a hearty meal at the table, this works well. It’s very refreshing and everyone loves it. It’s an easy crowd-pleaser at a dinner party and works well whatever the outside temperature.

Reds for autumn

A good Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot will see you right through this season, all the way to Christmas too. It has a depth of flavour that works really well with slow-cooked meals and roast dinners, and also matches a decent BBQ side of beef if you are blessed with sunny days in October.

Another good choice is a Western Cape Reserve Shiraz, with a bright and fresh flavour. While it goes well with all kinds of food, it’s very comforting and delicious when enjoyed on its own. Ideal to quaff by the fireplace as the weather starts to turn.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to enjoying wine. If you want a light fizz in November, then don’t let anyone stop you! Add in some Pinot Noir, chilled or at room temperature and Malbec for the colder nights, you’ll be on your way to enjoying the best wines this autumn.

Does the shape of your wine glass really matter?

In the wine world there are different kinds of drinkers. From casual imbibers to wine aficionados, the market encompasses many different types of customer.

Wine enthusiasts often say that the kinds of glassware we use to drink from is almost as important as the wine chosen. But is that true? After all, you can enjoy a glass of wine from a teacup if you choose!

It’s all in the shape

While you can, of course, drink your wine from any kind of vessel, it turns out that wine glass shape does matter. This is because of the way wines react when exposed to air. The shape of the glass or receptacle will alter the way it reacts to air, changing the nose, structure and body of the wine.

For example, a tall Bordeaux wine glass is specially designed for wines with a fuller body. Examples include a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc, which have a deep aroma and full body texture. The shape of the glass concentrates the aroma and directs the swig of wine into the back of the mouth. A Burgundy wine glass, on the other hand, works more efficiently with wines that are delicate in flavour. This is due to the larger bowl of the glass, which helps the gentler aroma of wines such as Pinot Noir to accumulate and become more intense.

Reds more complex

Red wines have a complex, multi-faceted structure and a larger wine glass bowl helps the drinker to fully appreciate this. A larger glass means that the wine can be swirled more without overflowing, therefore helping it to be exposed to the air and release aromas.

Usually, glasses designed for red wines offer a wider rim, which again exposes the wine more easily to the air. When wine is aerated, its structure transforms as the tannins break down to improve the bouquet. A wider rim acts like a vent and can either release or trap the bouquet as required, depending on the glass design.

Influencing flavour

While it’s difficult to prove the traditional idea that the shape of a wine glass can physically deliver the wine to a different part of the mouth, the shape and size of the glass itself definitely influences the taste of the wine.

If you take a sip from a glass with a wide opening, then the aroma will reach your nose just as the wine touches your tongue. This double whammy can make a definite difference to the flavour of the wine, and it also allows for more aeration.

The increase in aeration alters the flavour of the wine in the nose and on the tongue, particularly if you’re drinking a more complex and older vintage. Stemless glasses are generally less damaging to the flavour of reds than whites, but they do alter the flavour of both due to the warming effect of being held in the hand.

Vineyards across Europe gathering historically early harvests this year

Alsace and Champagne are the latest major wine growing regions to kick off their 2018 harvest early, thanks to hot weather throughout June and July.

Northern Europe is experiencing among the earliest harvests ever, with grape pickers across the Champagne region getting started on 21 August, according to the Comité Champagne. If we look further east to Alsace, winemakers were organising pickers to start harvesting for Cremant sparkling wines from 22 August.

In Alsace, the demand for pickers is such that some producers have expressed worries that they may not be able to find enough in August, as most are ready to work in September and October.

Record breaking

These follow on from another record-breaking early harvest over in Germany, mostly brought on by the heatwave across the summer months. While the Cremant harvest is underway, the Alsace Winemakers’ association (AVA) have stuck to a later date for harvesting the still wines in the region. This was due to start on 3 September.

The Champagne region has undergone a year of weather extremes. Growers endured record rainfall in winter, with 345mm falling during the period from November 2017 to January 2018. The Comité says that this beats the previous record of 338m set back in 1965.

After the rain came a long, very cold winter, followed by a warm period through flowering of the harvest in early June. And then came the heatwave with temperature and length of sunshine way above average.

Sense of optimism

All of this has led to a lot of optimism for the Champagne region, and the Comité has predicted yields of as much as 10,800kg per hectare. Yields are always set with an understanding of the market, and they are assuming that global sales will not increase much this year compared with 2017.

Over in Germany, the first grapes of 2018 were picked for the part fermented ‘Federweisser’ in the Rheinhessen region on 6 August. This followed Germany’s hottest April since records began.

Germany too is optimistic about the size of the harvest and its quality, although some growers dealt with intense water shortages and were forced to irrigate on young vines.

Welcome rain

August’s rain has offered respite to some growers in Germany. Dr Ernst Loosen is an established grower in the Mosel region. He said: “After the rain of the past days, the berry size is increasing, and maturation is clearly noticeable and very advanced for this time of year.”

Before the rain this month, the ripening process had been slowed down by lack of water. Dr Loosen expects to start picking on 10 September, which is just one week before the normal date.

However, as grapes are ripening unevenly and at speed, this could make an intensively busy and pressured harvest season for producers. The window for harvesting perfect grapes is likely to be relatively small.

Overall, the heatwaves across northern Europe have certainly given a boost to wine growers and it will be a bumper year for many.