Champagne growers coping with damage caused by violent hailstorm

Last year presented wine growers across the continent with many challenges due to the unpredictable weather patterns. With late frosts wiping out crops, and lots of rain, it was a difficult year with many crops lost. So far, 2018 looks set to be equally as challenging.

Vines damaged

On 12 May, hailstones the size of golf balls decimated 500 hectares of vines in the south of the Champagne region. It looks like a decent amount of damages has been done to vineyards in the Cote des Bar area in particular.

Grape growers reported hailstones with diameters of at least five centimetres hitting the vines, which are mostly planted with Pinot Noir. While the early estimates reported damage to 500 hectares, the entirety of the damage is not yet known.

Second hail storm

The corridor of hailstorms extended from Vitry-le-Croise and Les Riceys, with the village of Neuville at the heart of the storm, and therefore subject to the most damage.

The trade body of the area, Comite de Champagne, said that hailstones rained down and hit about: “20% of the Cote de Bar area”. Of the damaged area, around 280 hectares are in the Riceys area. This hailstorm came after a decent amount of hail and wind at the end of April, but this has caused much more damage.

Local damage

Because hail fell on growing leaves, it’s unknown whether the crops can be saved. The Pinot vines were at around eight leaves while the Chardonnays had already reached ten leaves, according to the trade body.

However, the damage is pretty local in the Cotes des Bar vineyard region, which covers 8,000 hectares and represents about 24% of the Champagne region. While the relative containment of the damage is broadly good news, for the vineyards affected, it’s another weather-related disaster after the late frosts in 2016 and 2017.

It remains to be seen if reserves are very low for local growers, something that is increasingly likely with consistently damaging weather patterns.

Natural protection for vineyards

Vineyards must contend with all kinds of threats to their grape crops, including variable weather patterns and predators attacking the vines.

Sometimes nature rectifies itself in interesting ways, however, as wine producers in Australia’s Margaret River found this year.

Mega blossom saves crops

The Marri gum trees (also known as Eucalyptus calophylla) in the area produced a spectacular ‘mega blossom’ in 2018. Experiencing the most blossom in living memory meant that bird pressure on the vines was very little.

This is because the Marri trees produce a specific kind of nectar, that birds absolutely love. This stops them heading for the grapes as it satiates their sweet tooth. The Marri flowering influences the region’s food supply particularly for parrots, wattle birds and silver-eyes. All of these birds love to dig into the grapes when they can’t find flowering gum trees, which is their favourite food.

This year’s flowering meant that the birds travelled deeper into the native forest areas as they followed the blossom. Creating a natural redistribution of bird populations near the vineyards means fewer birds return to attack the grapes on the vines.

Animal threats

With fewer birds damaging the crops, an increased number of cooler nights has also given the vines a longer period of growth on the vine, which results in a higher natural acid content for the 2018 Margaret River vineyard.

While birds are the main concern in this area of Western Australia, vineyards all over the world must protect themselves from various different animals. For example, Germany battles with raccoons and their taste for grapes, while South African vineyards are threatened by baboons.

Over in Northern Italy, Tuscan winemakers petitioned for a mass cull of wild boar as they were demolishing wine crops in the area. On the flipside, some vineyards use animals as natural weed fighters or as pest control.

In England, we use small sheep to keep the weeds down and in California, falcons are used to keep smaller birds away from the vines. Some vineyards choose to use netting to protect the crops, but this decreases the amount of sun reaching the grapes so isn’t always suitable.

Whichever animal or bird is responsible, it’s always going to be a concern for vineyard owners, particularly those who can’t rely on a bumper blossom crop for protection.

Which wines are best for gin lovers?

Gin is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance and has become the drink of choice for many people. There have been lots of new brands introduced over the last few years, and while many are not quite as fancy as they first appear, there are lots that are introducing a whole new generation of drinkers to their powerful, floral aromas.

There are wines with a similar flavour profile. While they don’t taste precisely like gin, they do offer similar aromatic experiences, with the added bonus of being less alcoholic.

These floral choices are usually white wines made from grape varieties that are high in particular molecules, called terpenes. A good example is Argentina’s torrnontes, which can be enjoyably summery and aromatic.

Floral flavours

Other examples that offer a burst of floral, immersive flavours include Cantina Tramin Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer, Alto-Adige, Italy 2016. This has powerful perfumes with hints of ginger, lychee, Turkish delight and rosewater. It’s a heady wine, with layers of exotic flavours. For even more layers of savoury spiciness, you can try Zind Humbrecht Gewurtztraminer Turckheim, Alsace 2015.

Another version that offers the same tropical fruit salad experience, but this time cut with clean acidity, from northern Italy with Cantina Tramin.

An Asti moment

Muscat (also known under its Italian guise as Moscato) had a similar moment to gin a few years’ back, suddenly becoming the drink to enjoy. This was specifically a very sweet and slightly fizzy version made in California.

Over in the wine’s home town of Asti (in the north west region of Piedmont in Italy), their version is very light. With only around 5% alcohol content and a fragrant, spring-meadow flavour, it’s a delicious alternative to gin. Any G&T lover looking for a wine-based alternative will enjoy Australia’s Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato, or GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti.

The future of the UK’s wine industry looks rosy

Proving that the UK’s wine industry is on the up, research from trade body WineGB predicts that the number of full-time jobs involved in the English and Welsh wine industries could reach about 30,000 by 2040.

At the moment, there are about 2,100 people working in these fast-growing industries and they could be on track to sell 40 million bottles by the same date. This would have a retail value of more than £1 billion. With the UK’s usual reputation for being cold, windy and wet, these figures show just how much things have changed.

Comparing regions

WineGB compared information and figures from other New World regions to track their growth trajectory since they were the same size as the current UK industry. For example, the study looked at Oregon which, according to the researchers, is “very similar in structure to GB” in terms of a high number of family-run wine producers and not many big names involved.

The report said: “In 1992, Oregon had 5,950 acres of planted vines and was producing 5.2 million bottles, compared with the UK’s 6,200 acres and a production of 5.9 million bottles. If we then look 23 years on to 2015, Oregon was selling 37.1 million bottles.”

Increasing employment

The data from WineGB was collected and analysed along with Wine Intelligence and shows not only how the UK’s industry got to where we are today, but where it’s likely to be over the next ten to 20 years.

Direct comparisons with other New World areas have given the experts the most likely path ahead for an industry that may not have been expected a few years ago but is now looking like a Great British success story.

As we are living in an uncertain economic and political time, with no real clear picture of how the changes of the next few years will affect the employment levels in the UK, this is good news. A clear picture emerged from the data describing just how important the wine industry is in terms of employment in rural areas.

Currently, in arable farming, there is one full time employee for every 1,000 acres. However, in a vineyard, it’s routine to have one full-time employee for every 25 acres. When you add the support staff to this, including those needed in the winery, sales department and tourism sector, the wine industry could add thousands of new jobs to the rural economy.

Fast-growing industry

They worked out the likely number of employees by relating the sales of 40 million bottles of wine by 2040 with land that covers around 45,000 acres. A direct comparison with California’s current market, which uses land of this size, can help to assess the number of people who may be working in the UK’s industry by 2040 – 24,000. When comparing to Oregon (as used earlier in the report), there were 29,738 people working in wine related roles in 2016.

There are around 70,000 acres of usable land in the UK that could feasibly used for wine production using technology currently employed. It looks like there are some exciting times ahead for one of the UK’s few fast-growing new industries.

What are the best wines for an early summer barbecue?

At the time of writing, the UK is experiencing the hottest April temperatures for some years, and it’s reminded everyone to dust the barbecue off and get set for al fresco dining.

And just as important as the food is the wine. It’s often an integral part of the perfect barbecue, but we’re not just talking about serving up a random wine with your burger. It is possible to serve it correctly and with complementary food when you’re eating outside.

Classic wine pairings

Here are some classic BBQ/wine pairings, that will tantalise taste buds and improve the food – even if it’s a blackened sausage!

Ideal Wine - Summer barbecue

 

  • Steak – to enjoy your juicy, barbecued steak match it with a Zinfandel with its spicy, brambly flavour. Malbec or a Shiraz works well too.
  • Burgers – the perennial barbecue favourite is enhanced with Cotes du Rhone, Zinfandel again, Syrah or Touriga Nacional, which is a dark-skinned, rich Portuguese wine.
  • Chicken – a good old Chardonnay works best, ideally from a warm climate.
  • Sausages – Malbec, a Southern French wine or the Spanish favourite Tempranillo all work well.
  • Pork chops – choose a dry rose, a Riesling or a New World Pinot Noir to complement your pork. Obviously, a crisp cider also works well.
  • Salmon – a chilled Cava or Rose Champagne will hit the spot with this rich, oily fish. Or try a Pinot Gris, New World Riesling or the Beaujolais grape Gamay.
  • Halloumi – this sharp cheese works well on a barbecue, and even better when paired with a Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Prosecco, Semillion of Chenin Blanc.

All-round wines

We’ve named many choices here, and even for the poshest barbecue, we know it’s not practical to buy every single one. So, here is a list of excellent all-round wines that match a variety of foods, are easy to find in the supermarket and not too expensive. Choose from:

  • New World Pinot Noir
  • Vins de pays reds and whites
  • Dry Rose
  • Malbec
  • New world Riesling
  • Sparkling Methode Champenoise.

All of these are light and enjoyable when chilled but have enough punch to cut through the strong flavours of whatever you have on your barbecue.

To chill or not to chill?

If it’s hotter than 20°C outside, then chilling your red wines is the way to go. Red wines are always served best at room temperature, which is anywhere between 13 and 18°C. The cooler red wine will offset the hot meat beautifully, and it’s the very best way to enjoy al fresco dining. If possible, only serve in traditional glasses and avoid plastic cups, as this improves the flavour.

Enjoy!