How will climate change affect the wine industry?

Wine has always been connected with environment, location and climate. Grapes harvested in different regions have different depths of flavour. Even grapes from the same vineyard can differ every season, depending on the weather. Given that, it’s not surprising that the vast differences in weather patterns we are experiencing around the world thanks to climate change are affecting the wine industry in a big way.

How does extreme weather and climate change affect wine?

The flavour profiles of different wines are impacted by increased temperatures and unpredictable weather. This is the main difference for consumers. But for farmers and vineyard producers, there is a much bigger impact.

Scientists now say that growers must implement changes to the way they grow. For example, they should experiment with different, lesser-known grape varieties and try different irrigation methods. However, these are often too expensive and risky for many.

The past four years have presented the world with the hottest ever temperatures. As grapes generally need temperate climates, this has vastly affected crops. The unpredictability of droughts, rainfall, hail and heatwaves is also devastating. And while farmers of all kinds are affected, grapes are particularly vulnerable.

The climate and soil is changing

While wine growing regions such as California battle with ever-increasingly devastating wildfires, other subtle changes are impacting grapes too. Some regions are undergoing changes in soil salinity, due to rising sea levels. Growers are also dealing with increased vine diseases and damage caused by pests.

In the past, the chill of winter frosts has been enough to kill off many pests. However, if the temperatures continue to be higher than freezing, pests will only increase and cause more problems.

The wine industry is hugely dependent on changes in climate and soil. Experts say that four aspects make up wine: the soil, the grape, the topography and the weather. Even a single vineyard can include multiple different microclimates, due to exactly how much sun grapes receive in different positions. The weather affects the acidity of the grape, as well as its sugar and tannin content.

Harvests shifting forward

As temperatures continue to increase year on year, grapes are harvested sooner than ever before. If they stay on the vine, too much sun will mean the grapes contain too much sugar and therefore alcohol. However, harvesting earlier means losing some of the complexity of flavour. This is drastically changing previously reliable flavour profiles. For example, in New Zealand, most of the exported wine is Sauvignon Blanc, which is loved for its acidic gooseberry notes. Its flavour profile is changing and is now more ‘mellow tropical fruit’.

Many vintners have already started to use climate-intelligent agricultural practices. But this isn’t always possible for all farmers, due to cost and availability of the technology needed. The kinds of measures taken include drop irrigation and cover cropping to help conserve water and soil, using nets to protect vines from hail and growing shorter vines.

Others are shifting their focus onto slops that face south to reduce exposure to the sun. Yet others are moving their whole vineyards to cooler regions and higher altitudes. Even the simplest changes to the way farmers grow grapes comes at a higher cost in terms of additional labour and equipment.

There’s no doubt that the global wine industry is experiencing a time of change. Decisions must be made by growers regarding investment into new growing practices to future proof their crops.

What exactly is oaked wine?

If you’re a lover of wine, then the chances are you have heard about ‘oaked’ wine. But do you know what it means and how it affects the wine you choose to buy?

Oak barrels have been used for centuries to store wine, but it’s only much more recently that winemakers have started to understand the way they affect the wine. Oak barrelling affects the body and flavour of the wine and adds softer tannins to the final product.

How is oaked wine made?

A range of woods and different kinds of oak are used to make vessels to store wine around the world. However, there are three distinct types that are recognised for the specific effect they have on wine when it’s stored in barrels made from them. These are Quercus Robur and Quercus Patrea, which are both used in France. In the United States, the white oak variety Quercus Alba is used most often and is generally described as ‘American’ or ‘French’ oak.

Before oak is used as material to make the wine barrel, it is specially seasoned. This can be achieved by warming the wood using a kiln. The best method to achieve this, according to winemakers, is to season the wood in the open air. This allows the sun, wind and rain to slowly remove chemicals and bitter tannins from the wood, leaving it perfect to use for wine barrels.

Weathering the oak in this way takes between two and three years, which is perhaps why some prefer to use a kiln.

Constructing wine barrels with oak

When the oak has been appropriately seasoned using either method, it’s chopped into small lengths called staves. The winemaker will decide on the size of the barrel according to their needs. If they want a very large barrel, this will be to expose the wine to as much oxygen as possible. This softens the natural tannins in wine and gives dried fruit flavouring to the wine.

Often, flavouring is added to the wood used. This needs smaller barrels and for Rioja and Bordeaux, barrels that hold 225 litres are used. Wood used in this way adds sweeter spice flavours to the wine, such as vanilla. It also softens the tannins, making the wine smoother on the palate.

How long is wine aged in oak barrels?

The length of ageing can be from just a few months to a number of years, depending on the tannin and phenol levels in the wine. These act as preservatives and keep all the fruity flavours and aromas.

Winemakers all over the world use oaked barrels to age their wine using both French and American oak. The latter gives more intense flavours to the wines and are also less costly. These flavours are generally too intense for more delicate wines, and it’s usually used for medium and full-bodied reds, as well as full whites like chardonnays from the New World.

French oak barrels cost approximately €1,000 and are notably more expensive than those made from American oak. This adds a significant cost to each bottle made using barrels made from French oak. There are various ways to give a similar ‘oaked’ effect without paying premium prices. These include putting the oak directly into the wine rather than paying a craftsman to make, fire and finish a barrel. Instead, staves are placed inside containers made from stainless steel to impart the oak flavours into the wine. The cheapest way of all is to use oak ‘chips’, which are put in a muslin bag and dropped into the wine. To be sure which method has been used on the wine you choose, look out for the labels. If it says ‘aged in oak’, then that uses the traditional method, while ‘oak aged’ could refer to a cheaper way of imparting flavours into the wine.

Is dry farming the way forward for the world’s wine industry?

Climate change is affecting the way wine is made right now. It’s no longer a vague future threat, but more of a ticking time bomb. And as the wine industry uses vast amounts of water, experts are looking for new ways to keep crops growing. Some vineyards have already taken on the challenge and have instigated dry farming.

While the wine industry has been making moves to change the way wine is made, most sustainable solutions focus on things like biodiversity and renewable energy. However, freshwater irrigation remains the biggest problem facing the wine industry as we move into a new world of adapting to extreme weather.

What impact does the wine industry have on the global water supply?

A recent piece of research reveals that more than a third of consumers take the time to look for companies and brands that are concerned with environmental and ethical impact. Within the millennial generation, three-quarters of consumers are happy to spend more on products that are truly sustainable.

However, the use of water irrigation in the wine industry has failed to pick up many headlines. Around 83% of wine regions in the New World are irrigated using fresh water. In the Old World, it drops to 10%.

How much water does it take to make wine?

According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 5 litres of water to produce a 125ml glass of wine. This is without irrigation and is based on the water used in the winery alone. If we add in irrigation, it rises to 110 litres of water per glass of wine in a normal climate, and 240 litres in regions suffering from drought. Of course, the freshwater used to make wine differs a lot depending on the region.

The global wine industry is worth more than £229 billion, and wine grapes are the most valuable fruit crop in existence. Some scientists say that the land suitable for wine making will have diminished by up to three-quarters by 2050. All of which gives plenty of impetus to implement solutions such as dry farming.

What is ‘dry farming’?

Dry farming refers to a method of soil preparation that makes the most of the moisture from winter rainfall, which is used to sustain the vines as they grow. It guides root systems, so they grow deep enough to find water and micro-nutrients themselves. Irrigated vines have root systems that stay very close to the surface, so that they are vulnerable.

There’s a lot of work involved in making dry farming work, but it does make tastier, sweeter grapes. It also allows the soil and vine to live a longer, more stable life. It is inevitable that at some point in the future, it won’t be possible to irrigate vines in some regions. This means managing water effectively should be the most important factor in vineyards moving towards true sustainability.

Effective wine matching for vegan dishes

A record-breaking number of people signed up for Veganuary 2018, with the campaign growing by 183%. Mid-way through Veganuary 2019, it’s likely that this will increase even more as the vegan trend takes hold. There are also an increasing number of wines available to buy online that are vegan, but what about matching them with food?

Effective wine matching easier than you think

There’s a lot of noise about going vegan in the media right now and included in this are vegan wines. However, it’s not really a new thing to have vegan wines available. Today there are lots of wines that are made in such a way that makes them suitable vegans, and they’ve been around for a while.

The main requirement for vegan wines is that they are made with no animal products used. The usual animal-derived products used in wine production include isinglass (fish bladder), milk protein and egg whites, which are used during the clarification process known as ‘fining’.

Look at the label

As with any other wine preference, the easiest way to tell whether a wine is vegan is to check the label. Many producers include the information clearly on the label, and online wine sellers will also specific. For people who are concerned about additives used in wine-making, there are also lots of organic wines available that are not fined during manufacturing.

When selecting vegan wine, it’s also important to consider the food you’re eating. If you are on a diet consisting of plant derivatives, and you’re not ingesting large portions of protein, then robust red wines aren’t necessary when matching wine with food.

Pairing with vegan food

While vegan dishes don’t have great portions of protein, obviously they can still have huge flavours. However, the flavours in vegan dishes don’t tend to tame the tannin in wine in the way that dairy and meat does.

With this in mind, vegans looking for the ideal wine for their dinner party should steer towards lighter wines. This is particularly the case if dishes are also light in carbs and consist of mostly vegetables, fruit and salad.

Light reds are always a good option, such as the frappato grape from Sicily. Frappato di Vittoria always produces grapey but light wines, which work well with healthy, fresh food. An Aussie red that works brilliantly with veg based dishes is Gertie Cabernet Franc Clare Valley, which has an exuberant, light flavour.

Effective wine matching is a lot to do with personal taste. What works for one vegan cook won’t work for another. However, the good news for vegans and vegetarians looking to exclude animal products from their tipple, is that there are loads of options available at all price points.

Can You Pair Wine with Sushi?

When you think of sushi, you may not always think of wine as the natural pairing. Yet, it can work amazingly well – if you know what you’re doing. It is a tricky match to get right, as sushi, like all Asian food, is more challenging to pair with wine – essentially a European invention – because Japanese cuisine has evolved alongside grain-based drinks like beer and sake, not wine. But this doesn’t mean that sushi and wine can’t exist well together. Ideal Wine Company loves this combination and we have everything you need to know to make this pairing perfect. Let’s have a look at how we match wine and sushi…

Ideal Wine Company sushi and wine
Let’s have a look at how we match wine and sushi…

What qualities should you look out for?

Sushi works well with certain varieties of wine – so you need to be looking out for these. Essentially, the standard rule is that the wine can’t be too dry, as it will clash with the fish. Similarly, the wine can’t be too sweet – think of the wine that is usually paired with Chinese or Thai food – as this swamps the fine delicacy of the fish.

When pairing wine and sushi, you should be striving for a good balance between sweet and dry. A fine balance, integrity, good fruit and crisp acidities are all desirable qualities to look for in your wine. As a general rule, Rieslings of Germany and Alsace, and their New World counterparts make splendid companions for sushi.

Our favourite pairings

  • Salmon roll – dry rosé

A salmon roll usually consists of cucumber, avocado and salmon rolled in rice and coated in seaweed. With these flavour combinations, you can expect fresh and light flavours. This means that it works well with a dry rosé.  The salmon makes the tart cherry and citrus in the wine pop and its minerality turn to sweet brininess.

  • Spicy tuna roll – Riesling

A spicy tuna roll can pack a punch! Filled with spice, this tuna and rice roll offers plenty of flavour and heat, meaning your wine needs to be able to handle this. Our top pick for this is a very barely off-dry Riesling. As you need a big-bodied white for the meaty fish, this wine can handle everything. Riesling is mouth-filling, with sweet stone fruit to stand up to the spice and a mineral edge that loves the brininess of nori.

  • Prawn nigiri – Pinot Gris

A prawn nigiri is a simple offering. It is essentially a prawn placed over pressed vinegared rice. When thinking of a pairing for this dish, you’ll need to make the prawn your focus. We suggest choosing a Pinot Gris. The apple and aromatic stone fruit in the wine are perfect links to sweet prawns, with a hit of citrus serving as a spritz of lemon. It’s a perfect match!

While it may not be the obvious option, pairing your sushi with wine can prove to be very delicious! While it may be a slightly harder match, the results can pay off big time. Why not try wine with your next sushi meal?