Monday, April 26, 2010

Effect of future climate change on winegrapes



Slate.com has a wonderfully-written article on the effects already being experienced worldwide by grapegrowers, due to changes in climate. (It cites Frog's Leap, and many other wineries.)



I know, I know--a quarter of you reading this are certain that there is no climate change, and to you I would say "just check it out a little more, would you please?" I can almost see Mt. Hood from here, where over half of its glacial ice is gone. A hundred years ago folks could ride sleighs OVER their fences, every winter, in Joseph, Oregon, but that hasn't happened even once for the past 80 years.

And another quarter of you acknowledge there is climate change, but they deny it is caused by human activity (150 years of our spewing hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere--a razor-thin blanket of nitrogen, oxygen, and a few other gases--notwithstanding). OK--you're entitled to that opinion; I know that volcanic eruptions do place monumental amounts of stuff into the atmosphere--boy, do I know that! That still leaves about 75% of us believing that climate change is happening (whether it is wholly natural or human-worsened). In either of those cases, we have a problem, and I'm talking to you.

Winegrapes are the canary in the coalmine: Past a critical point unique to each variety, grapes react quickly, and poorly, to hotter weather. White grapes' skins are less tolerant to heat: They split, and get diseases, and their sugar levels (and thus their alcohols) get too high, masking the delicate flavors. Red grapes get overripe flavors (cooked dark fruit, like burned prunes, and I have been noticing this in the Washington reds more and more often in the past couple of years--I don't like it at all). And the red wine alcohol levels are getting so high that elegance is gone and you can't drink more than a glass without getting drunk. Worse, pests and diseases multiply geometrically when temperatures are higher.

In some areas of Italy, harvest has moved from Nov 5 or so to Sept 10 or so, in one generation. Think about that--that is a earth-quaking change, full of significance. Some wines are benefiting, however, such as Pinot noir in Oregon, and certain wines in Spain. But if the weather keeps warming, Champagne will become impossible to make in France, and other areas (including Napa) may see the curtain fall on their great winemaking. Imagine the changes, in tourism and the local economies, if no great wines were made in Napa or Sonoma anymore.

You can't just push grapegrowing towards the poles. There is a limit to the locations with the right terroir, and Antarctica and Prudhoe Bay aren't exactly located close to the wine-consuming public. They both have very strange summer/winter light cycles, and to my knowledge grapes have never grown in such places.

Call me crazy. 'Cuz I am. (apologies to Storm Large; and OMG what a great show that was). But this is a big deal, and it has already started. So what can you do?

1. Purely selfishly, lay in some fabulous reds that will improve for decades. Their cost will get only higher, as inflation (from our deficits) and scarcity brought on by rising population and weather changes take their likely toll. And, as we've seen from tastings at my house and elsewhere, a great red, suitably aged, is tops to just about any other wine.

2. Nobly, find ways to reduce your energy usage, both car, home, and office. Turn to renewable energy sources where possible, and rely more on walking and biking (and live longer, too!). Lobby for the changes we need: high-speed electric trains (renewably powered); plug-in hybrid cars; more nuclear plants; burn biodiesel in aircraft; less coal burning; higher mpg for cars and trucks, and more use of mass transit; eating more locally; etc.

I had a muscle car, once. Guess my grandkids will just have to listen to stories about it, rather than drive one, themselves ;)

Earth to humans: HELP!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Prosecco



Just returned from Italy. Our first wine destination was the Veneto, the hills north of Venice. Here, prosecco is found. In the pic I'm with Cinzia Sommariva, at her winery just west of Conegliano. It was very generous of her to visit with us, given all that's going on at the winery and that VinItaly--the world's largest wine festival--was starting just two days thereafter, in Verona.

Her family's vineyards have just been elevated from DOC status to DOCG status; that is a big deal, as only 45 areas in Italy are DOCG.


I believe Sommariva prosecco is the best of all I've tasted (which is a fair number). Maybe it's so good because the Sommariva family manages the entire process, from growing the grapes to winemaking, bottling, marketing and selling. In sharp contrast, most prosecco producers buy their fruit from others.

Prosecco uses the Charmat Method, which involves bottling the wine under pressure by use of a centrifuge. Pretty complex, and totally different from the champagne method. Also, the grape and wine were both called prosecco, but now, due to DOCG regulations, the grape is called again by its medieval name, Glera.

This area (the DOCG) is extremely picturesque and well worth a visit. The prosecco wine trail winds through tiny storybook villages, starting from the old castle atop a hill in Conegliano. I wish I could attach more photos of our trip; it is a pretty place. We stayed in a wonderful small hotel nearby, in the country, where our dinner table overlooked the valley and, in the distance, the snowy Alps.

Friday, April 23, 2010

That Earth is a big place

I bet none of you reading this could guess more than one of the top four white winegrapes in the world (ranked by acres planted). OK, Chardonnay is No. 2, but the others? How about Airen at the first spot (Spain), and Ugni blanc at No. 3 (France, Italy, Argentina), followed by Rkatsiteli (found in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova)? Macabeo is No. 7 (Spain), and No. 10 is Catarratto Bianco Comune (Italy).

The red Top Ten are a bit less strange, but we still find Carignan at No. 6 (France, China, Tunisia), and Bobal at No. 7 (Spain). (Bobal? Sounds like a French name for a show poodle.)

What does this mean? It means that we in the U.S. like to think we're plugged into the world wine scene, but we're really not. Most of the wines I found in Italy are not available in the US. There is a lot going on worldwide that we're not aware of, here. I will try to help expose all of us to some different winegrapes, as we travel the world in a wineglass, together.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Traminette: the future, in my wineglass

It's fun to peer into the future. Even more fun, when that future is a delectable wine in your wineglass.

Traminette is a hybrid grape resulting from a cross between Gewurztraminer and J.S. 23-416. It is about 66% vinifera.

It was developed by Cornell, at its Geneva Station research facility on the Finger Lakes, being the fifth hybrid winegrape released by Cornell (after Cayuga; before Melody, and others).

As you might expect, Traminette has a remarkable spicy, floral bouquet, similar to its Gewurztraminer parent. In the mouth, you notice green apple and citrus notes. The wine could be compared to a Sauvignon blanc, though it also has some Riesling tendencies, too.

Bad wine can be made from any grape, and at our hybrid winetasting a few months ago, all three of the Traminettes we tasted were scored from "poor" to just "OK." But I kept searching, and found a superior Traminette from the Goose Watch winery (New York). It is a very good wine. My taster friends who tried that wine agreed that it could definitely be a marketable, commercial white wine here in the Northwest.

So, why, with all our Chardonnay, Pinot gris, and Viognier, would anybody want to grow Traminette in the Northwest? For many reasons:

1. Traminette is disease resistant. This means far less spraying (some years, no spraying!), which reduces the cost and environmental impact of making sprays (and even organic sprays have a cost and there is some environmental impact to produce them).
2. Less spraying means less tractor fuel, which is a big deal if you're talking someday about thousands of acres planted.
3. Most hybrid grapes ripen earlier than most viniferas. This means that the grower doesn't have to put up bird nets, further saving on tractor fuel, and on labor, and on the cost and raw materials for the plastic netting.
4. With these advantages, the hybrid grape's wine can be sold at lower cost, thereby enabling the U.S. winemaker to more effectively compete in what is becoming a tighter global market.
5. Traminette, when ripe, has much less phenolic bitterness than Gewurztraminer. It has excellent sugar, acid and pH balance, which makes the wine more problem-free to make, with a more-consistent outcome.
6. This isn't often an issue in the west half of the Pacific Northwest, but Traminette is VERY cold-hardy, much more so than Gewurztraminer.
7. The grape performs well as either a dry or a sweet wine.

The State of Indiana recognized a good thing, and declared Traminette as the state's official grape. Smart move.

Keep an eye out for the future! It will next appear, this summer, in my little vineyard!