As baseball season is coming to a close, basketball, football, and hockey are getting started, but the only season I really care about is the growing season and it has been a rough one. Back in April, much of Europe's wine country was hit hard by frost and hail, wine growers were using everything from helicopters to torches to try to protect the early spring buds. Moving into summer some of those same regions experienced severe drought, as a consequence all areas affected are experiencing reduced harvests, some are reporting as much as a 60% drop. In the USA, California had strong hopes that the drought it had been fighting was over, only to end their season with devastating wildfires.
Just as the growing season ends here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere's season is beginning. We're already seeing South Africa faced with drought, and I've read some concern expressed by growers and consumers in other regions regarding the potential impact of extreme weather. Hopefully our friends to the South have a better year than we did.
In short, the increased frequency of extreme weather events coupled with the overall rise in global temperature are having a profound impact on the wine industry. This isn't really news, because everyone in the industry has known it was happening for quite some time, just mention English sparkling wine in a conversation and it won't be long before someone refers to it as the “bright side of climate change.” This attitude was a major topic at the Vinexpo this summer in Bordeaux. During a panel discussion, the wine industry's reluctance at addressing climate change was pinned upon, “consumer’s growing preference for the richer, riper wines that currently result from rising temperatures,” and that, “sales have not yet slipped.”
Or, to put it another way, climate change doesn't seem like that big of a deal when you're profiting off it. Unfortunately, that time may have passed. Look, I like wine, especially when it's both good and inexpensive. With this year's harvest, we're going to see a decline in quality and an increase in price, pretty much the exact opposite of the things I like.
Now, I'm not trying to promote some Chicken Little, fearmongering, nonsense, saying, “Wine won't exist if we don't do something now, oh, and it might already be too late!” It's not like that. However, the industry is going to change. This shouldn't be shocking, because wine is always changing, we just don't always like to acknowledge that. Each season is different, each vintage is different, each bend is different, but that's a lot of factors to keep track of, so instead we associate the wine with its brand and embrace the illusion that each bottle bearing the same label will be identical. That's change on a micro level, and it's easy to ignore, but what's happening now isn't.
There are wines on the shelf right now that you will never be able to buy again, because the vineyards that produced them just burned to the ground. Even if they rebuild, the next wine will be produced from new plants that had to grow from that fire scorched earth. They won't be the same. Some producers won't have the money or the willpower to rebuild all that they lost, and some of those labels will never be seen again. Those that do decide to carry on will have to face the possibility that this, or some other tragedy, may occur again next year, because the conditions that created it are still here.
As the climate continues to change, the vineyards that carry the prestige of producing Grand Cru wine may not be able to enjoy that status for much longer. A plot that was once thought to be capable of perfectly expressing a region's terroir may now find itself getting too much sun or too little precipitation. We'll still buy wine based on old reputations, but we won't be drinking the great wines that built those reputations. My advice: enjoy the classics while you can, but don't be afraid to try something new.
You're guaranteed to try a new wine in one of The Chopping Block's upcoming wine classes. If you are just getting started in exploring wine, How to Bluff Your Way through Wine will give you confidence in tasting, selecting and identifying wine. For those of you with a good base of knowledge, our more advanced courses such as War and Wine and Noble Grapes from Around the World will help you hone your wine skills.