Tag Archives: Climate Change

The Alternatives to HEAT

Knowledge is power… And knowing how disastrous the 2021 vintage was in many parts of the winemaking world, culminating in a shortage of some of the best-selling wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, discerning customers are already seeking out exciting new alternatives.

Add into the equation the continued challenges across Burgundy. A region that has been continually impacted by consecutive cold/wet/frost/hail vintages, now really is the time to take advantage of those new and exciting wines from around the world, which are made by some of most exciting winemakers, breaking boundaries, experimenting with unusual varieties and much more. You don’t have to settle for second best when exploring these wines and your customers might just find their new favourite.

As global warming and unpredictable weather become an ever present issue, the extraordinary weather patterns that have caused the issues above are driving winemakers to explore more and more extreme wine growing regions to make their wines. Whether it is high altitude or vineyards close to the ocean, a cool climate is an essential requirement when making wines to catch the eye of the classical wine consumer. The winemakers featured here are all working in these extreme environments – and their wines are as good as anything from those from vintage-affected regions.

Richard Kershaw is one of the newest inductees into the Cape Winemakers Guild (in December 2021) and is also the only Master of Wine who is actively making wine in South Africa. Not bad for a man from Sheffield! He specialises in site and clone specific Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Elgin (Clonal Selection) and other cool climate growing areas in the depths of the Cape (G.P.S. Series).  Despite the incredible detail to which he goes, his winemaking is non-interventionist and he is making some of the very best wines, especially Chardonnay, in South Africa today.

He is meticulous in his viticulture and winemaking, paying special attention to coopers and which barrels work best for specific wines and particularly around clonal selection. He has selected clones of Chardonnay and Syrah that are most suitable for the cool climatic conditions that Elgin offers. The Clonal Selection Syrah 2018 is “a thrilling and emotive Syrah” (97 Pts – Decanter) with Neil Martin (94 Pts – Vinous) labelling it “Absolutely top class” and we certainly don’t disagree. The G.P.S. Series Chardonnay comes from (rare in the area) limestone rich soils in the Lower Duivenhoks River. The resulting wine is vibrant and zingy and according to Neal Martin (93 Pts – Vinous) “This is almost disarmingly harmonious… Warning: You will definitely finish a bottle, even if you didn’t plan to”.

Fine wine doesn’t have to be expensive. Spain, with is a veritable smörgåsbord of wine regions, appellations and grape varieties certainly has some of the most exciting and pioneering winemakers of the northern hemisphere. One winemaker leading the way here is Xosé Lois (XL) Sebio who has been reinvigorating ancient and abandoned vineyards and producing a stunning collection of wines with a very marked identity. XL Sebio’s main aim is to make authentic wines which are far removed from conventions and modern fashions, but at the same time express the terroir from which his wines come with soul and personality. The ‘O’Con’ Albarino 2019 comes from old Albariño strains from the Aios area, in Sanxenxo. (Rias Baixas – Pontevedra – Galicia). The grapes come from an old hillside vineyard plot, with spruce soils, on top of an old tungsten mine. The freshness, depth and meatiness of the old vines help to produce a deep, elegant and sapid wine.

Finally, breaking from the cool climate theme we head to the beautiful island of Santorini. Unique places create unique wines, and Santorini provides this in spades. The soil is volcanic and mineral rich and the indigenous varietals have evolved alongside the island itself. The most famous of these is Assyrtiko, which thrives on an island which has long sunshine hours, a lack of rainfall, sea mists and strong cooling summer winds, all contributing to the unique microclimate. Gaia Estate is one of the pioneers of the Greek wine revolution. Established in 1994 by Greek winemakers Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. The Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is a gem of a wine and a fabulous alternative to White Burgundy. The wine is fermented naturally in a mix of stainless steel tanks, wooden casks (15% French oak, 15% American oak, 15% in acacia casks) and 10% ceramic vats. The resulting wine is truly unique, with layers of intriguing flavours, a mineral salty tang and beautiful acidity.

Ultimately, the challenges that we all face over the next twelve months can easily be overcome with creativity and helping consumers to get outside of their comfort zones to explore the myriad of stunning and extraordinary wines made by legendary winemakers of the future. And you never know, if they just give these wines a chance, they may not go back to what they wanted before.

Location, Location, Location

Climate change has a multi-faceted effect on wine production. It influences which grapes can be grown, the character they develop, how healthy they are, and the way in which they are nurtured and vinified. How climate change affects wine regions varies markedly depending on their location. Increasing temperatures and extreme and erratic weather can be hugely challenging for wine producers.

Regions which would previously have been marginal, or even impossible, for successful viticulture are now able to ripen grapes. Traditionally 30°-50° latitude was considered the zone for viticulture but more and more areas including much of the UK and even some areas of Sweden are seeing vineyards appearing. Conversely, regions in Australia, the US and elsewhere are struggling with increasingly high temperatures.

Imagine, you have a pot of money and the freedom to establish a vineyard in any corner of the globe. It seems like a great choice to have but, as the climate changes, deciding what to plant and where is anything but straightforward. Much like property, when it comes to vineyards location is paramount. It’s much more complicated than which country or even which region, vine growers must consider all manner of factors to ensure their grapes can thrive.

Keep it cool?

If the climate is on the cool side, is there protection for the vines? Hills or mountains can keep wind and rain at bay and allow vineyards to succeed. The South Downs in Sussex and the Vosges Mountains in Alsace are just two of many regions where this can be seen. Where sun is scarce, are there enough sun facing slopes to allow grapes to ripen and are the flatter areas viable for any grape growing? Even if the geography looks favourable there is still the not-so-small matter of the soil being suitable particularly if large amounts of rainfall is likely.

Considering a cool climate site for a vineyard could be a wise investment for the future as cooler areas move in to the sweet spot for viticulture as temperatures increase. This makes forward planning all the more challenging though, as the right vines now may not work as the vineyard warms. A flexible approach when it comes to which wine styles to produce may be the answer. English wine has demonstrated that this can be effective. Starting out with only its sparkling wine really being recognised for their quality, English wine producers are increasingly making high quality still wines.

Or turn up the heat?

Where heat and dry conditions are the primary concern, mountains can once again be the vine grower’s friend. Not as a shield this time but for altitude, enabling grapes to have more diurnal temperature variation and a longer ripening period. Altitude plays a huge role in the production of many high quality wines. Moderating influences from nearby rivers, lakes or oceans may also be needed along with cooling breezes to offer respite to the vines. Mountains and water sources also need to be considered for ease of irrigation.

As in a cooler areas, climate change must be considered when in hot regions as the vineyard must be able to cope with potentially even warmer temperatures to come. Without cooling influences the quality of wine produced could be low or production could become unfeasible. A warmer site will ensure ripe grapes and may initially be ideal for producing high quality wine. Once again, future proofing a potential vineyards site is a challenging proposition with numerous factors to consider.

Grape Expectations

Grape varietal selection is pivotal to successful viticulture and climate change is altering the suitability of some varieties for the sites they were once synonymous with. Difficult decisions must be made between well-known international varieties which are likely to sell well versus those which are best adapted to the location. Some hybrid varieties, and others which have been used primarily because of their tolerance to cold may become surplus to requirements in many areas. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Assyrtiko and Vermentino will all fare better in hot conditions than the likes of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Selecting varieties which will work now and in the future as well as those which can produce consumer friendly wines is crucial.

The recipe for great wine requires the grapes, the soil and the topography to align As climate change continues this recipe will keep evolving bringing both challenges and exciting opportunities for winemaking.