Climate change and alcohol in the Napa Valley
Sunday 16 October
After rains all week in the Napa, the sun finally came out to dry out the fruit and hopefully ensure the 2011 crop isn’t riddled with rot. It was a particularly unseasonable week when I visited but the rains seem to follow me wherever I go. Perhaps drought-ridden areas should call me in…
So, a seminar on climate change between downpours seemed relevant. What is going on with the weather?
Napa Valley Vintners supported a study published this year breezily entitled ‘Climate and Phenology in Napa Valley: A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data’ (!) in response to growing concerns about climate change.
Rex Stultz, industry relations director a the NVV, explains, “We started to see reports on USA today and NBC tying climate change to agriculture, saying that if the climate continued to change we might not be able to grow grapes in the Napa Valley.
“It created a bit of a stir in the community, asking if it was true.”
A two-year project followed to study the historical weather trends in Napa, and how this change affected wine grape growing.
Using 12,000 data collection points through the county, the study found that the Napa Valley had experienced warming but not to the degree that had been originally suggested.
Perhaps the problem was that the previous studies had been based on just two temperature collection stations. The first at the Napa state hospital, a facility for the criminally insane (not that that had any effect on the study but it’s a piece of trivia), which was positioned next to a road. The other station, in St Helena, was on the top of a fire station roof – not exactly representative of the county.
After studying some complicated-looking graphs, the results show that the average temperatures in Napa Valley have increased 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past several decades, but considerably less warming than the fire station and mad house station had suggested.
Christopher Howell of Cain Vineyard & Winery said “Globally, the years 1998, 2005, 2006 and now 2010 were the warmest years on record, but they were some of the coolest for the Napa Valley. There is a suggestion by some climate scientists that, as the interior areas warm in the future, Napa temperatures may actually remain relatively moderate, or even cool as maritime air gets drawn further up the valley.”
But this doesn’t explain why so many wineries have alcohols into the high 14s and 15s. Winemakers claimed canopy management, lower hanging fruit, more efficient yeasts in the winery, rootstock selection and lower yields have resulted in higher alcohols.
However, in my opinion, late picking seems to be the main factor in these higher alcohol styles in Napa. There’s a bunch of producers that don’t have these high alcohols like Clos du Val and Corison, who pick a little earlier than most, proving that top Napa Cabernet doesn’t have to be horribly high in alcohol, and these producers are making some of the most attractive wines. So it’s not the climate; it’s all to often a human decision.
Would you like a glass of wine with your Domino’s, sir?
Thursday 22 September
Should you have an Italian Barbera or a Chilean Chardonnay with your pizza? It’s a big decision but don’t fret – help is at hand! Staff at online wine trader Virgin Wines have partnered up with multinational pizza chain, Domino’s, to help hungry customers select the best match with their takeaway.
Wine Advisors at Virgin have matched each pizza from the Domino’s new Gourmet Range with one white and one red wine ‘to offer customers a luxury dining experience in the comfort of their own homes.’ The Rustica pizza has been paired with a Barbera and a Sauvignon Blanc ‘to bring out the flavour of the smoky bacon and sweet sunblush baby plum tomatoes’ while a Shiraz Cabernet Sangiovese or a Gewürztraminer are recommended for its ‘spicy Firenze’.
Domino’s customers are also offered six bottles of Virgin wines for £25 when they purchase a pizza. That’s £4.16 a bottle, so I’m not sure about the quality of the booze although Domino’s pizzas aren’t exactly the best I’ve ever had either.
Simon Wallis, sales and marketing director at Domino’s Pizza, gushed about the new promotion in a press release: ‘Our new Gourmet range has been developed to appeal to a wider pizza eating audience. This promotion will enable us to reach out to more potential pizza eaters, while also offering added value for our existing Gourmet customers.’
In addition to its venture with Virgin Wines, Domino’s is also the official partner on low-brow reality TV show Big Brother’s eviction night. Customers get a free bottle of Coca-Cola with their pizza on those evenings. Excuse me if I don’t rush out and order…
There are currently 638 Domino’s outlets in the UK and more than 9000 worldwide.
2011 Louis Roederer Awards
Tuesday 20 September
Alas I am no longer the current Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year. That’s what happens with annual awards. You’re soon so last year!
But congratulations to Gabby Savage, deputy editor at the Drinks Business taking this year’s crown. Well deserved. She came to Harpers magazine when I was features editor on a work experience placement. A few months later, a staff writing job came up at the Drinks Business and she got it. She was quickly promoted to deputy editor when Jane Parkinson left the team, and she’s had her nose to the grindstone since. Well done. Spend your winnings unwisely!
Nice to see a few international writers getting on the winner’s podium this year. The competition has been accused of being UK-centric so it’s good to see US writer and natural wine supporter, Alice Feiring becoming online columnist/blogger of the year, Max Allen wine wine book of the year for The Future Makers: Australian Wine for the 21st Century and fellow Australian Tyson Stelzer win the Champagne writer of the year for his Champagne Guide 2011 eBook.
The other winners were…
The Artistry of Wine Award
International Wine Website of the Year
Tim Atkin M.W. for timatkin.com
International Wine Publication of the Year
The World of Fine Wine
Regional Wine Writer of the Year
Liz Sagues for the Hampstead & Highgate Express
International Wine Columnist of the Year
Victoria Moore for articles from the Guardian/ the Telegraph
International Wine Feature Writer of the Year
Andrew Jefford for articles from The World of Fine Wine and Decanter
Domaine de la Romanee Conti: yours for just £10,000 a bottle!
Monday 12 September
In August’s edition of Decanter, I asked is Burgundy a one horse-race when it comes to investment? The answer was yes - at the moment - but names like Jayer, Rousseau, Roumier and Dujac are worth a dabble in the top years.
The conclusion was backed up by an auction at Bonhams last week, selling a case of Romanee-Conti 1990 vintage for £126,500. That’s more than £10,000 per bottle or £1,750 a glass – although I suppose that depends on the size of your glass!
Another case of Romanee-Conti, this time from 1988, sold for £74,750.
Interestingly, both cases were bought by a European buyer and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the Far East when the auction house sells more cases of the 1988 and 1990 vintage in Hong Kong in November.
The price of Romanee-Conti has shown, on average, a rise of 50% over the last year, according to Liv-ex.
The week that was
Friday 19 August
French producers started to return to their estates this week after their annual August holidays. I was on the news desk at Decanter.com and here’s the highlights of this week’s news.
It was a busier week than anticipated with the harvest beginning unusually early in Bordeaux. Sauternes star Chateau d’Yquem and rose producer Chateau de Sours started to pick the first grapes on Wednesday.
On Friday. Champagne producers in a number of villages were also permitted to start the harvest. The only harvest that has ever been earlier was the sweltering 2003 vintage. Grape growers and Champagne houses came to a compromise to allow 12,500kg to be harvested per hectare this year – more than 20% up on 2010, in response to growing demand
Heading to the southern hemisphere, New Zealand was covered in snow. The white stuff even fell in Auckland for the first time since 1939. Unhappily for one winery, it wasn’t just the weather that was gloomy. Gisborne winery Amor Bendall has gone into liquidation. The company has faltered amid the oversupply situation, the strength of the New Zealand dollar, and tough competition. The question is, who’s the next victim?
Over the Tasman, Australia is also struggling with its oversupply problems, and change is not happening fast enough, according to its generic body, Wine Australia. Its chief executive has been brutally honest, admiting many players are still in denial that the problem is long-term and requires major change. The new realities reshaping the industry include depressed trading conditions in its two main export markets: the US and the UK; the continued strength of the Australian dollar, higher production costs and tougher competition in all markets. Bulk wine sales and ‘opportunistic brand trading’ have also eroded margins, said Wine Australia’s Andrew Cheesman.