Impact of Climate Change on the Wine Industry

Here is a sobering thought; if the industrialized world continues to produce greenhouse gases at its current rate, the United Nations predicts that there will be an increase in the global mean temperature of about 3.2˚C between now and the end of this century. This is a similar increase to the change that resulted in the most recent ice age.

Photo credit: Guado al Melo Winery

Wine, which is among the most sensitive agricultural products, demonstrates how climate change is transforming traditions and practices, many of which are centuries old.  Around the globe, producers have contemplated and experimented with adaptations, not only to hotter summers, but also to warmer winters, droughts and the sort of unexpected, sometimes violent events such as spring frosts, forest fires, and flooding, to name a few, that are a result of climate change.

Original archives compiled from 664 years of harvest dates and weather conditions from Beaune (pronounced: ​[bon]) in the Burgundy region of France, is the longest known homogeneous series of grape harvest dates available.  These records indicate that temperatures have climbed enough that harvests now begin an average of 13 days earlier than they did prior to 1988.

Grape growers have been noting significant changes in weather patterns since the 1990s.  Places such as England, that were traditionally unsuited for producing fine wine, have been given the opportunity to become part of the global wine world, transforming local economies in the process.

In areas like Burgundy, Barolo, Champagne and the Mosel and Rhine Valley, where great vintages were once rare, warmer growing seasons have made it much easier to produce exceptional wines on a consistent basis. This good fortune has increased both land values and wine prices giving grape growers and winemakers fame and fortune.  The character of these wines has evolved in part as a result of climate change.

If the growing season becomes too hot, the grapes will advance through their life cycle too quickly.  As a result tannins and anthocyanins, the compounds responsible for giving grape skins their color, won’t develop properly. Subdued acid and increased alcohol levels are also possible and often undesirable.

Variations between daytime and nighttime temperatures are in jeopardy as well. In warmer growing regions, that difference can be crucial to achieving freshness and encouraging certain flavour and aroma development.

Intense heat or too much direct sunlight can lead to dried fruit notes or create dull wines. Fruit that’s left too long on the vine can be damaged from sunburn or may simply shrivel.

Wine growers in northern Italy have already experienced more regular occurrences of sun-damaged crops.

The summer of 2019 in Southern Australia was the hottest since keeping national records began in 1910, and it ushered in an 8% loss of white wine varieties, with Chardonnay dropping 12% to its lowest yield in the past five years. Growers in Priorat, Spain reported devastating vine damage, scorched leaves and desiccated grapes when temperatures shot up to a record 42˚C.

Freezes during the winter or extreme frost in the spring may become less frequent in the years ahead but they have the potential of being much more severe.  A decrease in regular winter frosts may also encourage the spread of pests and insect-borne diseases that would normally die off during cold seasons.

The amount of moisture is pivotal. Too much rain approaching or during harvest can lead to watery grapes and a weak vintage. Similar to mild winters, damp, soggy and humid conditions make the vines susceptible to a variety of pests, fungi, mildew and disease.

Rising sea levels, which according to NASA are expected to surge by about 66 centimetres by the beginning of the next century will have the capability of altering or destroying coastlines.  Severe floods are also possible and could destroy many vineyards in Portugal, New Zealand and California.

Drought can be another challenge for grape growers.  Even though vines may be more tolerant to water deficiency than other crops, the resulting stress can even be desirable, spurring root growth. However, too much stress can hinder photosynthesis, delay or inhibit bud ripening, lower winter hardiness or cause the vine to stop producing altogether.  In these situations the soil could be eroded away by wind.

While irrigation can be beneficial, it is not always possible. The recent 3 year drought in South Africa resulted in a decline in vineyard area, improper berry set, hindered vine growth overall and produced  the smallest yield since 2005.

The fast moving effects of climate change are forcing the wine industry to take decisive steps to counter or adapt to the changing climate.  For example, some growers are pursuing higher altitude locations, which provide shorter periods of intense heat or are better at sustaining day-night temperature swings.

A group of Chilean winemakers, who recently cultivated Patagonia, are advancing into wild territory where nothing is guaranteed. Their hope is that the patchwork of microclimates and terroirs will provide future reprieve from some of nature’s elements, even if it means risk in the short term.

In order to minimize the effects of the intense sunlight, producers are rethinking canopy management, pruning techniques, developing cover crops and extensive shading methods, increasing vineyard biodiversity and finding ways to reuse water.

New World wine producers are experimenting with different grape varieties. In South Africa, growers are testing more drought-resistant varieties. In Australia, vintners are now growing Italian grapes like Fiano, Vermentino and Nero d’Avola varietals that can thrive in a warmer environment.  In California, new varieties are being introduced to the Napa Valley.

In Old World regions as well, where many grapes and blends have been historically prescribed by law, the idea of moving to different vines is gaining momentum.  For example, in Bordeaux the Union of Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur winemakers have unanimously approved a list of seven “varieties of interest for adapting to climate change”, those being Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, Touriga Nacional, Alvarinho, Liliorila and Petit Manseng.

Implementation of each of these solutions requires a great deal of time, research and testing.  Unfortunately, the methods being devised now may not work in the future as the climate continues to change.

In the short term, it may appear that there is currently better wine from regions we know and new wine from previously uncharted areas, but the reality is we are going to experience ever-worsening and unpredictable viticultural challenges in the near future. 

Sláinte mhaith

The Chill Factor

At the time I was introduced to the world of wine I was told that white wine was to be served chilled straight from the fridge and red wine drank at room temperature.  However, since then I have learned that the serving temperature of wine is much more complex than that. 

Photo credit: Food52.com

Research has discovered that when wine is served at the proper temperature it is much more enjoyable.  When determining serving temperature we need to look beyond just the colour of the wine to the type or varietal of the wine.  Serving wine at the right temperature will provide the intended flavour, character and bouquet of the wine.

However, let’s not go crazy here; determining the serving temperature of wine is by no means an exact science.  There isn’t an exact optimal temperature for any particular wine.  A difference of a couple of degrees won’t affect your taste experience.

When considering serving red wine at “room temperature”, what most people don’t realize is that room temperature has actually changed over time as building construction and materials have changed.  At one time room temperature would have been a drafty damp 13o to 16oCelsius versus today’s average temperature of 20o to 23o Celsius. That is a significant change.  If you normally serve your red wine at room temperature try chilling it in the fridge for 15 minutes prior to serving and see whether you prefer it chilled or not.

White wines on the other hand can be served too cold.  If the wine is served too cold then both the flavour and bouquet may be stifled; but if served too warm they are not enjoyable either.  White wine is best served between 7o and 10o Celsius.

The following chart indicates the suggested serving temperature for a number of the more common varietals of wine, as recommended by the experts:

VarietalServing Temperature (oC)Time in Fridge
Champagne/Sparkling Wine7 – 1030 – 40 minutes
Chardonnay1030 minutes
Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio7 – 1030 – 40 minutes
Riesling7 – 1030 – 40 minutes
Sauvignon Blanc7 – 1030 – 40 minutes
Viognier1030 minutes
White Bordeaux Blends1030 minutes
Rosé1030 minutes
Cabernet Franc1620 minutes
Cabernet Sauvignon16 – 1815 – 20 minutes
Malbec16 – 1815 – 20 minutes
Merlot16 – 1815 – 20 minutes
Pinot Noir13 – 1615 – 20 minutes
Red Bordeaux Blends16 – 1815 – 20 minutes
Syrah/Shiraz16 – 1815 – 20 minutes
Zinfandel16 – 1815 – 20 minutes

Remember, these are suggestions only.  You can try experimenting serving your wine at varying temperatures and see what works best for you.

Sláinte mhaith

When Wine Goes Rogue

Nothing is perfect and even though most of us share a passion and appreciation for the wonderful grape nectar we know as wine, it can present challenges if we allow it to become unruly and take control. Below are a host of challenges and solutions for dealing with some of the issues wine may present from time to time.

Removing Wine from Carpet

Wine, especially red wine, can be very difficult to clean up and remove from carpets, clothing, or even a decanter.  Here are some suggestions from the “experts” who have experience in addressing such situations.

There are several possible solutions for removing red wine from a carpet.  If the stain is still wet begin by blotting up the wine right away. The longer the wine sits on the carpet the harder it is to get rid of the stain. Be sure to use an up-and-down blotting motion, not a side-to-side rubbing one. Rubbing will pick up some of the wine but force the rest deeper into the carpet fibers, making it much harder to remove the stain.  This can also make the stained area even larger by spreading the liquid to the sides.  Work from the outer edges inward toward the centre. This helps prevent the stain from getting any larger than it already is.

Eventually it will become difficult to blot any more of the wine out. At this point, try getting the stain wet again with a small amount of cold water. This helps dilute the wine remaining in the carpet. Continue blotting until the carpet is dry again.

Next pour a generous portion of salt over the stain while it’s still wet. A good dabbing job will take most of the wine out of the carpet, but usually not all of it.  The salt granules will gradually draw the moisture in the stain out of the carpet over the next few hours.  However, given that salt works by absorbing the stain’s moisture, this is much less effective for dried stains. If your stain is getting dry, pour a little water on it first before adding the salt.

As the salt sits it absorbs the wine and will gradually turn pinkish in colour. You’re ready to proceed when the stain seems almost completely dry. However, the longer you take for the treatment the better the chance for success, so if possible let the salt sit overnight.

Next scoop up the loose salt with a spoon and discard it. Use a vacuum to suck up the fine particles that remain. If a salty residue remains after the first vacuuming, dampen the area with a little cool water and vacuum again.  This should restore the carpet’s natural texture. The stain should be greatly diminished if not gone completely.

A second option is to use a vinegar solution on the carpet.  Prepare your cleaning solution of a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, a tablespoon of white vinegar, and 2 cups of warm water in a large bowl. Be sure to use white vinegar. Other vinegars may cause additional staining.

Next soak a clean rag in the vinegar mixture and dab it on to the stained part of the carpet. The mixture will seep into the carpet fibers, loosening the stain.  Then use a second dry rag to blot up the liquid as you go.  Alternate between dabbing on the vinegar solution and sopping it up.

Now soak a third rag in cold water and press it into to stain to dilute the wine. Alternatively, pour a little water directly onto the stain. Soak up the water by dabbing with your “drying” towel once again.

For maximum effectiveness, you may need to run through the process several times.

A third option is to use dish soap and hydrogen peroxide.  In this case add a generous squirt of soap to the peroxide and stir to mix them together. The amount you need will depend on the size of the stain, but you shouldn’t need much more than about a half cup for any stain.

Hydrogen peroxide is a mild bleaching agent so this method is best used only on light-coloured carpets.  It may be best to first try putting a small amount of the solution on part of the carpet that can’t be seen. If the carpet lightens or you notice dye transfer when you sop up the peroxide with a paper towel, avoid this method.  According to the experts, low concentrations of peroxide (like 3%) shouldn’t affect most carpets.

Soak the corner of a clean rag in the peroxide solution and dab it gently on the stain, allowing the mixture to seep into the carpet fibers. Repeat as needed until you’ve applied the solution to the entire stain. As always, blot; don’t rub.

When you’re done, let the mixture sit for a few minutes. This allows it to penetrate the deeper fibers and reach deep stains.

Then fill a clean spray bottle with cold water and add a few drops of standard dish soap. Shake the mixture to mix it. Give the entire stain a light spritzing and blot with a dry towel when you are done.  If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can repeat the blotting technique above with a fresh towel.

The stain should be looking better. Next soak a clean rag in room-temperature water (no soap), and blot the carpet to loosen up the cleaning materials. Finish by blotting with a dry towel.

Removing Red Wine from Fabric

Depending on how much wine you have spilt, gently dab or blot the excess liquid with a clean cloth or paper towel. Do not rub the stain.

If possible, apply some salt on the stain while it is still damp. You could also try applying white wine to the stain, which will help neutralise it. Just gently dab the stain to remove the excess liquid.

Baking soda also can be a useful product for helping to remove red wine stains. Consider applying a baking soda paste to the affected area.  Take a cup of water and dilute ½ cup of bicarbonate in it.  Mix it well until you get a uniform white paste and then apply it to the stain and let it work.  Once the mixture on your garment has dried, you will have to remove the traces of baking soda.

Another effective method is to mix baking soda with vinegar. You can create the same preparation but also add a tablespoon of vinegar to enhance it.

If the methods above aren’t available, or haven’t quite removed the wine stain entirely, apply a stain removal product to the stain by following the directions on the label.

The experts say that these hints are intended for treating stains on common fabrics, such as cotton and polyester. If you stain a more delicate fabric, such as silk, it is best to have the item professionally cleaned.  Always refer to care instructions on the clothing label to check the suitability of different cleaning methods, especially when using chemical cleaning solutions.

Cork in the Wine

If you find bits of cork floating in your wine, simply filter it out by pushing a coffee filter half way into your wine glass, and then slowly pour the wine through the filter. Make sure to use an unbleached filter, though, as bleached coffee filters may affect the flavor of your wine.  Other alternatives include using cheesecloth or a sieve, depending on the size of the pieces of cork.

Cleaning a Wine Decanter

It might be tempting to wash a decanter with dish soap or in the dishwasher as you would most other glasses. However, that is not a good idea as dish soap leaves behind residue and faint flavours, while dishwashers are too rough for most decanters.  There are other alternatives for cleaning your decanter, including the ones below.

If you decanter is relatively sturdy, drop in a few pinches of salt and some crushed ice inside and give it a gentle shake.  The ice and salt function as a sort of liquid steel wool pad, scouring the glass as you shake things up. Afterward, rinse your decanter with room-temperature water and let it air dry.

Another option is to use decanting beads, which are little metal balls that you put in the decanter with very hot water and swirl them around.  As the stainless-steel beads swish around the decanter they pick up residue and sediment like a sponge.  Because of their size the beads have the ability to reach the nooks and crannies at the base of the decanter. They are particularly effective on decanters with unusual shapes. 

The beads are reusable.  After use simply rinse them in hot water and let them dry before storing.

If the thought of steel or ice inside your beloved decanter makes you cringe, a similar alternative is to use clean, uncooked rice with equal parts water and white vinegar.  This combination works well as long as there are no significant stains in the decanter.

The most important thing to do in order to maintain your decanter is to rinse your decanter with warm-to-hot (but not boiling) water as soon as possible after each use.

Hopefully you are not presented with a regular occurrence of any of the above challenges but if you are, some of these hints may be of help. 

Sláinte mhaith

Common Wine Faults

When you take your first taste from a bottle of wine are you experiencing the vintner’s intentional style or some sort of accident?  The degree to which wine faults are considered problematic often lies in the nose (or palate) of the beholder and it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Here’s a guide to seven common wine faults, plus two situations you can happily ignore.

Brett

If the smell of the wine reminds you of a barnyard, horse stable or a band-aid, the wine may contain Brettanomyces yeast.  Many wines, including really good ones, have small amounts of brett.

Brett is most prevalent in red wines.  At lower concentrations, it can add a spicy, leathery note to a wine. People’s thresholds of perception of brett vary.  Some people don’t notice it while others are more sensitive. Brett does not pose a health concern.

Brett can develop in wine at any point during production. The yeast can be on the grapes or can be in barrels. There are lots of opportunities for brett to occur.

Corked Wine

About 5% of the world’s wines are corked, which leads to a less than pleasant wine-drinking experience.  If you smell the wine before drinking it will help determine whether or not it is corked.  If it smells okay, taste it to make sure that it has the strong, fresh flavors you expected when you bought it.   If wine is corked, it will have an odor that you wouldn’t expect from a good wine. It may smell musty, or like a dank towel, wet dog, wet cardboard or newspaper.  Your first sniff is more reliable than later sniffs. Trust your first whiff.

Wine becomes corked when it is exposed to  “2,4,6-Trichloroanisole” (TCA), a naturally occurring compound that may be found in the cork of the wine bottle.  TCA forms when natural fungi present in corks comes into contact with certain chemicals found in sanitation and sterilization products used in wineries.

Taste the wine. If the wine has only been exposed to a small amount of TCA, it may be difficult to decide for sure whether or not it is corked by just smelling it. The taste of the wine will be dull and will not exhibit any fruit characteristics.  A wine that is only slightly corked may lack aroma and have very little taste. It may even taste like paint thinner.

It may not be the cork in the bottle that caused the contamination. You may come across a bottle of wine with a screw top that tastes as though it is corked. In this case, the wine may have become contaminated in the barrel before it was bottled.

Many people mistakenly believe that corked wine is just wine that has little bits of cork floating in the wine. This is not the case. Although pieces of cork in your wine may be annoying, the wine itself is perfectly fine, unlike corked wine, which is generally undrinkable

Cooked / Manderized

Cooked or manderized wine is not mulled wine but is wine that has been exposed to heat levels that cause the wine to spoil. If you have ever bought a case of wine while on a summertime trip to wine country and stored it in your car’s trunk you may have been surprised to find it tasted completely different than when you bought it. A temperature of a mere 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) can be sufficient to spoil the taste.

White wine affected by temperature will appear brownish in colour and will have the flavour of flat baked fruit or nutty flavours.  Red wine will taste roasted, stewed or jammy with a raisin flavour.

Other indications of a cooked wine include finding that the cork is very difficult to remove. Essentially when the wine is exposed to high temperatures the cork expands. The cork might be extremely hard to pull out or may even be visibly forcing itself out of the bottle.

If the wine bottle is not cool to touch then you’re probably not storing it properly. A common misnomer is that room temperature is adequate for wine storage. It’s actually advised that wine should be stored at cellar temperature, which can be 10 degrees Celsius cooler than standard room temperature. To keep it cool during the summer months, either get a small wine fridge or keep it in a cool dry place like your basement.  For additional information on cellaring wine see my August 24, 2019 blog, “Drink or lay down and how to cellar those you keep”.

Over-The-Hill

Over-the-hill wine is wine that has been stored too long.  The colour of the wine will appear faded and less vibrant and the taste will be rather flat, having lost its freshness and structure.  Only about 10% of all wine produced is suitable for long term retention.  Most wines are ready for consumption the day you bring them home from the store. 

Oxidization

As soon as wine encounters oxygen it begins to break down, or “open up,” as some people say. Oxygen allows the aromas in wine to become more present, making it easier to identify the aroma. Oxygen also softens the mouthfeel of wine which occurs due to the breaking down of tannins, the cause of that harsh, dry sensation you may feel along your cheeks and tongue. Decanting is extremely beneficial in young reds, whose bright acidity and gripping tannins can seem austere and unpleasant at first. See my November 9, 2019 post, “To Breathe or not to Breathe” for additional information.

However, too much oxygen can lead to oxidation and  the degradation of the wine. This can happen during wine production or even after the wine has been bottled. Basically all oxygen needs is a simple catalyst for the reaction to occur. Think of an apple that’s been sliced and left out too long; the abundance of oxygen causes the flesh to brown, the aromas to dissipate and the flavors to disappear. The same thing occurs in the oxidation of wine.

If there is too much oxygen in white wine it will be ruddy or brownish in colour and will have the smell of spoiled cider, nuts or dried leaves.  Red wine will take on an orange brick colour and will taste lifeless and flat.

Reduction

Reduction is the opposite of oxidization.  It occurs when there is too little exposure to oxygen.  In this case the wine will take on a sulfuric smell like that of a struck match or the smell of garlic, rubber or rotten eggs.

Reduction occurs during the wine making process and can often be cured simply by introducing oxygen during the fermentation process. However, if reduction appears in a finished bottled wine, it is a clear flaw and while decanting will usually clear it up, some wines are permanently reduced and about all that can be done is to put a penny (if you still have one) in the wine.

Slight reduction is not something to worry about because the basic characteristics of the wine are still evident. Heavy reduction that extends to the flavours makes a wine almost impossible to accurately judge and if the condition is left untreated it can permanently mark a wine.

Volatile Acidity

If the wine contains extremely high levels of acetic acid it will have the smell of nail polish or vinegar. Small amounts are generally not noticeable by most people as the human threshold for detecting it is about 600 to 900 mg/L. It is likely to be present anytime you see “high-toned” fruit flavors in a tasting note. It can offer a tangy edge that works well with food that could use a little pizazz.

Volatile acidity occurs during the wine making process and is often associated with oxidation problems in a wine due to overexposure to oxygen and/or a lack of sulfur dioxide management. Acetic acid bacteria require oxygen to grow and proliferate.

Decanting will often help the sharp aromas disappear.

Perceived Faults

Though often mistaken for wine faults, wine diamonds and sediment are common phenomenon that are perfectly normal, and won’t harm the flavour of your wine.

Wine Diamonds

These are crystals that appear in the bottom of the bottle or glass.  They are a tartrate deposit that form when naturally occurring potassium and tartaric acid combine and sink. While winery techniques mostly prevent it from happening, they are harmless.

Sediment

Sediment is dark, grainy material that can accumulate in the bottom or side of a red wine bottle.  Sediment occurs for a couple of reasons.

Wine producers may elect not to filter their wines.  They do this to preserve flavour and texture. This leaves particles that with time settle to the bottom.

The second reason relates to aging. Research indicates a combination of acid, tannin and color compounds bond and separate from the wine. Fortunately, sediment is innocuous and is easily removed by decanting the wine before serving.

Final Thoughts

Although any of these situations may impede your enjoyment of wine, none of them are detrimental.  It several of the cases these flaws are part of the personality of the wine.  Many times I have read wine reviews that contain “hints of leather”, “earthy”, “nutty”, as part of their description.  As they say, “Beauty (or taste in this case) lies in the eyes of the beholder”.

Sláinte mhaith