The Wine Industry Must Lead on Climate Change

I am not a scientist in any significant sense of the word (just like most people don’t consider me a “real doctor” [I have a Ph.D. is in Education Policy], many don’t consider the educational research that I do a social science), and the following is not based on my own research or any personal data manipulation of any kind.

But here I go nonetheless.

  1. The climate is changing
  2. Man is the primary cause of the changes to the environment
  3. The scientific community is essentially unanimous in agreeing to the first two points
  4. The wine industry should be leading the charge to promote awareness/acceptance of these facts and to combat this growing crisis.

I assume that most people who are reading this have already seen or heard the first three points, which are usually presented together and, for the most part, in that order. Thus, for the sake of this article, I am accepting those as givens.

Now, not all readers will agree that numbers 1-3 are givens (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary). They might sight the fact that over the history of the planet, the climate has changed countless times (they might even bring up dinosaurs). As far as I know, that is also correct.

Additionally, they might bring up some talking points from the conservative playbook that this is all just a liberal hoax, fabricated to perpetuate one agenda or another. As far as I know, this is not correct. The reason I state this is precisely point number three above. Again, I am not a scientist–certainly not a climatologist–so I consume the data much like every other “average citizen.” When I have taken the time to read the data, though, it is more than compelling–it is terrifying.

For me (and hopefully for those reading), science is not “opinion.” Sure, there are theories about what is going to happen and when, but whether or not those theories prove to be accurate or not has nothing to do with the facts of where we are now.

Over the past decade or so, I have visited countless vineyards in several countries and across continents and despite the diversity of locales and cultures, there has invariably been a common thread: winemakers and vineyard managers to a person have agreed that the climate is changing and becoming more severe.

Also to a person, none have made it into a political statement, none have criticized policies nor politicians. They have, invariably, talked about how they were addressing the issue through farming practices.

Many wine regions, in fact, have likely benefitted, at least in the short term, from the warming of temperatures across the globe. Most of the vineyards in Europe were planted at the northernmost extreme of where particular varieties can survive. That meant that there were particularly good vintages when nature was “kind” and rather disastrous vintages when the weather did not cooperate.

Today, regions like Champagne, the Loire Valley, and even Germany, are experiencing consistently riper fruit, which often results in fruitier, more robust wines (notice I did not say these wines were “better”), and vintages, for the most part, have become somewhat more consistent.

In the New World, however, where vines were planted where the climate was more or less much better suited for a particular variety (this was not always the case, obviously, but it was almost always the objective), many of those areas are becoming increasingly hotter and water, which is almost always a concern, has become even scarcer.

My contention, which I will address over a few posts, is that those attached to the wine industry: winemakers, owners, vineyard managers, retailers, restaurateurs, writers, need to be at the forefront of making this an the international issue of our time. There are few that are better positioned to speak from experience than those in the wine industry since wine is unique–there is no other product that is so closely tied to place, nature, and time.

While I have always been a bit of a tree hugger (I am the guy in the Prius going 5 mph under the speed limit to maximize gas mileage), the folks at SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice ) have really got me thinking about sustainability and my role as a writer and consumer.

While the program is not perfect (I think they would be the first to admit that), they are moving the discussion in the right direction. Here are a few wines that they sent me to review, all of which are SIP Certified:

2017 Claiborne and Churchill Riesling Dry, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $22. Classic Riesling nose of lemon peel and ripe peach, with just a touch of petrol for good measure. The palate is bright, really bright and essentially dry (0.2 grams/liter) with fresh fruit and a zingy finish. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.

2017 Niner Wine Estates Grenache Blanc Heart Hill Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $30. Under Screw. When I first twisted off the top and poured, I was less than enthused; it was a bit lackluster and not all that interesting. After a time open, though, the wine really came around. Still shy on the nose, with a bit of pear eventually. The palate, however, is far more expressive with great fruit, that Grenache Blanc roundness, and enough acidity for solid balance. Lovely. Excellent. 90-92 Points.

2016 Opolo Malbec, Paso Robles: Retail $36. 100% Malbec. With every bottle of Opolo I open, I become more attracted to the operation. My first exposure was last year on a trip to Paso and even though I really liked the wines, it is a pretty big operation, which caused some consternation. But. Everyone there was extremely nice, the clientele seemed to be having a blast, and they are committed to producing sustainable wines. Giddy-the-heck-up! As one might expect, this is pretty dark in the glass both in color and aromas, and the palate is rather big, but hey, it’s a New World Malbec. Not my go-to variety by any means but this is particularly tasty, even down-right yummy. Excellent. 90-92 Points.

2017 Opolo Viognier, Central Coast, CA: Retail $26. Bad Viognier can be tough to drink; it’s either soft and flabby, or harsh and astringent. Good Vio, though can be an absolute delight and challenge Chardonnay for the top spot of best white wine variety. While this will not cause me to forget Condrieu or Château-Grillet (in the Rhône Valley where Viognier reaches its apex), it is decidedly in the “good Viognier” camp. Floral with a multitude of tree fruit on the nose, the palate is refreshing and round (but far from flabby). Lingering finish that is delightful. Excellent. 91-93 Points.

2016 J. Wilkes Lagrein, Paso Robles: Retail: $32. Lagrein is a difficult find outside of Northern Italy, I am not sure that it is grown in any significant proportions anywhere else since it is known for rather high acidity and harsh tannins. But here it is, in Paso Robles. Really dark. Even inky dark. Cassis and blackberry on the nose, but it seems lighter than those fruits would suggest. The palate bears this out, to an extent. It’s not the tannic monster that young wines from Trentino tend to be. While the palate certainly is big and rich, it stops well short of huge. Really nice flavors and balance. A well-made wine and a great new world expression of this old world beast. Excellent. 90-92 Points.



About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Grenache Blanc, Lagrein, Malbec, Riesling, Viognier, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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