Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wine Country Climate Check

by Jim Lannen

Climate is a "hot" topic all the time. There is so much that is affected by its change. The drought that has gone on in California the last few years has been impacting the state's biggest exports and tourist attractions: wine and vineyards. Last year alone was one of the most severe droughts in its history.

Climate change and water conservation are issues that wineries must often manage. When it comes to wine, you do not necessarily see the effect until the following year in both supply and flavor. 

What do these wineries need to do in order to produce their products in spite of the changing climate? I recently read an article on different ways to look at the issue. 

Different wineries deal with this differently. Normally when you think of less water for a plant, it affects it negatively. A lot of times they simply do not even grow. Which then means less fruit, in turn meaning less product to sell. However, some drought-stricken vines are producing some of the best wines California has seen in decades.

Due to lack of rain, the vines are forced to find water on their own and deeply penetrate the soils. Normally vines grow about 10 feet deep. With the low soil moisture, they must dig a little deeper in search of water. This results in a smaller, riper grape which actually produces a more concentrated sugar and complex fruit flavor into the wine.

On the flip side, in a wet year (2011 was a wet one for California), you can really taste the difference in the wines. Grapes grown in years like this do not get as ripe, which then affects the flavor of the wine.  However, more of it is produced and available to the average consumer.

As you can see, for wine lovers looking for flavor and complexity of wine, dry years are good years. Especially if money is no object. The result of a dry year is that not as many bottles are produced, and wine is more expensive.

Wine Enthusiast (a wine trade group that rates all wine) has been seeing dry years with greater scores. "We've looked at our scores over the last three years, and they are increasingly going up. So obviously our tasters are liking what they're tasting; they're liking the concentration; they're liking the intensity of the wines," a WE spokeswoman said.

In fact, in 2011 - a wet year - 47 percent of the red wines in Napa were rated 90 points or more. In 2012 - a dry year - that jumped to 53 percent.

Of course, vines cannot withstand a drought for multiple years, but conserving water and letting the roots dig deeper has had some positive effect on their end product. 

Either way, you can look at it as the wine glass being half full OR half empty.

1 comment:

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