Global warming from winemakers’ perspectives

Many wine regions experience winter frost. But as bud break gets earlier in the year, it’s more likely that there can be frost damage that reduces the harvest. (Image from noaa.gov.)

I didn’t expect to be writing about global warming so soon again after my last post.  But I spent a week at wine shows talking to winemakers, so of course the subject came up. 

It was a pleasure talking to people who are on the front lines adapting to climate change.  And the shows I attended were in Lisbon and Montpellier, so the fact that there were so many similar concerns across different wine regions was troubling. 

While I was away, I saw that a few wine bloggers I read regularly also wrote about global warming and wine.  (I’d like to think I kicked things off!)  But I didn’t read much about winemakers’ geographic-specific concerns and what kinds of steps they and grape growers are taking.  Talking to French and Portuguese winemakers, I learned that trying to make their wines under changing climate conditions has been an exercise in science, patience, and in some cases, a return to techniques of the past.  And some of the techniques are things that put them in conflict with the rules of their particular appellations, which adds another layer of complication.

That’s an awful lot for one blog post, so I’m going to concentrate on effects of global warming in this one, and then some of the ways winemakers are coping in another.

Everyone mentioned that the harvest gets earlier and earlier.  But one winemaker in the Alentejo region of Portugal told me that the harvest has moved up by six weeks during his 20+ years in the wine business.  Spring bud break hasn’t moved up as much, so the growing season is significantly shorter than it was even 10 years ago.  This means that certain flavor compounds don’t fully develop, since they rely on time on the vine rather than the sugar content of the grape (which is more a function of weather).   While shorter hang time for the grapes is often cited as a consequence of global warming, the earlier harvest has other impacts.  For example, some winemakers also insist that the cooler weather of September and October imparts a richness to the grapes that is more and more difficult to achieve when harvests take place in early August.  And it also makes late-harvest wines and icewines more problematic and difficult to produce.

In some ways, earlier bud break due to a shorter/warmer winter can create more havoc than the earlier harvest.  If bud break moves into a time when the region has had traditionally colder weather, chances are greater that there will be a cold-weather event that can damage or destroy the buds.  Larger wineries with more cash on hand can sometimes use propane heaters in the vineyards to stave off freezing, but that’s not an option for most.   All of the producers I import from in the Languedoc experienced some decreased yield in 2017 from freezing after bud break.

Most people think of global warming in terms of everything just getting warmer.  But as winemakers (and Californians) have come to learn, it causes more potentially extreme weather – hot and cold, drought and lots of precipitation — even during what otherwise seems like a normal growing season.  A winemaker in Bergerac I’ve imported from avoided the freezing after bud break, but he had to contend with hailstorms after the grapes had started growing.  This hadn’t happened before in all his years as a winemaker.  Overall, his yield for 2017 was down 70% from 2016, and he doesn’t have any wine to sell me after meeting his local commitments.

The other important thing that the winemakers want people to understand is that while there’s a perception that years with warmer growing seasons make better vintages, that only happens because those warmer summers were formerly the exception rather than the rule.  I’m thinking of 2003 in the southern Rhône Valley, for example.  That year produced some amazing red wines.  But it’s only because the vines had more normal summers from 1999-2002, and again from 2004-6.  Grapevines can respond to the stress of a single warmer growing season with great results.  According to the producers I spoke with, this is totally different than the constant warming we’ve experienced in the past decade.  You don’t get the same great results if every summer is warmer than the last one.

Finally, I also learned that climate variations affect the amount and type of natural yeasts in the air.  Yeast content and character already varies by geography, as we all know.  But if a winery counts on natural yeast for fermentation, variability is an issue.  In some cases, reduced ambient yeast can mean that other (undesirable) microbes can take over during fermentation.  A couple of winemakers told me that they have made the decision to supplement with added manufactured yeast to gain some consistency from year to year.  A straightforward solution, but I also heard some sadness and resignation that their most traditional and (to use a much-maligned word) “natural” practice had to be abandoned.

All of this sounds pretty dire.  But winemakers are nothing if not resourceful, and I learned about techniques I hadn’t heard of before to cope with the global warming-associated changes.  I’ll write about them in a future post, so stay tuned!

_____________

Over a decade of blogging, I’ve decided that the hardest thing to do is transition from a blog post about wine to a recipe.  There are exceptions, of course — interviewing cookbook authors about wine makes it easy, as does talking about a particular wine.  But a post on global warming?  I’ve decided the only thing to do is launch right in, smooth transition or no.  So cue the needle scratch, and here we go!

Friday, March 9 was National Meatball Day, at least in the U.S.  I’ve given plenty of recipes for meatballs over these years of blogging, from classic Italian-American meatballs with red sauce, through Spanish and Persian recipes as well.  But there’s always room for more meatballs.

I’m generally suspicious of anything called “Asian Style” in foods, because it usually means someone has added some soy, ginger, and garlic to pretty much anything.  But I decided to try my hand at it for meatballs, and after looking at a bunch of online recipes I added sesame oil, scallions, and chili paste.  The results were pretty good, and I figured they’d go well with the typical sour/spicy/sweet/salty dipping sauces you typically find with dumplings.  Well, I think they’re even better if you dunk them in the sauce after cooking, and then put them back in the oven for a few minutes to set the sauce flavor on the outsides.

So here’s my made-up Ginger-Sesame Meatballs.  And I like them as an appetizer, served with our naturally sparkling wine, Domaine la Croix des Marchands Méthode Ancestrale Brut ($18).  It has a touch of residual sweetness that goes really well with the sauce, and it tames the spice a bit too. 

Cheers!

Tom

Sesame-Ginger Meatballs with Orange Sweet and Sour Sauce

Serves 4 as an appetizer or used in sandwiches

Meatballs

1 pound ground turkey (90 or 93 percent lean), or ground pork

4 scallions, finely chopped (including green parts)

1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, grated or put through a press

2-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon chili paste (Sambal Oelek)

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Combine everything except the turkey and bread crumbs in a large bowl and mix well.  Break the turkey up in pieces and add to the bowl along with ½ cup of the bread crumbs.  Mix well.  Add up to 2 more tablespoons of bread crumbs if the mixture seems too liquid.

Using a 1-1/2 inch ice cream scoop, make individual meatballs and space them evenly on the lined baking sheet.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re cooked through and have a little browning on them.

Sauce

1/3 cup Hoisin sauce

¼ cup orange marmalade

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon finely diced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon finely diced fresh garlic

Combine sauce ingredients in a large bowl, then pour half of the sauce into a smaller bowl for dipping.  When the meatballs are cooked, gently put them into the large bowl with half the sauce, and stir to coat.  Return the meatballs to the baking sheet and bake for another 5-7 minutes, until glazed.  Serve hot or warm with the dipping sauce on the side.

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3 Responses to Global warming from winemakers’ perspectives

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