Climate Change & Fine Wine - Q&A for the The Natural Acidity Podcast

James Hook (DJs Growers):       This is the Natural Acidity podcast with James Hook and Gill Gordon-Smith.

Gill Gordon Smith (Fall From Grace):                  Yeah. Nice to have you with us.

James Hook:       I always enjoy talking with you Gill, because I find that everything to do with wine has a reason. Sometimes that might be geography or history or dumb luck or some brave woman somewhere. And no one knows more about the reasons behind everything than you.

Gill G.:                  Oh. And what I like talking to you about is you have the most amazing knowledge about viticulture and why things are grown and why things are made the way they're made. So hopefully with this chat we can really dive deep - go into the wormhole - into some of the topics

James Hook:       You and I are both podcast fans, but maybe-

Gill G.:                  I love them.

James Hook:       ... the podcasts are not aimed at the wine community itself. They're more for wine fans or consumers.

Gill G.:                  Consumers.

James Hook:       So I thought that when we talk would do it for professionals like ourselves and hope you can all come along for the ride.

Gill G.:                  Or pick which wormhole we can dive into. So that's one of the main things isn't it, that when we start talking about anything to do with wine, it's a very deep dive into a black hole.

James Hook:       And I thought, let's dive into a very deep black hole and let's talk about climate change.

Gill G.:                  Oh dear. So well it's got a note, a pool effect on wine, shapes the character of the wine through grapes. And do you see it as being like a swindle or the biggest problem that's really facing us in the modern ...

James Hook:       Change is always going to happen. If you go back in the way back machine to the time of Henry VIII, there was vineyards in England which were then wiped out by the little ice age. It's about 500 years ago. Change is always happening.

Gill G.:                  It's all being rebuilt now. Doing very well.

James Hook:       Well, the way I see it is that the key issue is much of the fine wine world has structured itself to be growing a great variety in the coolest place that it is possible to grow it in order to get maximum flavor. So I think of the purest expression of Pinot noir wine, as Burgundy, I think of Chardonnay in Chablis is a subregion of Burgundy and also you could argue that Cabernet Sauvignon is close to is coolest climatic limit when grown in (Left Bank) Bordeaux, they are the coolest regions where it's possible to fully ripen that fruit. And if climate changes-

Gill G.:                  Really, and that's changing now, and changing the way people make wine, grow grapes and maybe changing culture.

James Hook:       Now you and I have just come off working in the 2019 vintage in South Australia, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale respectively. And that had the hottest summer day that had ever occurred in those regions. And that was in January 2019. And now we're seeing it the same growth stage in Europe in July 2019, we're seeing Chablis with 41 degrees.


July 25th, 2019 +42.1 °C in Chablis

July 25th, 2019 +42.1 °C in Chablis

Gill G.:                  I think Bordeaux had one of the hottest seasons that it's had. I was there in 2006 when they went through their big Canticule they call it.

James Hook:       You always ask me from a viticultural point of view, how does a great grower handle heatwaves? And our chief method of it is by using irrigation water to cool the soil and to help the vine transpire (and cool itself down). Is their much scope for irrigation in Chablis?

Gill G.:                  Well no. No, because legally they can't do it. They're restricted on what they can grow, how they can grow it and what they can actually do in the vineyards.

James Hook:       So you can see it's a problem for these established regions because they've developed without the key technique for keeping themselves cool, which is applying water to the soil to allow vines to take that up and cool themselves. Now in the regions... These new world regions like the ones in California and here in our region, McLaren Vale, we've spent a lot of time securing water to make sure that there's a lot of water, excess capacity of water so that in these heat wave times we can treat it. Many of the fine wine regions have developed without irrigation, they're dry grown regions. This isn't an option.

Gill G.:                  And they're having to make changes even as we said in the way they make wine and in their vineyards they're going to have to change laws. These are legal ...

James Hook:       Traditions.

Gill G.:                  Well, yeah, they've got legal restrictions. They're told how to grow everything. They're going to have to change everything. This is massive. Think about Bordeaux. I think they're actually now thinking about letting in other varieties into the blend.

James Hook:       Yes. Yeah. They're introducing new crossings.

Gill G.:                  Which is really interesting. And also bringing back other varieties that they may in the past have let go, like Carménère.

James Hook:       Yeah. Which is one of the ways that you and I've talked about how you can handle it ... You can adapt to climate change by changing your varieties. But that's a very easy thing to say. It's just a harder thing to do in practice. It's a good exam question answer to say you're going to change varieties and adapt. But ...

Gill G.:                  And in Europe, not easy to do because there are several layers of legislation they need to go through to actually make any changes as well as how is the world going to react to them changing their styles or their rules and regulations. I mean I think in ... We're about Burgundy ... They usually use native yeast. A lot of countries now are not using native yeast. They're going back to using packaged yeast. That gives them a more consistent result.

James Hook:       Because packaged yeast or commercial yeast has been brand to work with higher sugar levels at higher temperatures.

Gill G.:                  Which is what were happening. So a grape harvest over a hot year in a warm climate, can produce a good vintage. But climate warming is going to be beneficial for some areas and it's going to be negative for others.

James Hook:       And then negative for others. So if I take some of the regions that we've mentioned, if I take Chablis as an example, because I saw pictures of Chablis at 41 degrees, it's one variety Chardonnay. So guess what's in their favor with Chardonnay? It's adaptable. You can grow it everywhere. It's highly tolerant to different temperature zones.

Gill G.:                  Not immune to frost thought, even thought were talking about hot weather, they've had a problem with frost as well, so we've not only having heat waves, they're having frost book ending harvests. So another issue they... I think you would have seen those pictures are lovely pictures of all the smudge pots out in the vineyards in Chablis.

James Hook:       And if I theorise is growing Chardonnay as they do grow Chardonnay, they could always make a riper style and perhaps use more oak in their wine making, do some barrel fermenting.

Gill G.:                  Possibly, I mean, they can use some oak in their rules and regulations, but historically they haven't. It hasn't been as noticeable. I suppose that would be really interesting to have Emmanuelle Bekkers (Bekkers Wines) in to talk about that. She's been making some wine over there, some great wine over there.

James Hook:       I'm not picking on Chablis. I just thought it was a good example because they grow one variety there. It's a single variety region and or here's another good example, I know is close to your heart. What if I asked you about Amarone production in Valpolicella. How do you feel about that region?

Gill G.:                  Well, now that's really interesting because they're restricted in what they can use in the blend for Amarona, so Corvina making up between 40 and 80% of the blend and Corvina is used because it's really suited to air drying.

James Hook:       Contacts there tell me it's not well suited to high summer temperatures.

Gill G.:                  Well the problem is that it actually does have trouble reaching adequate sugar levels, which is why they late harvest. So when we get a really hot summer and it's not as suitable for drying those grapes, it really changes those grapes. So Amarone is really ... It is a problem because they have to do a lot of green harvest with Corvina because it's really a big producer and they have to have this particular training system because it needs a lot of air circulation.

James Hook:       Pergola.

Gill G.:                  Pergola Veronese, which has got sort of one arm sticking out.

Pergola Veronese.

Pergola Veronese.

James Hook:       I'm told one of the problems with Pergola is that it has a lot of leaves and because it has a lot of leaves in that system it uses a lot of water, there's a lot of evapotranspiration.

Gill G.:                  Absolutely. And another issue with it is that sunburn, Corvina doesn't react really well to sunburn, gives you those bitter characters. So they really are looking at adding different grape varieties into the blend.

James Hook:       And when I've visited ... I've naively asked if they considered Cabernet.

Gill G.:                  Yeah, well I mean Cabernet and Amarone gives it sort of slightly more bitter characters. They can actually use a little bit of it, but mainly it's Corvina with Rondinella, Molinara and they bring in some of the older varieties as a way of counteracting that. They're using Oseleta, which is a grape variety that has very traditional to the area, but being brought back, which has an extra pip in it and has thicker skins, but it's actually well suited to going into an Amarone blend.

Another interesting issue is with Botrytis. Now, Amarone styles years ago were 13%, 14%. But they're finding with global warming, they're making wines around 16%, 17% and some of them with Botrytis as becoming part of the character giving that glycerin sort of-

James Hook:       An unwanted side effect because obviously what's happening is as grapes get more sugar, that's a food source for Botrytis. And as they get sweeter, there's a high risk of Botrytis developing say... Funnily enough in warmer climates you got a higher risk for Botrytis

Gill G.:                  And you're at risk of developing VA (in your ferments) by incomplete fermentations. So it is an issue in initially as well. I think they're definitely working towards solutions and we might see some changes in the rules and regulations.

James Hook:       It's whether they can change quick enough I suppose.

Gill G.:                  I think the younger generation are open to it, but some of the older, more traditional generation want to stick with those traditional rules and regulations. And I can understand why, because in the past, they'd been making these wines for centuries, and in the past it's worked, but I think everybody now needs to look at alternatives. For the first time they're looking at not using wild yeast and using and allowing commercial yeast, which is really interesting.

James Hook:       Well let's change tack and swap from looking at fine wine production in traditional regions and let's have a look at fine wine production in South Australia or McLaren Vale. I've talked with you before about how I think Grenache is the ideal climate change combating grape variety, although ...

Gill G.:                  But you've also said we only have six percent in the Vale.

James Hook:       All of our reputation is based on a small area of vineyards, famous vineyards, but small. This week we had the 2020 James Halliday awards announced and the Yangarra High Sands Grenache was the wine of the year.

Gill G.:                  It did, congratulations. Just got-

James Hook:       Big time-

Gill G.:                  ... James Halliday.

James Hook:       And the these awards obviously show that we're able to make fine wine from Grenache in this area. Is it the perfect wine in a changing climate? Well, it's got an issue. With out a good supply of trained vineyard labour you can’t scale the vineyards up.

High Sands Grenache vineyard with Yangarra crew - (c) Advertiser Press.

High Sands Grenache vineyard with Yangarra crew - (c) Advertiser Press.

Gill G.:                  We're not going to have them mechanical harvested.

James Hook:       Grenache as a variety has a higher labour requirement. So you need to do techniques like green thinning it after berry set and you need to obviously hand harvest it. You can't run a mechanised mechanical picker over it, which is sort of hold it back as a variety because you can't run really large vineyards of Grenache. And in fact, if I think about it, probably I think the most miraculous thing of all is that in South Australia we are growing Shiraz, which is quite well adapted to our climate and has some ability to handle a changing climate and a warming climate. And it's going to be adaptable for a warming climate for the 21st century.

And in where it's traditionally grown in the Northern Rhone Valley, it's all grown on a stick as a single vine, everything is done by hand. Whereas we've been able to adapt it and take it and make it a variety that you can do wonderful things in a mechanised environment.

Gill G.:                  Nice. So, I mean a lot of the things that we've done in the past have really been riding on the seat of our pants. Just people planting varieties that for some reason they thought would grow here well and Shiraz has been one of the success stories.

James Hook:       Both of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, round about 60% of the vineyard areas planted the Shiraz and it's very lucky because it obviously if we were growing Pinot Noir, had a reputation for Pinot in McLaren Vale or Pinot in the Barossa and we had 60% of our vineyards planted to it, we'd be facing a tough time. Pinot's not well suited to high temperatures. It doesn't have a lot of tolerance for that. And it's not adaptable.

Gill G.:                  No, it's pretty interesting. I know overseas they're looking at a lot of crossings and a lot of different buy types and clients. What about here with any crossings that you think are going to be up and coming or using a different clone?

James Hook:       I don't think we think that way. Yeah. No, I've not come across it.

Gill G.:                  Okay. Make a crossing. No.

James Hook:       Local efforts have been based on getting Spanish and Italian varieties.

Gill G.:                  So we're more looking at importing varieties that work well here.

James Hook:       Yeah, importing…    Again with the proviso. A lot of those varieties are not that adaptable to mechanisation.

Gill G.:                  So what do we do? What's the crystal ball for the future?

James Hook:       Oh, if only I had the answer. We have to stay flexible...

Gill G.:                  Which is one thing we're very lucky with here in that we can adapt very quickly.

James Hook:      Yeah.

Gill G.:                  Compared to Europe.

James Hook:       We have to secure our water supply.

Gill G.:                  Most important.

James Hook:       I say that to people all the time. You can't consider a vineyard, or a vineyard growing region, apart from the water supply. You need to have water security... Is there enough water? Are your relying on rainfall to meet your vines needs? If you have underground water is the quality okay? Do you have a robust supply arrangement because you need to have the water to handle what we're going to be seeing more and more of which is temperature spikes above 40 degrees.

Gill G.:                  So yeah, some real impacts with climate change, positive and negative. I mean, some regions like we talked about England in the beginning of this chat and the fact that they used to have vineyards. They're now planting more and more vineyards in England and they're doing really well, and they're making some great sparkling wines there.

James Hook:       And it's not curtains for wine production in your favourite region. Wine producers aren't taking this lying down. Burgundy growers, they are adapting to what they do. They're active.

Gill G.:                  They are active, and also they're just slightly changing the style and maybe we're going to have to get used to a different style.

James Hook:       A different style, yeah.

Gill G.:                  Maybe some of the more obscure grapes that are allowed in that region may be added in. So we're going to have to change the way we think about Burgundy.

James Hook:       We might see some changes to the textbook. The 2050 version of the Burgundy guide might look a bit different.

Gill G.:                  I think you're absolutely ... I think that's a certainty. It's not going to be the same. Everything's going to be changing and the industry is as we know changing dramatically.

James Hook:       Thanks Gill. Great conversation. The last thing I'll mention is if you want to read a good article on what we've been talking about, go visit ozwinereview.com, Andrew Graham has written an article there on climate change and what it might do to your favorite regions. He's called it, Climate change is real, and it will hit wine hard. Some of what Gill and I have said today hopefully shows that grapes are adaptable and growing grapes has been changing for hundreds and hundreds of years so don't despair.

James HookComment