Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Climate Change Ogre

When I read pieces such as that which follow, I get rather cranky. It is entirely untrue to say that wine has moved south. The Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s warmest wine growing regions, has had a stellar run of vintages in 2011, ‘13 and ‘14, the latter one of the best of the past 50 years. There’s no chance of the Hunter Valley moving south in my lifetime. At the other end of the spectrum, the cool regions around Melbourne (Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Macedon Ranges, Geelong, Gippsland) have had stellar vintages in 2012 and ‘13, with pinot noir to the fore. Moving south? I don’t think so.

Yes, there is increasing interest in Tasmania, but that shift in focus has not been driven by desires to get off the mainland. Tasmania is certainly a price place for sparkling wine growing and making, and produces many outstanding pinot noirs. But it does not have the field to itself. The trophy for Best Pinot Noir of Show at the Melbourne Wine Awards ‘14 a couple of weeks ago came from the Yarra Valley, beating one of the top Tasmanian pinot noirs in a taste-off for the trophy. Home Hill is the Tasmanian winery in question, Coldstream Hills the Yarra winery.

Australian agriculture needs to adapt, not simply shift, to meet climate change

SYDNEY Wed Oct 15, 2014 10:02am BST
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eanuts have moved north, tuna has moved east, wine has moved south.

But sooner or later, Australia is going to run out of places to shift agricultural production to avoid the harsh effects of climate change.

Australia's flagship scientific body told the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit on Wednesday that it is therefore critical for companies to consider both mitigation and adaption measures now.

"We have to act very soon on mitigation, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and adaptation," the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's (CSIRO) Science Director for Climate Adaption Mark Stafford Smith said in an interview in Sydney.

Climate change is a major threat to food security in a country that has talked about becoming a "food bowl" for Asia. It also complicates a government plan to increase agricultural production to meet an expected doubling in global food demand by 2050.

As the only developed nation dominated by an arid climate, Stafford Smith said, Australia faces more variability in rainfall, prolonged droughts and a greater incidence of extreme weather events.

The government-funded CSIRO is working with a range of industries and companies on a number of adaptation strategies.

Treasury Wine Estates Ltd and other wine companies are testing underground irrigation systems, developed with CSIRO, in their vineyards in response to increased levels of evaporation.

The agency is also working with cereal farmers to experiment with new grain varieties better able to cope with higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The average global temperature has warmed by more than 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and the present warming rate is 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Australia is heating up even faster - a joint Bureau of Meteorology-CSIRO State of the Climate 2014 report found current temperatures are, on average, almost one degree Celsius warmer than they were in 1910. Most of this increase has occurred since the 1950s, suggesting an accelerated warming trend.


The need to adapt is reflected in the varying success Australian industries have had in making a straightforward geographical shift.

Wine companies are benefiting from the purchase of vineyards in the tiny island-state of Tasmania. Prompted by ever hotter and drier conditions to find alternatives to the country's traditional wine growing regions on the mainland, they are now growing different varieties in the cooler southern climate.

Tuna fisheries in the Southern Ocean have shifted further east as sea temperatures rise, initially moving them closer to ports and other infrastructure. But if they continue to chase warmer waters east, they will move further away again.

A lack of infrastructure was the downfall of a move by peanut growers from central Queensland to the tip of the Northern Territory. Growers moved north to take advantage of the mix of sun and higher rainfall, but high transport costs and mould hampered their efforts.

The Peanut Company of Australia abandoned its plans for large-scale production in the far north in 2012, selling its property after just five years on the land to a sandalwood producer.

The peanut industry is looking at trying again, but this time it is setting the stage with a trial crop to try and find a new variety of peanut for the northern climate.

Stafford Smith said it is that kind of innovation rather than simply shifting geographies that Australia needs to pursue - and could potentially export to others, given the country is at the forefront of responding to climate change.

"Australia has a comparative advantage in dry-land agriculture and on the natural resources side," he said.

Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits

Monday, October 20, 2014

Viticulturist Mark Walpole on assyrtiko

My recent Weekend Australian article on assyrtiko prompted Mark Walpole, one of Australia’s most highly esteemed viticulturists, to send me two emails and accompanying photographs which are utterly fascinating, and really require not additional comment from me. - JH

Hi James
I read with interest the recent Weekend Australian article on Assyrtiko and the discussion relating to phylloxera.
It reminded me of an experience I had some years ago in southern Italy.
I had asked Alberto Antonini if he could set me up with a couple of wineries around Naples/Caserta to look at some of the native varieties such as Piedirosso, Fahlangina, Casavecchia and Pallagrello.

One of our visits was to Cantine Grotta del Sole near Pozzuoli.
They took me to a place called Campi Flegrei – essentially a partly flooded volcanic crater with vines and citrus growing on the sides and bottom. Driving down the track into the crater made me feel as though I was driving into a part of post WWII Italy. The humble shack at the bottom had chooks, pigs and so on wandering about. A wiry leathery skinned guy came out and showed us around his 20 acres of vines that were all hand sprayed with a knapsack and ladder.
The vines are enormous – grown up massive tree like trellis systems, regularly using Lombardy poplars or pear trees to support the vines. They are grown in all directions, in the volcanic sand or tufo.
As we walked through the vineyard I noticed a cavern in the wall of the crater in the distance. Upon asking what it was the reply was ‘ Some old Roman baths’. When we went inside it was typically full of rubbish and overgrown with weeds. Totally neglected.
As we were walking back to the house I pondered the fact that there had been people in this place for a very long time. When I asked how old the vineyard was he shrugged and said ‘Who knows – maybe 500 years old’. As the vines were growing in the volcanic sand – a natural inhibitor to the movement and survival of phylloxera - they were on own roots. So when one vine died, they just replaced it with a layer from the neighbouring vine.

Given the quality they were able to achieve with Fahlangina and Piedirosso on the old system, Alberto convinced them to pull a bit out and plant on a high density trellised system.
When we had a look there was a peach tree in the middle of it. When the winemaker asked what was going on the reply in typical peasant fashion was ‘ When we’ve picked the fruit we’ll pull it out’.
Since the recent publication of Wine Grapes by Jancis et al, it has now been found that one of the parents of Sangiovese (Calabrese di Montenuovo)has been discovered growing in the Campi Flegrei, and nowhere else – in fact the Montenuovo refers to the ‘New mount’ in the base of the crater of Lago d’Averno.

Mark W

Morris Rare Liqueur Tokay

I see that Tony Keys has said that $75 for a 500cl bottle may seem a lot, but isn’t.  That has to be the understatement of the decade, if not century, when you compare that price with the $3550 for the 50 Year Old Penfolds Tawny.

Friday, October 17, 2014

America’s wine drinkers becoming more numerous, but more distracted by other categories

A really interesting bulletin from Wine Intelligence, the foremost analyst of worldwide wine trends - JH

America’s monthly wine drinking population has grown by approximately 10 million people over the past 2 years, according to market analysts at Wine Intelligence.

In the new edition of the Wine Intelligence USA Wine Market Landscape 2014 report, the company estimates that the number of American adults drinking wine at least once a month has risen to 91 million, an increase of 40% in the past five years.

The growth in population has also been accompanied by a growth in sales volumes, though these have increased at a less spectacular rate – volumes grew 17% in the US market between 2009 and 2013, according to the International Wine & Spirits Record.

Increasing numbers of under 35s – the “Millennial” generation - are becoming regular wine drinkers, while wine drinking is also on the increase among key minority groups such as Hispanic Americans.

The report points to some evidence of the disparity between population growth and volume growth, showing that newer consumers tend to regard wine as just one of a number of drinks they enjoy, among cocktails, standard beer, craft beer and hard cider. The craft beer revolution also seems to be loosening some of wine’s hold over existing drinkers: according to the report, 36% of America’s regular wine drinkers also drink craft beer.

Lulie Halstead, Chief Executive of Wine Intelligence, said: “The fortunes of the global wine industry are now closely linked to the US market, which remains the world’s largest, most active and showing robust growth in terms of wine drinking population.

"However the warning signs are there that other categories are not going to stand by and let wine steal the show. The consumer’s mind space is finite – as are their drinking occasions and budgets – and craft beers, ciders and cocktails are currently doing an excellent job. America remains the land of opportunity for the wine category, but there’s no room for complacency".

Report details:

Wine Intelligence USA Wine Market Landscape 2014 report is published by Wine Intelligence and available from the Wine Intelligence Reports Shop, priced at GBP 2,500 / USD 4,125 / EUR 3,000 / AUD 4,625 or 5 report credits. Further details about the report can be found here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Terroir – A new take

A great deal of time and money has been invested by the vignerons of McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley respectively in trying to understand, and then explain to consumers of their wines, the different characteristics of wines made across their regions.
The Barossa Valley began gnawing away at the issue first, but over the past three or four years McLaren Vale has immersed itself – and its customers – in its Scarce Earth programme.  At the most basic level it has succeeded in attracting attention to the idea, and produced a region-wide map showing the bewildering spread of geological formations underlying its vineyards.
There are three problems with the idea.  First, do you map the surface soils created by the weathering of the basic rock types, or the base geological formations?  The latter are stable, and tend to have clearly defined boundaries, the former can be and are dispersed by wind, rain and human activity.  Soil scientists and geologists tend to dislike each other, it seems.
Second, two winemakers buying grapes from a single vineyard (let’s assume it’s homogenous) can, and most likely will, make very different wines.  Picking dates are one major variable, choice of oak (new or old, French or American) another.  In its early years the Scarce Earth programme specified that the oak influence should be deliberately muted, but some of the most recent wines I have tasted have had plenty of new oak.
Third, attempts to link a wine to its soil/geological origin in blind tastings have been spectacularly unsuccessful.  Why?  Well, the three problems are only half the story: aspect, altitude, site climate and site rainfall will be every bit as important.

So the Barossa Valley has added a different, and much more convincing, approach. It is the four maps of the Barossa Zone, within which is the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley and High Eden subregion.  The first is elevation; the second is mean annual rainfall; the third is growing degree days; and the fourth is available water holding capacity, the last the closest to a soil or geology map.  The maps strike an impressive balance between excessive detail and useless generalisation.

Barossa Growing Region - Elevation
Barossa Growing Region - Annual rainfall
Barossa Growing Region - Degree days
Barossa Growing Region - Soil

They were featured with the release of four entirely new red wines in the Wolf Blass red wine range, part of the 80th birthday celebrations of Wolf on  August 27.  They are all shiraz, and are called Estates of the Barossa Sapphire Label, each designated with a postcode.  The wines come from the four sites: Lyndoch in the south, Dorrien in the centre, Moculta in the east, and St John’s Ebenezer Road in the north, and are all distinctly different from each other.  Wolf Blass is at pains to say these are commercial wines with around 1000 cases of each made, and an RRP of $80.

Lyndoch (5351) has red fruit aromas and flavours on entry to the mouth, with bitter chococlate/savoury nuances on the finish. It has the lowest altitude of the Barossa Valley and the highest rainfall.  The Dorrien (5352) is much fleshier, with plum and dark fruits to the fore.  St John’s Ebenezer Road (5355) has currant flavours, almost cabernet-like, with great power and length; ripens three weeks later than Lyndoch. Moculta (5353) ripens another week later than St John’s Ebenezer Road, its border only one kilometre before the Eden Valley.  It has an earthy/leathery/savoury bouquet and palate.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Climate Change: Unsettled science or pointing the bone?

Wikipedia says that ‘moral panic’ occurs when an issue or situation becomes defined as a threat to social values and interests. There is no doubt that climate change falls in the dead centre of moral panic, whether you are a believer or a non-believer.

There is no better illustration than the August 2014 Australian Grapegrower and Winemaker magazine. Blaring from its front cover are the words ‘Climate crisis: special news feature.’ There are 13 pages on the subject in the magazine, most of which trot out the conventional arguments of those screaming from the rooftops about the immediate crisis.

By far the most interesting was a report on the Australian Wine Research Institute’s Dr Mardi Longbottom, who currently manages research and extension projects focused on greenhouse gases (CHG) and sustainability in the grape and wine sector.  She points out the global warming potential of nitrous oxide is around 300 times that of carbon dioxide, and that its contribution to global warming is significant even though its volume is small.  The AWRI has been working on a project investigating N2O emissions from vineyards, and preliminary results of the experiments show the N2O emissions from Australian vineyards are similar to those measured in Californian vineyards, and are very low compared to other horticultural crops.  Moreover, reducing N2O emissions of anthropogenic origin (soils release low levels of N2O regardless of any agricultural activity or soil enrichment) is relatively easy.

When you come to CO2, the plants, grasses and trees exist on earth only because of the availability of their food source, CO2. Vineyards are very effective in making use of CO2, particularly in a warming climate (let’s not get caught up in the fact that the globe has not warmed since 1997), but there are undeniable shifts in climate.

Dr John Gladstones points out that long-term commercial greenhouse practice shows that yield can increase without any loss of quality if there are enhanced CO2 levels linked to higher temperatures.  Taking this knowledge to the vineyard, autumn cropping, and winter pruning means a low carbon status in spring, and a need for the vine to utilise CO2 to maximise root growth, canopy growth and fruitfulness.  Increasing levels of CO2 should allow vines to carry higher yields, while remaining in carbon balance.  There should also be sufficient surplus assimilate to ripen the current crop, and promote continuing root growth through the ripening phase.  In addition, enhancing the vine’s water use efficiency should improve its stress and growth balance in environments previously too dry and stressful, and thus extend viticulture into regions with lower rainfall at fruitset and subsequent ripening.  The question then is, how great an increase in CO2 will be relevant and beneficial?  Greenhouse horticultural crops grown in an environment between 700 and 900 ppm CO2 need temperatures 2˚C to 4˚C higher than normal atmosphere to fully achieve enhancement yield and quality potential.

This leads to Dr Gladstones’ conclusion in his book Wine, Terroir and Climate Change, at page 199:

‘I conclude that the widely held expectation of a viticultural flight to existing cold areas is misplaced. Optimum locations for particular wine styles will probably change little over the coming half century. Any minor shifts will be into areas with higher actual or effective night temperatures, eg closer to coasts, to warmer soils or to slopes with superior night air drainage. Favoured sites in warm to hot climates will have higher afternoon relative humidities, most desirably from afternoon sea or lake breezes.’

Looking at the broader picture, Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, is one of those who does not dispute that in the longer term, the earth is warming, but most certainly says there is no cause for panic.  He and others have made the following points:
·      The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that in 2010 the world derived 0.7% of its energy from wind and 0.1% by solar. In 2035 (with an optimistic green scenario) the IEA forecasts 2.4% wind and 1% solar energy. On the other side of the coin, and with identical time parameters, fossil fuel energy will only fall from 81% to 79%.

·      Globally, cold is a far greater contributor to deaths than heat. By mid-century researchers estimate there will be 400,000 more heat deaths, but 1.8 million fewer cold deaths. (Based on median IPCC forecasts of global warming.)

·      Since 1900 warming has resulted in a net economic benefit of 1.5% of GDP per annum. The benefit will peak about 2025, and it won’t be until towards the end of the century that net gain will turn into net loss (accepting the IPCC projections on warming through the century).

·      The EU 20-20-20 policy, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and ensure 20% renewable energy supply, costs about $250 billion a year. By the end of this century, its cumulative cost will be $20 trillion, yet on a standard climate model it will have reduced global temperature by a mere 0.05˚C.

·      If nothing is done to control warming, the cost over the next 200 years is estimated to be $33 trillion, but GDP will run to $2200 trillion. Thus warming will cost 1.5% of GDP.

·      The percentage of emissions from all developed nations has, in fact, continued to fall since 1990, but those from Asia, and from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East have risen dramatically. It is expected these will peak about 2050 before falling somewhat by 2100, when they will account for around 60% of total emissions.

·      Kyoto set a target of 36.6% rise in global emissions from 1990 to 2010. In fact they have increased by 45.4%. With no Kyoto, the increase would have been 45.9%. Thus 20 years of discussions have had next to no impact, and the cost of implementing more stringent controls will far exceed the economic benefit of present green/renewable technologies.

What, then, to make of all this?  West Australia, led  by Margaret River, has had a succession of outstanding vintages from 2007 through to 2014.  For most in South Australia, 2012 was one of the greatest red years for many decades; indeed, Grant Burge poses the question: Best ever?  2010 was another truly great vintage, ‘09 very good.  The missing vintage?  Well, it certainly wasn’t affected by heat, just lots and lots of rain.  Southern and central Victoria followed in the same pattern, adding 2013 to the marvellous 2012 vintage.  And 2011 was absolutely outstanding for chardonnay.  What about the Hunter Valley?  It had a marvellous 2011 as the rain clouds parted and swept around it as they came down from the north; 2012 was typical with vintage rain (nothing new there) but 2013 was primed to be called the vintage of the decade until 2014 came along, said by those with long memories (or good cellars) to be the best red wine vintage since 1965.

Crisis?  I don’t think so.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I was intrigued to read an article in Grapegrower & Winemaker online from CorkGuard Closures Ltd introducing SmartCork to the Australian wine industry. Owner David Taylor tested a number of technologies, and  - very correctly – determined there was no mileage in developing a synthetic closure due to elasticity issues and the scalping impact on the bouquet of the wine by polymers used in the manufacture of synthetic corks. He went on to patent a technology for coating natural cork with a high performance oxygen barrier membrane, using machinery required to coat corks automatically and in volume. I am intrigued, because ProCork, which has been on the market in Australia for a number of years, apparently uses a very similar technology, and certainly produces a closure combing natural cork with the synthetic membrane. So who has exactly what patents?