Vineyard Real Estate and Global Warming

One of the questions I had when making my short documentary on the Livermore Valley wine region related to global warming. Although local winemakers argue that the average temperature has only risen by a few degrees fahrenheit since 1900, the question still remains, are those few degrees enough to have a negative effect on the wine? Wines grown in hot climates (think Lodi, Central Valley, Temecula, etc.) have a different taste than those grown in cooler ones, however, grapes thrive with good amounts of sunshine and heat. When is that extra heat to much?

My wife drew my attention last week to an article in Slate written by By Joel Waldfogel who went on the record as saying that global warming is effecting vineyards around the world, and that soon less valued cooler wine regions will become a hot commodity. Joel’s comments come from a new study, by economists Orley Ashenfelter of Princeton University and Karl Storchmann of Whitman College, that focused on the changes that could take place in Germany’s Mosel Valley. The team concluded that this region near the northern end of the wine belt, which extends between latitudes 35 and 50, would double in value if the temperature rose by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects further global warming of 2.2-10°F (1.4-5.8°C) by the year 2100. Roe-Roe Raggy!

England sits atop the current wine belt, poised along with Germany for expanded viticulture as temperatures rise. In North America, major grape-growing regions extend along the West Coast from Southern California more or less to the Canadian border. So, warmer temperatures will improve the wine offerings of British Columbia. As the temperatures rise, the losers will likely be at the warm end of the viticulture scale—vineyards in Spain, southern France, southern Italy, and the Napa Valley.

Add Livermore to that list.

Already warm climate regions will have to face many challenges if temperatures continue to rise.

Maybe there is a reason why some wine regions haven’t been able to reach their former glory.

Using Falcons to Protect Vines

wi_falcon_1.jpgAn interesting article written by Blake Gray appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine section today highlighting how Falcon’s are used to police vineyards before harvest. The enemy is the European Starling, numbering around 140 Million in the United States, whose favorite snack is ripe wine grapes around harvest time. Falconers can fetch $600 a day by bringing in a task force of efficient birds to guard the vineyards. Starlings avoid vineyards known to be patrolled by the Falcons, which can be easily distinguished from hawks by their pointed wings.

E. & J. Gallo Winery has used falcons to protect its grapes for several years, a company spokesman said.

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(Chronicle photo by Chris Stewart)

Wine Blog Wednesday #25 Champagne Round-Up Posted

If this flavourful yet misunderstood wine has you scratching your head, then make sure you check out this months round-up of Wine Blogging Wednesday, Which Champagne Should I Buy?. Sam of Becks and Posh is a wiz on Blogger, has redesigned her site (which now looks amazing), and offers a great summary post of the webs first virtual wine tasting event. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate this month, but Palette from Planet Berry offers a nice write up on the wine I was going choose, so now I don’t feel so bad.

Read [Becks & Posh]

European Farm Ministers Back Reform

In an effort to win back market share from New World wine regions, the European Union Farm Ministers association overwhelmingly agreed on Monday that reform is necessary for the continent’s wine industry to improve. After the embarrassment last year of having to distill millions of gallons of wine into fuel, the EU is eager to avoid the same this year. The group is talking about the removal of 10% of the vineyards in the area, but some fear that farmers would be hurt even more by doing that.

What kind of reform do you think needs to be done in Europe?

One of my gripes has always been labeling. The lack of information and similar label designs make it difficult for the common consumer to choose a wine from Europe. Instead, your average consumer opts for a cute, informative label, from say Australia.

But simply changing labels isn’t going to be a save all. The region as a whole needs a new image, or at least, one that appeals the new consumer. A fun, relaxed, easy going image could attract the next generation wine consumer that isn’t interested in staunch elitism.

[International Herald Europe (Associated Press)]

Using Science to Pick Grapes

Grape bunch on the vineE & J Gallo is spearheading the automation of picking grapes during harvest in Modesto, CA, by employing spectroscopy and chromatography. This chemical analysis process provides extensive information about the aroma, color, taste and mouthfeel of the grapes, which helps the winery determine the ideal time for bringing in the harvest. Micheal Cleary, senior manager of grape and wine chemistry at E & J Gallo Winery, explains how it works:

Chromatography is a laboratory process for chemically separating mixtures into their component parts. Using this process, grapes can be analyzed for their molecular makeup. Molecules indicative of aroma, taste and feel to the palate can be identified and the grapes then harvested when these molecules are at their highest concentrations.

What does this mean for the wine industry? Well, previous advancements in grape analysis still hasn’t led some winemakers into using them. For example, Helen Turley simply relies on her palate at harvest, not even measuring brix levels like most winemakers. Of course, if you could record data about the grapes when she made her decision, you could ideally match that every year in the lab. The problem is, growing conditions aren’t the same every year, and a winemakers palate may lead them to make different decisions based on experience.

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A Livermore Cabernet Better Than Colgin?

In an article entitled Cabernet Sauvignon to Buy Now, appearing in Wine Enthusiast this month, recommendations are made to buy wines like Chateau Latour 2003 Pauillac, Chateau Lynch-Bages 2003 Pauillac, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 2003 Pauillac, Shafer 2002 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Creek 2002 Red Rock Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon, Robert Foley 2003 Claret, Rubicon Estate 2002 Rubicon, Araujo 2002 Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Colgin 2003 Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Screaming Eagle 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Steven Kent 2002 Smith Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wait a tick.

A Cabernet from Livermore Valley, from Steven Kent nonetheless, recommended alongside first growths from France and Napa, beating out wines like Colgin in points?

Exhibit A:

Steven Kent 2002 Smith Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

The only non-Napa Cabernet to make this list, and what a joy it is to see great Cabernet again hailing from Livermore Valley. Steven Kent’s last name is Mirassou; his family has been in the wine business since an ancestor brought cuttings over from France, in 1858. When Kent went off on his own, in 1996, he explains, “I wanted to do world-class Cabernet in Livermore.” Why did he think he could? Remember, California’s first international gold medals were for white Bordeaux wines from Livermore, and we figured if you could grow white Bordeaux, it would work well for Cabernet, too. It surely does. The Smith Ranch Vineyard is owned by the Wentes. Of the 02 bottling, Kent says, “We knew the wine would be good, but we didn’t know how good. Now, we think we do.” The wine is different from Napa, softer, a little earthier, but no less compelling. 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon; 100 cases produced.

96 Steven Kent 2002 Smith Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley); $65. As beautiful as Steven Kent’s regular and McGrail 2002 Cabernet’s were, this exceeds them in sheer delight. It is as good as almost any Cabernet in California. Dry, soft, rich, complex and intensely varietal, this tiny production wine is at its best now, with massive cassis and chocolate flavors perfectly offset by rich tannins. Will hold through this decade. Editors Choice.” S.H.

Well slap me silly and call me selma. I never thought I’d see the day when Livermore would get any recognition, but I must say, I’m not surprised that Steven Mirassou is the one to receive it. His comments in the article mirror his comments made on the Winexpression Pilot Video.

Congrats Steven and team, this was well deserved. (Please send two bottles at your earliest convenience so I can also review this wine as well).

Visit for more information on this winery, or view the write up I did on the Livermore Valley which also features the winery.

We Have A New Apprentice

Dr. Jay MillerRobert Parker names Dr. Jay Miller as replacement for Pierre Rovani at the Wine Advocate

That was fast, but, who wouldn’t want to work for the most influential wine critic, getting the chance to taste thousands of wines every year while traveling the world? O.K. that guy, but I’m surprised his job stayed open as long as it did.

So who is the lucky shoe filler? None other than Dr. Richard Kimb….oh wait, Dr. Jay Miller from Bin 604, a wine shop in Baltimore, Maryland. This isn’t the first time Jay has worked with Bob. While practicing Child Psychology, he started working part time as a consultant for Wells Liquors, met Bob, and landed a job with the Advocate in 1985:

Bob, impressed with Jay’s knowledge and keen tasting skills, invited Jay to work as his assistant on the Wine Advocate, Bob’s monthly wine tasting newsletter. From 1985 until 1998, in addition to practicing psychology, Jay assisted Bob with wine tasting, visits to vineyards, and editing the Wine Advocate. During his 13-year tenure with Bob Parker, Jay tasted over 65,000 wines.

Thanks to Mike over at Shiraz for the tip. You can also read the announcement by Robert Parker on the erobertparker board here.