There is a thread that runs through the various editions of this news summary’s and that’s climate change and the severe weather events it appears to cause. It isn’t something done on purpose and maybe this year is a particularly bad year, but you can’t help but notice the havoc that rain, hail, frost and fire have been causing in recent times. Unfortunately, this week is no different, but, of course, there is more in the latest JollyCellarMaster weekly:
Rain, Hail and Fire
The Cost of Climate Change
The worst floods in many years have hit the western part of Europe, leaving a swath of destruction especially in Germany and Belgium and claiming many lives. Towns and villages in the Eiffel region sitting between the Ahr and Mosel rivers has been among those that have been hit the hardest where entire buildings were swept away by the water. While the vineyards on terraces and the typical steep slopes itself may not have been damaged as much because, many wineries situated in the river valley have experienced severe damage with the full picture yet to be determined given that large parts of these regions remain without water, electricity and cell phone coverage.
If you want to help, the Institute of German Wine has listed a number of ways you can support German vintners including a surprise package with bottles donated by other producers and merchants from Germany, Austria and even South Tyrol.
The VDP, the association of 200 of Germany’s top producers, has published a call for donations, too, aiming “to create a financial aid package for viticulture in the Ahr region that will give hope and confidence to all winegrowers during this difficult time“.
Although it has already been a year that had seen plenty of rain, torrential rain with at times more than 200 liters per square meter in only two days transformed small rivers into unstoppable torrents. The fact that the grounds had already been saturated contributed significantly to the catastrophe and across the border in Switzerland, farmers already have quantified the cost of rain and hail that has damaged large parts of their harvest with a cost of up to 50 million Swiss francs.
The Show Must Go On
Another region hit by severe weather events lately is California. Wildfires destroyed millions of dollars in property and equipment and what survived had often been tainted by smoke, so that many are not only hit by the effects of climate change but find themselves insurable against future damages.
Yet, at least the latest numbers of U.S. wine exports show a strong Californian account as its wine make up more than 95% of the country’s entire exports, which represents as slight increase in volume in an already challenging year due to the Covid pandemic. The top three export markets were Canada ($424 million), the United Kingdom ($236 million) and the European Union ($191 million). Just to compare, China only accounts for $21m in exports.
U.S. wine exports have experienced a 13% growth in the last decade, so last year is an affirmation of this trend, but it should be noticed that the overall value of exports has dropped by 6.4%, which isn’t exactly insignificant and it should be interesting to see how numbers develop this year and the coming years.
The White House v Big Wine
Staying in America, there are two more news snippets of interest here: the first one concerns President Biden’s executive order directing all federal agencies to “address overconcentration, monopolization, and unfair competition in the American economy” that also affects the country’s wine industry. The U.S. system of distribution is prone to cause many obstacles and the government feels that it is time to take on big US wine companies as federal regulators have been ordered to essentially find ways to make their business more challenging, as the Wine-Searcher put it.
Another interesting piece regards a federal judge who has rejected calls to dismiss charges brought against a California winery, which allegedly misled customers with white labels featuring Oregon wording and imagery. To give you the full picture though, the winery does harvest its grapes in Oregon, but puts them on ice for transport to California where they are processed and bottled. In what I find is a rather cheeky attempt to play on the strength of the Oregon brand, the winery put the origin of the grapes at its centre with a map of the state’s key winemaking regions. At the same time, the labels failed to mention that the actual work in the cellar took place in a different state. From the ruling of the judge, it sounds like a clear case of deception and you might be surprised that they got away with it for so long, but given the regulatory framework across the pond, you shouldn’t be in the end, I suppose
And to conclude, here’s another interesting article found on the wine-searcher on potential changes in Champagne. Before I get into the details, I would like to point out that the basis of this summary is limited to the article and I haven’t heard the other side of the story, but it sounds like another example that highlights that the wine world isn’t necessary changing for the better. Since I’ve pointed out to be slightly biased, here are the facts: The Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne (SGV), which is made up of 99% of the region’s winegrowers is due to vote by the end of the month on the „Vignes Semi Larges (VSL)” project that aims to introduce an additional vine-training system that works with a lower number of vines per hectare. Just to recap, Champagne prides itself with its artisanal production process and is renowned for the high-density planting of up to 12,000 plants per hectare. The reason behind this move appears to be the reduction of labour cost as the wider plantings can be worked with machines. The article states that it is a project driven by the interest of large champagne houses LVMH (the brand behind Moet-Hennesy) and Champagne Roederer. The authors also cite a dispute on the transparency of the process as results of test of the VSL system has been kept under the lid as well as a number of a number of other unanswered questions and see it as an extension of an already existing trend towards more automation as is already the case in the wineries itself. Now, as I said, I’ve seen only one side of the coin and I can imagine that producers of Champaign are under some pressure to keep down costs, so it’s only natural that they are exploring different options. There is also talk about better adaptability to climate change of the VSL, though that is countered in the article together with a growing concern of the already existing tendency to plant Chardonnay at the cost of Pinot Meunier, which is to accelerate further.
I could tell you that it indeed reads like the big houses are calling the shots here to get the most out of the golden goose and that it sounds like they are risking the reputation of a quality product. I appreciate that we often pay for the brand rather than the substance, be it in general and for wine in particular, but I really cannot accept to pay for something if there is no substance left at all. Well, I suggest you read the full article and make up your own mind, but you have to admit it’s an interesting story, isn’t it?
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