Higher Yields, Smoke and True Crime

After a short reprieve the heat returns to most of Europe this week with temperatures hitting the forty degrees mark again. It’s not only the heat but the resulting drought that gives farmers headaches. This and more as always in the latest edition of the JollyCellarMaster:

Where there is Smoke there is Fire


Short Relief Only

Last week, I read an interesting round-up of the current situation for the local wine sector: while the extremely warm weather of late could lead to an excellent vintage for red varieties, the whites where in the border where the increasing nightly temperatures were threatening the much needed acidity in white grapes but it was still within acceptable limits. That was when we got some relief in the form of summer rains, which in turn caused headaches elsewhere when local rainstorms caused damage to streets and bridges. We saw a notable drop in temperatures though. Now, we seem to be back in hot water with a new heatwave around the corner.


Effects of the unusually warm weather this year in Bolzano/Alto Adige, Italy:

Taken on 30th July, this picture shows that veraison in Bolzano is already almost completed – two weeks earlier than the average, indicating another early harvest to come this year.


While the use of water has been restricted to an extent, drip irrigation is still possible and keeps the vineyards green, while the surrounding forest already shows signs of significant drought as can be seen at the centre of the picture I took last week.


Of course, this isn’t a problem limited to one region as most of Europe‘s wine region suffer. Only recently Italian government has declared a state of emergency in several regions and farming groups have highlighted a threat to food crops, with winemakers among those monitoring the situation closely.

In Spain, Portugal and France wildfires have been raging for weeks. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes by authorities in France and Spain. In Portugal, thousands of hectares have burned. And in Gironde, the prefecture of Bordeaux, more than 1,700 firefighters were deployed to tackle the flames.

While the areas affected are still fairly far off the traditional vineyards of Bordeaux and the battle against the flames appears to have turned the curve, people start to worry about the effect the smoke. California‘s recent history has provided for ample evidence, the verdict for the Bordelais is yet to come. Fingers crossed!

Higher Yields

Each year the French Comité Champagne (CIVC) faces the difficult task to evaluate the ongoing growing season and set a limit for the yields allowed that year. The CIVC is the trade association that represents the interests of independent Champagne producers and Champagne Houses. According to its website, its mandate is to promote the vines and wines of Champagne through a broad remit that includes: economic, technical and environmental development; continuous quality improvement; sector management; marketing and communications; and the promotion and protection of the Champagne AOC across the world. And part of that means setting yield limits that hav very significant economical consequences.

Last week then, it reported that it set the maximum amount at 12,000 kg/ha. This means the maximum hectare yield is 2,000 kg/ha higher than last year and also the highest since 2007.

Additonally, as Meininger reports, the Executive Committee of the CIVC has also introduced a new instrument to regulate wine production, which will come into force from the 2022 vintage. As such, winemakers shall be granted a “credit for the delayed removal of reserve stocks” if the harvested grapes of a vintage plus the existing reserve of previous years were insufficient to reach the marketable yield set by the Comité. In other words, the winegrower can credit the deficit to a minus account with the Comité de Champagne, which will grant him a credit in this way. If he registers reserve surpluses in the following year, these are set off against the credit. Until now, this was not possible.

Despite its reputation and long history, Champagne traditionally has seen a lot og change over time, and only earlier this year the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne (SGV), which represent about 99% of the region’s winegrowers has voted to introduce an additional vine-training system that permits more space between vines and as such results in a lower number of vines per hectare. A higher density is often considered to produce higher quality. Also, Champagne proudly talks of its tradition of artisanal production, but the changes also benefit greater mechanical working of the vineyards.  That’s one side. The other is that the effects of climate change are to be the primary reason for the modifications. A study commissioned by the SGV found that lower density vineyards would reduce greenhouse gas emissionsby 20-percent by allowing the use of better equipment. Again, I’d encourage you to build your own opinion, the decision to approve the changes has however already been taken by a vote last week anonymously. Who said the wine industry didn’t embrace change?

The Heist of the Century?

It’s a fast moving world, but you may remember a story from late last year that deserves its own true-crime podcast as slowly more details come to light and suspects are being named. The case we’re talking about is the one of an unbelievable heist that took place in the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Atrio restaurant and hotel in a small city of Caceres in the Extramedura region of Spain. In case you don’t remember, we tried to paint a picture when we described the scene of a woman carrying a backpack steps into the building that also houses a small boutique hotel. At the reception, she showed her Swiss passport and is shortly after joined by an English-speaking man. The two enter the restaurant for dinner and after enjoying their meal, the couple enquires whether it would be possible to see the restaurant’s famous wine cellar that among its 40,000 bottles also houses some real treasures. Satisfied and impressed by this magnificent tour, the couple retire to their hotel room. Later that night the woman rings the reception and asks if it would be possible to order a salad and some dessert. The receptionist on duty gets off to work and thus having created a distraction, the man sneaks down, disables the magnetic locks of the cellar doors and sets out to pick a selected number of priceless and highly sought-after bottles. Undetected he sneaks back into the room and stores the bottles in containers brought along for the robbery. As though nothing has happened, the couple after a seemingly good night of rest checks out and leaves the charming hotel with a total of 45 stolen bottles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – if you can actually assign a monetary value to something irreplaceable. The couple is said to have used the ruse of dinner and stay to steal several bottles of Romanée-Conti and an 1806 Château d’Yquem, the latter itself valued at approximately $407,000. The bottles are unique and especially the Château d’Yquem is so well known that it won’t sell on a secondary market leading to speculation that the whole affair was ordered by a private collector.

According to José Polo, co-owner and sommelier of the restaurant,  the building’s security cameras show how the man stole the wine and put it into a bag before the couple left the hotel in the morning,’ but with the Spanish authorities investigating much detail remains undisclosed due the ongoing process, I wrote back in the day that I would be curious to hear more about it. My plea has been answered as reports surfaced that a Mexican beauty queen arrested in connection with the crime. After a nine-month police chase across Europe, a former Mexican beauty queen and ‘Miss Earth’ contestant has been arrested in Croatia over the now-infamous theft.

In a statement, Spanish national police said on October 27, 2021 in the western city of Caceres, 45 wine bottles, including one “unique” 19th-century vintage worth 310,000 euros ($460,000), were spirited out in a meticulously planned theft from the cellars of the famous hotel-restaurant El Atrio.

Police investigators described the events as they believe that the woman, a 29-year-old Mexican, who according to Spanish daily El Pais had competed in a beauty pageant in her homeland, distracted El Atrio waiters by ordering room service from the Michelin-starred restaurant after its kitchen had closed. Meanwhile, her 47-year-old male accomplice slipped down to the wine cellar, opened it with a master key he had stolen during a prior visit, and filled three backpacks with the bottles, wrapping them in hotel room towels for protection, according to the police statement.

The next day, hotel CCTV captured the pair, who had checked in with false Swiss identity documents, checking out at 5.30am and leaving on foot with no forensic trace of their presence left at the hotel leading police to initially believe an organised gang was behind the heist. The two suspects had visited El Atrio three times before the robbery, the police statement said. Theys left Spain within days and were pursued for months across Europe before being identified by Croatian border guards as they crossed from Montenegro.

Spanish police worked with counterparts in the Netherlands, Croatia and Romania as well as Interpol to catch the pair, who have not been identified pending extradition and formal charges being filed. However, the stolen wine has not yet been recovered and the investigation is continuing in an effort to locate it. Crazy, isn’t it?

And that’s all for today. However, if you have an interesting story to tell or simply want to chat about wine as a guest on the Podcast, connect on Twitter or drop me a line. And if you want to stay in the loop about things happening at the JollyCellarMaster and the world of wine, make sure you sign up to our newsletter.

Disclaimer: As always, I’d like to be completely transparent about affiliations, conflicts of interest, my expressed views and liability: Like anywhere else on this website, the views and opinions expressed are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. The material information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. I endeavour to keep this information correct and up-to-date, I do not accept any liability for any falls in accurate or incomplete information or damages arising from technical issues as well as damages arising from clicking on or relying on third-party links. I am not responsible for outside links and information is contained in this article nor does it contain any referrals or affiliations with any of the producers or companies mentioned. As I said, the opinions my own, no liability, just thought it would be important to make this clear. Thanks!

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