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MONDAY MANIFESTOS
11/26/2012
Monday Manifestos
The Next Big Controversy Is Right Around The Corner

By Charles Olken

The election is over. Baseball is over. The harvest is finished. Hockey never began. What in the world will we talk about while waiting for fermentations to finish and the “big promise” of a perfect new vintage to begin? Now, mind you, I don’t care much about qualitative projections about the unfinished new wines. Pronouncements of grandeur at this time of year have been de riguer for as long as I have been involved with wine, and I suspect that such confident expressions of greatness about to unleashed have existed for many years prior to that.

But while we wait for the new wines and the next controversy, I have come up with a few candidates on my own—and I am limiting myself to the topic of global warming and its impact on wine production and quality. I am not predicting that they will necessary be the hottest topics of hot debate, but I am guessing that we are going to be hearing comments over the next months on all sides of these varied issues and concerns.

I am admittedly a climate change guy. The heat accumulation records of the last twenty to fifty years clearly show that things are getting warmer. In wine country, the debate will not necessarily take the same path that it will for most folks—man or nature?—but how much of our recent vintages are the result of global warming and whether the cool California vintages of 2010 and 2011 were typical or atypical, whether the resulting lower alcohol wines (in some but not all cases) is proof that California can do it or just proof that cool vintages yield lower alcohol wines and nothing more.

The trends and countertrends that surround this subject do not allow for grand conclusions, but you can bet that you will hear all of the following:

--Despite global warming, coastal California will not warm up because of the way our natural air conditioning works. The warmer it gets inland, the more fog is generated offshore and finds its way inland to cool the coast and even places fifty or more miles inland.

--Or, the coast will warmup as well, and while the fog will always be with us, it will not push inland as far as it used to because it has to fight with the added warmth along the coast. The result is that Napa will become Chateauneuf du Pape and the Willamette Valley will become Napa.

--Champagne is already on the road to ruin with riper vintages changing the way the wines from that hallowed ground present themselves.

--Or, don’t worry about Champagne, it is still plenty cool there and the changes in the wines have more to do with stylistic desires than with global warming.

--Harvests in Chateauneuf du Pape are now three weeks earlier than they were just a generation or so ago. The result has been to turn these venerable wines into overripe, sloppy versions of themselves.

--Or, since when has CdP not been highly ripened wine? Is it not true that CdP has undergone substantial improvement in vineyard practice and plant material just as the rest of the world has done, and thus, CdP is earlier because it has better vines and technique?


Friends, this listing of arguing points just on global warming could go on and on. I list some of them to illustrate that we will always have things to argue about. Wine is about passion. Why would that stop now just because the election is over?


 

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