Weather has wide-ranging effects on wine production

October 2, 2017

This is a housekeeping week, so let's lead with a recommendation. Chateau Hyot Cotes de Bordeaux Castillon 2014 is a steal around $165/case. This is a collaboration of Amelie Aubert (yes, daughter to Alain, a sixth-generation vigneron at this estate) and Michel Rolland. RRs may remember those names from previous reviews. The 2014 is blended of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauvignon. A pretty dark color is provided by the Cab Franc, and a ripe fruit nose with black currant, blackberry and back notes of licorice, toast and maybe some tobacco. On the palate, structure and currant from the cab and smooth, soft tannin from merlot, pleasing mocha back notes and a clean, toasty finish. This is a solid 91 points and a ton of wine for its price. Has several years of cellar potential.

"Wine is water, held together by sunlight." - Galileo. Most of you are aware of this scientist, one of a handful of historic figures who are known by their first name. Who knew that Signor Galilei was also a connoisseur of wine and a poet? I'm still wending my way through that compendium of treatises on wine and food, "A Cultural History of Food." I highly recommend this well-researched and annotated series to curious foodies and winos. Loaded with great stuff. It has debunked several of my long-held beliefs in "historical facts" concerning food, from weather to diet to economics, politics and even geopolitical events like migration and war. Seems the "lying media" has been ever with us. In the "Medieval Age" book, I found a fascinating reference from Villeneuve's “Les Crieries de Paris.” There is a passage by Jean Bodel, from Arras, claiming the town crier was extolling the wines of Auxerre thus: "lively, easy going, full, strong, climbing like a squirrel in the wood, with no hint of mould (archaic) or acidity on dregs, frank, tight and light, clear as a sinner’s tear, lingering on the gourmets' tongues." It seems Chablis, the best-known wine from Auxerre, was well known in the 14th century. Terroir is all! But I can't get my head around the “climbing like a squirrel in the wood" reference. 

Spring hail destroying production in Northern Europe led to 2016 providing the least volume in 30 years. Recent colder-than-normal weather has prompted Northern French winemakers to deploy some "new science." Previously, winemakers couldn't prevent hail and frost; they could only limit the damage using frost candles and protective barriers. After 2016's disastrous volumes, many new silver iodide generators were installed throughout Burgundy. These target large hailstorms directly in the clouds long before their contents fall. This process is complex, so for those who are interested, let me refer you to an article in Vin Folio titled: The 2017 Wine Harvest in Burgundy Could Be Shaped by Hail Prevention Technology. I came across it while researching the 2017 harvest. 2017 frost also had a deleterious effect on Bordeaux. Unfortunately, producers there have not bought into the silver oxide generators as enthusiastically. Look for higher prices from both regions. 

California, on the other hand, was suffering an unprecedented heat wave just as the 2016 harvest was about to begin. Central Valley and Napa had substantial problems. Sonoma was a mixed bag. Coastal and Alexander Valley appear to have slid through, but most of the large producing vineyards on the valley floor took a hit. 2016 crush in Cali was down about 8 percent, and this year looks worse. Oregon, according to recent reports, had huge yields, early pick and another "vintage of the century" rating. Washington followed Oregon except in yield, which is categorized as light. It is also instructive that, aside from Europe's colder climes, acreage under production is up substantially and escalating, but per capita consumption is down quite a bit. Historically, this confluence has been a harbinger of serious economic downturn in Euroland. I'm unsure if the pattern is repeating, because the large influx of Muslims, the majority of whom abstain from alcohol, has likely made a hash of the per capita stats. For a comprehensive report, go here: Don't forget the rules; first read the entire paper, ads and all.