Wine producers are not helpful to those who deny climate change. Reports from California indicate that much of the 2014 harvesting may be completed by October 1. Though that may be a bit of a stretch, it is only a bit because there is no longer any doubt that wine harvests are happening weeks earlier than in the past. And not only in California.
Aldo Vaccha told me a couple of years ago that his Barbarescos are ripening in August and early September. Champagne producers talk openly about their quality grapes may soon do better on the British side of the Channel as warmer temperatures continue to move further and further north. In Burgundy last fall, I spoke with several growers who are experimenting with grapes that prefer warmer climates than their traditional Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
This talk among wine producers all around the northern hemisphere pre-dates the recent release of the United Nations report on climate progress, pointing out that CO2 emissions between 2012 and 2013 increased by 2.9 parcels per million, just 9 ppm short of what most scientists say would cause dreadful things to happen to coastal cities and would bring on severe drought and extreme weather patterns.
Among the most prolific contributors to methane emissions are those who produce natural gas and engage in industrial agriculture. I could find no reference to grape growing among the industrial agriculture category, but I have noticed a decrease in diesel and petroleum vehicles at work in many vineyards.
It may be politically useful in some places to disbelieve in climate change, but the folks who farm our grapes are becoming believers. As Dr. Vaccha put it, “Long term this may not be good; but it’s certainly more pleasant to cut the grapes in late August than in late October.”
Knowing that the grape harvest is underway in Alsace has filled me with nostalgia. Especially since my wife these past few days has been blending fried potatoes with Munster cheese and baking splendid tartes d’oignon, and stuffing savory crepes with smoked salmon slathered in sauce mousselline. Her efforts have sent me to the more remote shelves of our retailers to obtain Pinot Blancs, Rielslings, Gewurztraminers, and, of course, Cremants d’Alsace.
Between 1967 and 1994, I never missed being in Alsace during harvest time. Living in Karlsruhe, Heidelberg, and Strasbourg during those years made it easy, but even since then, I have made it back for harvest visits. All French vineyard visits please the eye, but Alsace more so than any other. The tall vines green the Vosges Mountains on the west bank of the Rhine, and the wine-producing villages still have cobbled streets, timbered houses, and flower boxes and gardens from end-to-end. It is just remarkably soothing to be in Alsace anytime but especially in the fall as the vines turn gold and the grapes are fermenting and the promise of another fresh, fruity vintage provides hope for all.
Not that I am of much use to the harvest. I do wander into the vineyards to cheer on the harvesters and take their pictures. I have even managed to secure an invitation to some of the winery harvesters’ lunches, bountiful feasts indeed, after which I am at liberty to take a much-needed nap while they carry on all afternoon with the back-breaking work that causes them to sing with great joy as the sun sets on their trek back to their cars and trucks.
In my mind these days, I picture that sinewy Route du Vin as it twists its way through Obernai and Mittelbergheim and Sigolsheim and Ribeauville and past Riquewihr on its way from Strasbourg to Colmar. I can see the domain signs that evoke such warm memories — Zind-Humbrecht, Hugel, Trimbach, Leon Beyer, Preiss-Henny, and Dopf-Irion.
My reveries, however, are interrupted. My wife has just informed me that the Saucisse de Strasbourg et Knackwurst Choucroute is ready and I must come with the Riesling right away.
“How long will this wine keep?” A common question among consumers and visitors to wineries. Is there any definite answer to that question? Does anyone really know? Can the people who create the wine really tell you?
The answers to those questions are “Yes,” “Maybe,” “Probably,” and “No.” The questions all assume the wines in question have not been improperly shipped or stored and have been kept responsibly. In my early days of raising that question, there were plenty of pat answers in the literature. Three to five years for dry whites, fifteen to twenty years for sweet wines, five to ten years for red wines, and so it went. We don’t hear such nonsense anymore, but the question is still relevant.
I have been raising it a lot since last month when I was gifted a 2002 Moet & Chandon. One can generally assume that a vintage Champagne will outlast a nonvintage, but just how long does a Champagne hold up? A top-of-the-line Champagne such as Dom Perignon (which is vinified only in harvests deserving of a vintage designation) is held several years after bottling before being released for sale. It is not uncommon for a Dom Perignon to be drinking well after two decades or more. Leonhard Humbrecht told me he prefers his Rieslings to have “several years” of bottle age for maximum enjoyment.
Last fall I wrote about opening a 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, which I had brought from France where I had been given it by a friend who had looked after it appropriately, as did I. A Grand Cru of such status is expected to endure, but 40 years plus? My bottle was tiring, still impressive on the palate but the fruit was drying, the finish fading. Last month I reported on a 1982 Chateau Cheval Blanc, also a Grand Cru, as being lively, fresh, and lingering. Granted, there was a decade of age difference, but the degree of difference between the two seemed much greater.
No one disputes that most of us keep our wine treasures too long. No one disputes that well-made, well-kept wines improve with age. How much age, however, is a very subjective question. Wines do live in the bottle — for a while. Their life expectancy depends a great deal on their health at the time of bottling and their care thereafter. Experience helps producers and professionals make reasonably accurate predictions based on such criteria as tannins, sugars, acids, color, and length. Infallible? Of course not.
So what’s on my mind? How long should I keep my 2002 Moet & Chandon?« NEWER POSTS | OLDER POSTS »