Things are heating up in Europe–not just in Greece. A searing heatwave has the continent in its grasp.
Burgundy, which is known for producing wines more winsome than boxum, will have four days in the 100s (39C+) this week–and the balance in the 90s. Yikes. Searing temperatures are expected in Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello and Britain as well to name a few places starting with “B.”
Generally, grape vines don’t like excessive heat. The later in the grapes’ ripening process the heat wave comes, the more difficult it can be to manage. This pamphlet (pdf) from Australia–no stranger to heat waves with a monster one in 2009 that pushed temperatures up over 100 for 14 days–states that the main effects are a loss of crop and reduction of quality. Mitigation strategies include irrigating vineyards during heatwaves, which may be an option in Barossa but not in Burgundy.
The last heat wave that had in impact on French wine was 2003, which was the hottest summer since 1540. The wines from that vintage got a lukewarm reception initially (except for the shootout at the St. Emilion Corral over the Pavie 2003) and they have aged poorly. Sadly, the 2003 heat wave also accounted for tens of thousands of deaths across France. Fortunately, that isn’t likely to be the case this time around.
Sadly, such hot summers in Europe are likely to become more frequent, even “commonplace” by the 2040s. In a study released last year, researchers from the Met Office, Britain’s weather service, predicted that once every five years Europe will have “a very hot summer.”
While it is too soon to tell how the 2015 vintage will work out, the vines will be under heat stress the next few days. Bonne chance.
And things are heating up in talking about weather in the wine world. Especially if you are in Bordeaux that is, since it is en fuego! Or something like that: The heat has been abnormally high and the rainfall is way below average. So if the drought-like conditions keep up, the reduced supply of grapes could push wine prices even higher! Is it 2003 all over again? The vintage in Burgundy is also advanced.
By contrast, cut to the Auction Napa Valley this past weekend and people were breaking out the umbrellas rather than the sunscreen. Weather has been cool across the state. Rhys Vineyards has vineyards in more of the marginal weather areas of California and therefore is rightfully weather-obsessed, so their Twitter feed is an excellent source of weather info. Temperatures at their Skyline Vineyard, perched at 2,300-ft elevation, hovered at 49.6 degrees Fahrenheit in May, making it one of the seven coldest Mays since 1931; their vine shoots are about two or three inches behind, they tweet. They say that weather in late June is key for the fruit set so they don’t mean to sound gloomy. And after California’s cool and damp 2010 vintage, the “high-octane,” “fruit-bomb” style is taking it from all sides these days.
Australia was in the headlines for the devastating Queensland floods earlier this year. But even some of the wine growing regions were hit by heavy, “seven year rains” that rotted unpicked grapes quickly and made for a lot of grape selection both in the vineyard and on sorting tables. The Sydney Morning Herald explicitly linked the “soggy” weather to lower alcohol levels.
It’s weird that California and France appear to have flipped weather so far for 2011–there’s something you can talk about in your next elevator ride. Just don’t let the Mayans know since I think that was part of their their 2012 prophecy…