As temperatures rise, some vintners are moving to higher ground
Despite the recent very cold spell, it seems our planet is becoming ever warmer, and this is also affecting viticulture in a number of ways. Not all of them are obvious.
In such already torrid parts of the world as the Jerez region of southwest Spain, famous for Sherry, the Napa Valley in California or the Port-producing Douro region in north Portugal, making decent wines from premium grapes is problematic enough. Increased sugar levels in the grapes with a consequent lack in the necessary balancing acidity lead to wines that are not only heavily alcoholic but flabby, with little prospect for successfully laying down. Many think the 14.5 percent alcohol that has become the norm for many California red wines is excessive, far more suited to a fortified wine.
Winemakers are not taking this lying down. Organizations like the World Congress on Climate Change and Wine in Spain have been studying the issue in the world’s major wine regions for some time. However, research is just at the beginning; ideally, data is needed from several decades, not a few years.
Obvious recommendations include developing varieties and rootstocks better suited to the new climatic conditions or planting vines in locations more suited to their needs, as Miguel Torres, doyen of Spanish producers, is doing by purchasing vineyards at high altitudes to cope with all but the most extreme eventualities. Predictions are that if temperatures rise another 2 degrees Celsius, growing vines will become untenable in many of the world’s more renowned wine regions by 2050.
One such case is Australia, whose vineyard area could disappear entirely. Here they are taking matters very seriously, by not only recycling water but shaping the land itself so as better to conserve what little water there is. Although, as has been pointed out, in such an event, water, not wine would become the overriding priority.
Of course, warmer weather has come as a boon to the more marginal viticultural areas. The winemakers in the Champagne region are benefiting from all this, having experienced a great number of good vintages of late, but they too are concerned for the future of their fine, if delicate fizz. One of the main varieties used is the finicky Pinot Noir, which requires a very narrow temperature range if it is not to lose its silky elegance. So these winemakers are looking across the Channel to the south English counties, where the damp climate is not dissimilar to their own and the soil is the same Kimmeridgian clay that extends down into north France, while the temperature difference is a mere 1 degree Celsius.
While England and Wales have always produced wine in small quantities, the gates have now opened to such unlikely winelands as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Alaska. And the Czech Republic too is well positioned to take advantage of these changes. Perhaps we will soon see beefy red wines made exclusively from Moravian grapes, not by adding bulk wine from Chile.
Winery of the month: Vinice Gröbovka
The only remaining vineyard in Vinohrady is spread across the slopes beneath the villa of the same name in Havlíčkovy sady. As the name suggests, this part of Prague was once a hive of winemaking activity. After many centuries of wavering fortunes, the location was purchased in 1870 by industrialist Moritz Gröbe, who had his estate built in the then-fashionable Italian renaissance style surrounded by vineyards. In 1985, this land was given to the Union of Small Gardeners, who parcelled the whole into 40 individual plots with the result that quality ceased to matter. But in 1990, the 1.7 hectares remaining came under the town hall of Prague 2.
In 1993, the late Antonín Tureček, long-term vineyard keeper at Troja, took over the management of Gröbovka, with the understanding he would restore order to the haphazardly planted vine rows. Today, the renewed vineyard is in the care of his daughter, Iveta Bulánková. Wines are available in the Viniční altán gazebo, which has been tastefully restored and opened as a restaurant and wine bar whose walls are lined with a monthly changing exhibition of art. See Vinicni-altan.cz.
Wines of the month
White: Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Clos Malverne, Stellenbosch
Producer: Clos Malverne, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This family-owned estate is located in the stunning Devon Valley just outside Stellenbosch. It was bought in 1969 by the Pritchard family who only began developing the vinous side of the business in the 1980s. Wines are hand-prepared and lightly filtered. This example is light gold in appearance with a pungent gooseberry nose spiced with a touch of exotica. The palate leads off with citrus and apple flavors, giving way to rounder notes reminiscent of quince jelly. Overall the wine is fresh, with a good zingy attack. (220 Kč)
Red: Víno z Gröbovky Pinot Noir 2008
Producer: Gröbovka vineyard, Havlíčkovy sady, Prague
The Pinot Noir grape variety was introduced to the Czech lands by Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century, since which time it has made itself comfortably at home. This wine serves as a very good example of this cultivar in its local guise, having a nice ruby hue with a garnet rim around the edge. As far as the nose and taste are concerned, the accent is very much on small red fruit, with raspberry jam well to the fore. A lively crisp acidity. (230 Kč)
The fourth edition of the Tábor Wine Festival will be held between March 15 and 31. A wide range of events will be taking place at several locations in this historic south Bohemian town during the course of the two weeks. These include tutored wine tastings, cheese and wine matching sessions, photography exhibitions, moderated discussions led by well-known local journalists and wine waiters, and naturally, plenty of Czech and Moravian wines to sample. Further details from Festival-vina.cz.