Wednesday, 17 October 2012

2012 - A year of extremes

For English wine makers 2012 has been an extraordinary year. They've shared in the joys of the Jubilympics (some more directly than others), the cringeworthy exploits of the Apprentice candidates (Grandeur, anyone?), but they have also had to contend with weather conditions which have been far from ideal.

Grapes ripening unevenly. Photo by Andrew Crowley

Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post with the tongue-in-cheek title of Climate Change, and now the issue of climate is in the headlines again. If you follow any of the wine news, you can't have missed the reports of Nyetimber cancelling their harvest. The second wettest summer on record combined with almost 20% fewer hours of sunshine have made it extremely difficult (in some cases, impossible) to ripen grapes.

Since I know a number of my readers are new to the world of wine, I can't help but see a silver lining here: what better opportunity to learn about the impact of climate and weather than when things go horribly wrong?!

My previous article on climatic influence detailed the see-saw of acidity and sugars in grapes as they ripen Without sufficient sunshine, this process is severely inhibited. There was also the problem of frosts early in the growing season which led to reduced flowering and therefore a smaller number of grapes in the first place. Whilst many of the general public are unaware of English wine, many remain sceptical largely due to our typically poor weather conditions. However, this recent spate has not affected only us. In parts of Chablis - a winemaking area relatively close to us - harvests are 40% below average.

The impact that these conditions will have on pricing in the near future is obvious. And whilst that may be a brief inconvenience, it is my humble opinion that it's no bad thing to remind the consuming public that wine still comes from grapes, which are still a natural product. In a world where mass-produced wines are homogenised beyond recognition, this is something we need to remember.

We also get to learn about the processes involved in wine making beyond the vineyard. The English Sparkling Wine producers, for example, can limit the impact of a below-average harvest by blending wines from a range of years together in order to make non-vintage wines. Not only is this a financially sound decision, it also helps to achieve consistency between years.

So there we have it. An awful year for making wine, but a great year for learning about it.

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