How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

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Mark Golodetz
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How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#1 Post by Mark Golodetz » July 8th, 2019, 6:12 am

Given the introduction of new grapes being made available to some lesser appellations in the near future, it is pretty obvious, that the Bordelais themselves are concerned. Recent vintages seem to confirm they have reason to be. Alcohol levels are on the rise, and while the wines have proved very appealing to some critics, they are far less so to some who remember old style Bordeaux. Not that you cannot find sub 14% wines, but the trend is against it, and perhaps the whole understanding what constitutes and defines Bordeaux is changing.

My question is if the trend continues, would it be even possible to make the old fashioned sub 13.5% alcohol wines that showed so much terroir, or will we forced to drink only an international type of wine with a Bordeaux label?
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Kris Patten
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#2 Post by Kris Patten » July 8th, 2019, 6:28 am

Will poor exposures and vineyards start to become more valued so that vigor is reduced by the quality of the land vs. lack of heat in past to keep old-timey Bordeaux alive?

On a somewhat serious note, how is a grape like Touriga that is more heat tolerant going to remind you of old time BDX when it tastes nothing like Cab, Franc, or Merlot?

Get used to riper, is my guess or Franc and PV will need to be more prevalent, the % of Merlot nowadays is adding to softness and alc%.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#3 Post by David Glasser » July 8th, 2019, 7:24 am

Clearly it's an issue. I don't know how much effect it's having now. How much effect does a few degrees have when compared to other things that have been happening in "modern" Bordeaux? Have hang times/harvest dates changed? Has canopy management changed? If some of that were undone, how much temperature effect would be left? Not asking to counter your point, but wondering if other things can be done to counter the increased temps other than planting different varieties or moving to different sites. What other effects would that have?

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#4 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2019, 8:03 am

It's hard to know how much is weather and how much is conscious decisions to pick later. I'd guess a bit of both. And, on the weather issue, you have to look at diurnal swings, and not just average temps or average highs. And you can probably need to focus mainly on the growing season, not the winter months. So it's not an easy question to answer.

A few years back, I dug out climate data on German wine growing regions to settle an argument with someone who contended that winemakers were consciously making wines sweeter. It was pretty striking how much warmer the vintages there have been starting in 1999. That's not Bordeaux, but nothing is that far in Europe. I'm sure there's ample data on Bordeaux temps if someone wants to poke around on the Internet.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#5 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » July 8th, 2019, 8:16 am

John Morris wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 8:03 am
It's hard to know how much is weather and how much is conscious decisions to pick later. I'd guess a bit of both. And, on the weather issue, you have to look at diurnal swings, and not just average temps or average highs. And you can probably need to focus mainly on the growing season, not the winter months. So it's not an easy question to answer.

A few years back, I dug out climate data on German wine growing regions to settle an argument with someone who contended that winemakers were consciously making wines sweeter. It was pretty striking how much warmer the vintages there have been starting in 1999. That's not Bordeaux, but nothing is that far in Europe. I'm sure there's ample data on Bordeaux temps if someone wants to poke around on the Internet.
I agree, perhaps both. There are producers doing just fine right now, so I think the bigger issues, today, are the conscious decisions made in the field, how/when the grapes are picked and how the wine is made. What happens next 10, 20, 50+ years, who knows.

I, for one, will not complain if more Cab Franc of Petit Verdot shows up in the cepage.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#6 Post by Anton D » July 8th, 2019, 8:45 am

Shifting growing zones is an interesting topic.

I couldn't find a good Euro map, but the US map is cool. The Department of Agriculture is coming up on 100 years of mapping this. The linked map is from 1971 onward.

(Starting to see Carneros cab and merlot!)

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#7 Post by Julian Marshall » July 8th, 2019, 9:05 am

I think it's a learning curve. In the 90s, efforts were made in precisely the opposite direction: more Merlot was planted, canopy management was changed to give greater exposure to the sun, all because of difficulties in getting the stuff to ripen and of course the fruit was picked later. All that received wisdom is now obsolete, so it's a question of adapting to the new conditions, probably by getting out the old textbooks and using more rather than less later-ripening grapes. But the biggest influence will be the consumers: if enough people continue to enjoy and buy the "modern" international style, not much will change.

I'm not old enough nor experienced enough to remember many wines from 1976, but apart from the different taste, were the alcohol levels much higher than usual?

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#8 Post by Rudi Finkler » July 8th, 2019, 9:39 am

Mark Golodetz wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 6:12 am
Given the introduction of new grapes being made available to some lesser appellations in the near future, it is pretty obvious, that the Bordelais themselves are concerned....
I think the Bordelais are more concerned about Parker’s retirement than about global warming. :-)
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#9 Post by William Kelley » July 8th, 2019, 10:50 am

Julian Marshall wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 9:05 am
I think it's a learning curve. In the 90s, efforts were made in precisely the opposite direction: more Merlot was planted, canopy management was changed to give greater exposure to the sun, all because of difficulties in getting the stuff to ripen and of course the fruit was picked later. All that received wisdom is now obsolete, so it's a question of adapting to the new conditions, probably by getting out the old textbooks and using more rather than less later-ripening grapes. But the biggest influence will be the consumers: if enough people continue to enjoy and buy the "modern" international style, not much will change.

I'm not old enough nor experienced enough to remember many wines from 1976, but apart from the different taste, were the alcohol levels much higher than usual?
At least in Burgundy, according to what a few older vignerons have told me, because of the drought causing vines to shut down, 1976 was quite low in potential alcohol. So they were often chaptalized by several degrees. The prevailing wisdom at the time was to add tartaric acid to compensate for the additional volume gained by chaptalizing, so the wines were both chaptalized and acidified. I think that has a lot to do with why so many of them were / are so firm to this day.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#10 Post by Alan Rath » July 8th, 2019, 11:49 am

Without commenting on how local climate is changing in Bordeaux, how much of the "changes" there over the last few decades have nothing to do with Climate? Napa wines changed radically, with those changes having little to do with climate.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#11 Post by Marcu$ Stanley » July 8th, 2019, 11:56 am

Bordeaux should be the least worried major region. Cabernet (both kinds) is a pretty heat-flexible grape, they have a lot of freedom in cepage and vineyard location, and they are starting from a pretty cool and rainy baseline. I think Burgundy should be more worried. Pinot is more fragile and their entire system of vineyard designation and ranking was set up based on a much cooler weather baseline. At least they get to acidify!

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#12 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2019, 12:30 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 11:49 am
Without commenting on how local climate is changing in Bordeaux, how much of the "changes" there over the last few decades have nothing to do with Climate? Napa wines changed radically, with those changes having little to do with climate.
Exactly. Average ABV in Napa cabs rose by something like 1.5% over a 15-year span, beginning in the late 80s or early 90s, as I recall. And I don't believe anyone was claiming big climatic changes in the region in that period.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#13 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2019, 12:33 pm

Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 11:56 am
Bordeaux should be the least worried major region. Cabernet (both kinds) is a pretty heat-flexible grape, they have a lot of freedom in cepage and vineyard location, and they are starting from a pretty cool and rainy baseline. I think Burgundy should be more worried. Pinot is more fragile and their entire system of vineyard designation and ranking was set up based on a much cooler weather baseline. At least they get to acidify!
Plus Bordeaux has the moderating effects of the Atlantic on one side and the Gironde inlet on the other.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#14 Post by Mark Golodetz » July 8th, 2019, 12:48 pm

John Morris wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 12:33 pm
Marcu$ Stanley wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 11:56 am
Bordeaux should be the least worried major region. Cabernet (both kinds) is a pretty heat-flexible grape, they have a lot of freedom in cepage and vineyard location, and they are starting from a pretty cool and rainy baseline. I think Burgundy should be more worried. Pinot is more fragile and their entire system of vineyard designation and ranking was set up based on a much cooler weather baseline. At least they get to acidify!
Plus Bordeaux has the moderating effects of the Atlantic on one side and the Gironde inlet on the other.
While I agree that Merlot is more likely to succumb than Cabernet, the are a number of wines in the Graves that are already showing signs of overripe grapes and relatively high alcohol wines.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#15 Post by John Morris » July 8th, 2019, 12:52 pm

But because of weather or decisions to pick later?
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#16 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » July 8th, 2019, 1:56 pm

John Morris wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 12:52 pm
But because of weather or decisions to pick later?
Probably both.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#17 Post by Chris Seiber » July 8th, 2019, 3:34 pm

Regardless of whatever effect the fraction of one degree temperature difference might make in wines, as far as I can tell, producers around the world who choose to make lower alcohol and higher acid styles of wines around the world still seem perfectly capable of doing so. I think what we are seeing in Bordeaux is driven by producers, consumers, critics, consultants, stylistic choices, and so forth.

It would be instructive to see the pick dates of producers. If some Bordeaux producer has been picking on average the same date for decades and using generally the same vineyard and winemaking practices, but the wines have gone up a percent or two in ABV, then that might suggest my view above is incorrect. Is there any evidence that is the case?

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#18 Post by Mattstolz » July 8th, 2019, 4:06 pm

one of the things that makes me not as keen on Bordeaux during warming periods is the fact that its very hard for a basic consumer to figure out what kind of exposure the vines that made the wine in the bottle have. In Burgundy, its very easy to figure out the more northern facing exposures that can help mitigate the heat or something similar. in bordeaux, unless you're there looking its (relatively) harder to find out. obviously this isn't the only thing that influences the wine but its a helpful way to help differentiate some years I think. for example, I know that in the last few vintages in Montalcino I definitely steer towards the wines with vineyards north of the village because I think it helps with the heat!

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#19 Post by Jonathan Loesberg » July 8th, 2019, 4:25 pm

It's surely true that you could make high alcohol overripe wine before global warming, but I'm not sure the reverse is true. As the summers heat up, it gets harder and harder to produce what we think of as traditional wines. In CuP wines below 14, even among the most traditional producers is a thing of the past. Prior to 1998, 13.5. was quite usual. Bordeaux may well follow in tnat ath.

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#20 Post by Chris Seiber » July 8th, 2019, 11:32 pm

Jonathan Loesberg wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 4:25 pm
It's surely true that you could make high alcohol overripe wine before global warming, but I'm not sure the reverse is true. As the summers heat up, it gets harder and harder to produce what we think of as traditional wines. In CuP wines below 14, even among the most traditional producers is a thing of the past. Prior to 1998, 13.5. was quite usual. Bordeaux may well follow in tnat ath.
You think producers in CdP are trying to make lower alcohol wine but cannot due to global warming? Is there any evidence of that?

It seems like producers who wish to make lower alcohol styled wines are perfectly able to do it. I don’t see Arcadian’s alcohol levels rising over the years.

My latest shipment of Kosta Browne has pinots with 14.1 and 14.0 alcohol, down almost a full percent from where they were 15 years ago. Pax Mahle has gone from making 15+% wines to wines in the 12s and even 11s.

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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#21 Post by Ian S » July 9th, 2019, 8:58 am

Maybe Bordeaux should take a lesson from Quarts de Chaumes in the Loire Valley: some producers pick half their grapes early / less ripe to keep the sweetness and alcohol levels down.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#22 Post by Victor Hong » July 9th, 2019, 9:06 am

Mark Golodetz wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 6:12 am
Given the introduction of new grapes being made available to some lesser appellations in the near future, it is pretty obvious, that the Bordelais themselves are concerned. Recent vintages seem to confirm they have reason to be. Alcohol levels are on the rise, and while the wines have proved very appealing to some critics, they are far less so to some who remember old style Bordeaux. Not that you cannot find sub 14% wines, but the trend is against it, and perhaps the whole understanding what constitutes and defines Bordeaux is changing.

My question is if the trend continues, would it be even possible to make the old fashioned sub 13.5% alcohol wines that showed so much terroir, or will we forced to drink only an international type of wine with a Bordeaux label?
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#23 Post by R M Kriete » July 9th, 2019, 10:22 am

Chris Seiber wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 11:32 pm
It seems like producers who wish to make lower alcohol styled wines are perfectly able to do it. I don’t see Arcadian’s alcohol levels rising over the years.

My latest shipment of Kosta Browne has pinots with 14.1 and 14.0 alcohol, down almost a full percent from where they were 15 years ago. Pax Mahle has gone from making 15+% wines to wines in the 12s and even 11s.
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Re: How much effect is global warming having on Bordeaux?

#24 Post by Jonathan Loesberg » July 9th, 2019, 11:30 am

Chris Seiber wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 11:32 pm
Jonathan Loesberg wrote:
July 8th, 2019, 4:25 pm
It's surely true that you could make high alcohol overripe wine before global warming, but I'm not sure the reverse is true. As the summers heat up, it gets harder and harder to produce what we think of as traditional wines. In CuP wines below 14, even among the most traditional producers is a thing of the past. Prior to 1998, 13.5. was quite usual. Bordeaux may well follow in tnat ath.
You think producers in CdP are trying to make lower alcohol wine but cannot due to global warming? Is there any evidence of that?

It seems like producers who wish to make lower alcohol styled wines are perfectly able to do it. I don’t see Arcadian’s alcohol levels rising over the years.

My latest shipment of Kosta Browne has pinots with 14.1 and 14.0 alcohol, down almost a full percent from where they were 15 years ago. Pax Mahle has gone from making 15+% wines to wines in the 12s and even 11s.

I don't know what evidence other than anecdotal would look like, given the question. I have had producers tell me that they would like to make lower alcohol wine but the grapes don't reach ripeness any more, given the heat, with alcohol that will only ferment to 13.5. Further, to be specific, yes I do think that places like Rayas and Pegau did not increase from 13.4 to 14-15 because Parkerization made them change the way they wanted to make wine. Next, if this was a choice, you would expect to find some winemakes, however few, making 13.% CdP, as you can still find Bordeaux at that ABV and lower, if you look hard enough. I don't know of any. I don't know them all, and I may well have missed one but I don't know of any. Finally, climate heat just does effect wine. It's part of terroir. I understand that ! or 1.5C may not seem much of a rise to you, but that's pretty much the difference between the NY finger lakes and VA. If you don't expect those places to make the same kind of wine, I don't know why you'd expect Bordeaux or anywhere else to make the same kind of wine when their average temperatures have risen that much.

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