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Bad Memories and Global Warming

Posted: Jul 21, 2008 1:12pm ET

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was getting over my jet lag at a friend’s pool in Tuscany. We had had a light lunch with a couple of bottles of Champagne and some whites, and I brought up the subject of the weather this summer. I've heard so people here say that the summer hasn’t been very warm. Some, such as my editorial assistant, Rosanne, already fear that the summer is over!

The days get up to about 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights go down to 66. The sun is bright and strong; so the vines are growing just fine. It’s these differences in temperatures that maintain the perfumes and acidities in the grapes during the growing season. It’s how Tuscan wines can be so rich in alcohol while remaining fresh and clean, if made properly. Many producers in California or Australia, by comparison, have to add acidity to their wines when they have such high alcohols. But that’s another column.

Anyway, I think that this year’s summer is a pretty normal one. I remember that it was like this for most of the 1990s when I came to the region during the summer. Moreover, I was speaking to a Tuscan friend who is about 58 years old, and he said that it’s been abnormally hot during the recent summers in Tuscany. He pointed out that until recently they almost never went to the pool before the end of June. “But in the last six or seven years we could go to the pool by the end of May,” he said. “That’s not normal. It has been too hot. People have forgotten what a real Tuscan summer is.”

I am not sure that going to the pool is great proof of weather patterns, but it works for some. I still remember a restaurant owner in Bordeaux who said that 2007 could not have been a good year because he didn’t serve people on his terrace the whole of August.

Are these sort of old wives’ tales, or simplified ways of analyzing weather changes? Who knows? I still believe in global warming and it certainly is having an effect on vine growing and winemaking, like everything else in the world. My stepfather says, “It's a conspiracy invented by the liberal element in America.” He has his head in the ground over that one!

I remember a conversation a couple years ago with Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages, among others, and he said that he might consider buying land for vineyards in Denmark or Belgium, in light of the way it was warming up all over Europe. “With global warming, it might make sense,” he said, with a dead serious face.

Maybe this year will change his mind? Then again, the weather may be normal for now, but it just can’t be in the future, with all the carbon emissions and everything else changing our environment ...

P.S. If you're lucky enough to drink some 2000 MOËT & CHANDON Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon, the most recent release which I drank with my friend yesterday, get ready for a glorious bottle. I find it much more refined and balanced than the 1999. I think it is the best DP since 1996. It shows a fine bead of bubbles with delicate apple, bread dough and honey that follows through to a full body, with fresh acidity and a long, lively finish.

Albert Jochems
The Netherlands —  July 21, 2008 4:12pm ET
I'm not sure what is 'normal' in Tuscany. But judging on my own pool experience over the past 9 years of holiday in Tuscany, it was relatively cool the past two weeks. I remember almost all of the past 9 years to be hotter......I don't know what it will mean for the vines, but I liked it. It was perfect for the pool at daytime, and nicely cool during the night.
Jimmy Hwang
Atlanta , GA —  July 21, 2008 8:06pm ET
James...I'm preparing a Champagne Tasting for November, where we will be serving, 2000 Dom Perignon, ¿noth¿e, La Grande Dame, Rose, Dom Ruinart, and Krug Grand Cuvee! Krug has always been a favorite, but you got me excited about the 2000 Dom Perignon. Have you had the ¿noth¿e?? -Marshall Parker
Paul Gordon
Santa Clara —  July 22, 2008 12:54am ET
James, Interesting that you comment about California temps. Over the last two days Calistoga (the hot end of Napa Valley) had highs of 84F and 85F and lows of 43F and 49F. We are not as hot as you think (and lows much cooler than Tuscany).
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  July 22, 2008 2:33am ET
In Nov. 07 my friend invited me to his house for dinner. Piero Incisa della Rochetta of Sassicaia fame (and now Bodega Chacra) was in attendance. It was a great evening. 87, 90, 93, 94 & 03 were poured. If I understood Piero, he felt over the yrs it has been getting warmer. People who work in agriculture can see it more readily than the average city person. It was an interesting conversation. The 87 was 12.5% alc and the 03 was 14% (1st time ever for sassicaia). Yes I do know that was the horrible heat wave yr but the other vintages were all in the 12% - 13% range. p.s. - I only met him this one time so I hope I am not misquoting him. side note: 87 labeled vin da tavolo
James Suckling
 —  July 22, 2008 2:43am ET
Interesting. I am going to Sassicaia today and having an early dinner with Niccolo Incisa...
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  July 22, 2008 10:11am ET
Living in and visiting Europe in the 70's and 80's, I rememmber the cold rainy summers and falls the area had then. Many of Germany's reisling vintages were rated in the 70's to low 80's. Some wine was vinegar within a couple of years. Is that the weather you prefer? Perhaps all those cool years were a glitch downward making the current warmer summers just seem hotter.
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 22, 2008 10:21am ET
One thing to keep in mind is that the term "global warming", although accurately reflecting the fact that the globally averaged temperature is definitely rising due to human activity, tends to be misleading because different parts of the world will see different consequences due to the complexity of the climate. Cooling may actually occur in some regions, and in any event it's difficult to make any assessments through anecdotal changes from one year to the next. People interested in this topic should check out the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.ipcc.ch). It represents the consensus view of literally thousands of scientists and an incalculable amount of data collected over many decades. A better way to frame this whole issue is probably to think in terms of "global climate change"...but then again this isn't as catchy as "global warming" and might deprive your step-father from being able to effectively rail against the liberal establishment!
Bryan Hassin
Houston, TX —  July 22, 2008 11:07am ET
I'm in Piemonte right now, tasting up a storm of Barolo and Barbaresco. It's so cool, you'd think it were autumn. Yesterday the day even began with the "nebbia" fog for which the nebbiolo is named--not something you usually see this early in the year!I also believe in global warming but it's pretty fallacious for people to say "Wow, hot day today--must be global warming!"After this trip, I also believe in Bruno Rocca and La Spinetta. Thank goodness all the '04s are now available for tasting!
Jared Wagner
Maple Valley, WA —  July 22, 2008 6:39pm ET
Of course climates are going to change. We don't live in some stagnate vacuum. Any human who is arrogant enough to believe we can alter Mother Nature and the Earth to such a degree as to render it uninhabitable or severely change its climate is fooling themself (irrespective of a nuclear war). All those cars and cfc's the animals were using back in the day certainly contributed to the Ice Age.
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 23, 2008 2:17pm ET
Brilliant argument. What's so impressive is the ability to draw scientific conclusions in the complete absence of information...well, let me revise that statement: it's probably safe to assume that saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths didn't drive cars or use hair spray. And the Bush Administration has proven that you don't need facts to develop policy. I stand corrected.
James Suckling
 —  July 23, 2008 4:26pm ET
James. You are way too funny! If you come to Tuscany, come and have lunch at my house. Okay?
Jared Wagner
Maple Valley, WA —  July 23, 2008 6:50pm ET
James,No one was trying to correct you. Your sarcasm about the ability to draw scientific conclusions must also extend to your so-called scientists as no one has been able to use the scientific method to prove that humans are causing "global climate change." No one is trying to dispute that climates change--history is proof that they do. What some people have an issue about is the way the left preys upon human guilt as a way to foster votes and force policy. Saying that the Bush administration has never let facts get in the way of developing policy is certainly calling the kettle black. The Dems have never twisted the facts to fit their purpose--yeah right!James S.,Just because we may not agree politically doesn't mean we can't enjoy some wine and lunch at your house, does it?
Mr Damian Zaninovich
Bakersfield,Ca —  July 23, 2008 9:38pm ET
I want cleaner air,less senseless garbage and a big reduction in pollution but I can remember when in the early 70's we were on the verge of another ice age and overpopulation was a hot topic. I wonder what it will be in another 35 years. As for myself I feel obesity is the biggest challenge our country faces although it's pollitically incorrect to talk about.
Matthew Shaffer
July 23, 2008 10:21pm ET
Well, it's warming on Mars, Jupiter, and Pluto too (darned SUV's). Maybe we should cultivate land on those planets too.
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 23, 2008 11:59pm ET
Jared, both sides of the isle definitely twist information to suit their political purposes: no argument there. With some notable exceptions, however, scientists tend to be a relatively apolitical bunch when it comes to data analysis and drawing conclusions from that analysis (one of the virtues of the peer review system which all of the information cited by the IPCC has gone through in spades). In science (unlike politics), you don't get to "like" or "dislike" a conclusion and modify things accordingly: the data are what the data are. I guess one could get around this by, say, deleting pages of relevant testimony from scientific experts called before Congressional committees (thankfully no one in the current administration would go that far...). The simple fact of the matter is that, based on the best available data and models that have been developed from the work of > 2000 scientists from over 50 countries around the world, the only way to account for documented climate variations that have occurred over the past hundred years is to include effects due to anthropogenic sources. I would respectfully suggest you read a bit more about this from (relatively) unbiased sources (and just to be clear, FoxNews doesn't count).
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 24, 2008 12:03am ET
James, I'd be honored to take you up on that invite. If you'll provide advice on the wine, I'll provide the running commentary!
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  July 24, 2008 12:07am ET
Matthew, I'm with you on that. I figure another 10-15 years of this and we can pull up all those Riesling vines on Mars and give Merlot a shot...
David A Zajac
July 24, 2008 8:40am ET
Merlot sucks in any environment other than Pomerol, but some nice Martian Pinot, that's another story!
Mr Damian Zaninovich
Bakersfield,Ca —  July 24, 2008 10:21am ET
James,I'm at a loss why Bordeaux growers would not embrace more ripeness in their fruit when until recently only 2 out 10 years could be considered excellent due to lack of ripeness(according to Paul Pontallier)and this is for a 1st Growth. What about the vast majority of the region that is unable to command a fair price. Planting more Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot might be blessing for the area and we Bordeaux lovers as well. I don't think anyone really is going to miss vegetal tasting wines in the future.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  July 24, 2008 10:54am ET
this is not rocket science and not politics: driving huge suvs, a lifestyle based on fosil fuel, and dont giving a Sh...t about the planet is certainly not good. Just take a deep breath in any big city, yummy dont you think? i mean, how can you just expect to live on a planet were the human population is growing without a proportional florest population growing as well. thinking that the human race as nothing to do with climate change is equaly stupid as saying that 07 bordeaux could be the next 1961!the planets needs us, wihtout any party afiliation! save her!
Mark Mcdonald
Nebraska —  July 27, 2008 6:11pm ET
James,While a newbie to wine, I have developed a real passion for it and enjoy reading your blogs. I always learn something.One thing I love about wine is that I can seperate it from the political realm that we encounter daily in our mainstream media.It seems Global Warming is one of those topics that people are turning into religion and many people get sucked into it on one side or the other. Some of your readers seem a bit .... irrational, if not passionately, yet sadly disproportionally biased.In any case, I love your blogs and have found your ratings to be spot on 90% of the time (consistent with my taste).Keep up the great work!!!Mark
James Suckling
 —  July 28, 2008 5:37am ET
Mark. Thanks for the kinds words. Wine is a great passion to have. It's not only about what's in the bottle. It brings a lot of good people together. Stay well.
Daniele Nardi
Bowling Green, OH —  July 28, 2008 4:47pm ET
Hi James, I have a question that is off-topic, but I would really like to have your suggestion. I am going to visit a couple of wineries in Montalcino in early September. I already visited Poggio Antico, La Fortuna and Villa le Prata. I'd prefer good but relatively smaller producers. What would you suggest? Thanks a lot

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