Despite the fires, the wine glass is still half full

Although the vintage may take a hit, it remains unlikely that the European fires will lead to a global shortage of wine.

© Portugal News
| Despite the fires raging across Europe, the glasses are unlikely to remain empty for long.

If you watch the heat and the fires in Europe, you might be wondering what happens if the three biggest wine producers in the world – Italy, France and Spain – all have bad vintages.

So I, too, contacted experts in the wine trade. But first, let me put the importance of these countries into perspective.

In 2020, according to the OIV, these three countries produced 52% of all the wine produced in the world. You can add up all the wine produced by the next three highest producing countries – the United States, Argentina and Australia – and that doesn’t equal the amount produced by Italy or France.

The environmental situation is bad in every country. In addition to the extreme heat, these three major wine producers (along with Greece and Portugal) have been hit by forest fires, with smoke noticeable in the city of Bordeaux. Extreme heat will likely suppress yield in both locations, and some areas may be concerned about the smell of smoke. Italy is also suffering from a drought, which will also reduce yields.

It’s probably not a great vintage in Europe, but that’s nothing new: the fires of July have replaced the rains of September as a concern. What if it was a disaster vintage? Would this mean a global shortage of wine? Would other countries suddenly have great opportunities to enter stores and restaurants they had never entered before?

I asked two of the top wine market analysts I know – Jon Moramarco of bw166 and Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank – if a wine shortage was a real possibility.

Both were optimistic: they assured me that we will have enough wine next year. (Phew.)

“I look at it historically,” said Moramarco, who is also an editor and partner at Gomberg Fredrikson. “You have cycles where Europe would have a vintage down, but if it’s down 10%, the next vintage should be out a month earlier. It could happen. Then I looked at the temperature at Bordeaux In 2019 it reached 41.2 degrees Celsius In 2003 it was 40.7 This year there are hot temperatures, but historically there have been other hot temperatures.

No smoke without fire

As for the smell of smoke, one thing we learned in California is that it tends to affect vineyards closest to fires. The images of forest fires in Europe are striking because we are not used to seeing them. Some areas could be affected, but most are highly unlikely.

Additionally, while our understanding of smoke odor is still evolving, Moramarco said smoke tends to be absorbed closer to harvest. Grapes in France, Spain and Italy have probably gone through veraison, so they are getting bigger and softer and becoming vulnerable to the smell of smoke, but harvest is still likely over a month away and could be delayed. if the heat stops the vines. If the fires persist into August, this will be a much bigger problem.

It is not too early to predict a small vintage. But Moramarco points out that Bordeaux, even though it makes an ocean of wine, is probably responsible for less than 2% of all the wine in the world. In the worst-case scenario, the global wine market could handle a complete zero of a vintage from even the largest wine region without a shortage.

Although a global wine shortage is unlikely, the forest fires in Europe have still caused unimaginable damage.

©AP
| Although a global wine shortage is unlikely, the forest fires in Europe have still caused unimaginable damage.

Of course, for wineries and wine regions it is different. If your favorite region is hit hard by fires and smoke, this wine might not exist for 2022.

“The real problem in natural disasters is with specific areas and wineries,” said McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine business. “Some won’t get a harvest, some won’t produce a vintage, some will downgrade everything, and the best wineries, as long as there’s no smoke impact, will still make great wine from the vintage. Other wineries will produce as normal and will not be impacted.”

In Napa Valley, a wildfire in 2020 and the resulting smoke kept many high-end wineries from releasing their wines. I wondered if a similar situation in Burgundy, Bordeaux and other high-end European regions would lead to fewer wines for the high-end market. Moramarco was even more optimistic about it.

“With the high-end market, these are wines that are not consumed immediately,” Moramarco said. “When you actually work with collectors’ cellars, believe me, they have a lot of wines they can drink in their cellar. Most of the big chateaux hold back certain amounts of each vintage. If there’s a small vintage that year, they could release them again.”

I asked if this was an opportunity for wineries in the southern hemisphere – which had a much less eventful vintage earlier this year – to break some wine lists that had previously been dominated by European wines. With one very interesting exception, Moramarco said no. Chile and Argentina probably won’t benefit, but he thinks Australia could.

“I look at the Treasury and the issues they’ve had with Penfolds, and they make some great wines,” Moramarco said. “Perhaps Penfolds could see a bit of a revamp in China if there is a shortage of very high-end European wines.”

In 2003, European vineyards were not prepared for the massive heat wave. The wines of this vintage are very different to this day. (It should be noted that in some areas known to be very cool, such as Beaujolais and Germany’s Moselle region, the 2003s are considered excellent.) Moramarco said wineries have learned from this experience and will process the 2022 grapes differently in the cellar. Also, winemakers have more experience with extreme heat and viticulture methods are different now. Because of this, it’s entirely possible that, unlike the 2003s, you won’t be able to choose the 2022s in a blind tasting.

That said, McMillan wonders if we haven’t seen the end of Europe’s “grand crus” for a while.

“I could be wrong, because who can predict the volatility of weather patterns,” McMillan said. “They seem to be more impacted by frost, wind, hail, heat spikes, flooding, smoke, fires and who knows what else. I’m not a meteorologist but I think that they have more difficulty because of the weather conditions, the proximity and heat of the seas and oceans, the impact of the Alps on the weather and the wide reach of very large wine regions.No region can get a pass there – low, it seems, in the event of a weather event.

As for California – I don’t want to jinx it – but 2022 has been pretty mild so far. Knock on an oak barrel!

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