Nature Decides to Display Her Power Over Man’s Determination

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

Modern man is at the top of his homo sapiens game.

Since we first stood upright, we have been subject to the constant whim and temperament of Mother Nature. Throughout our evolutionary lifecycle, our efforts to master and control nature have come in fits and starts, with successes and failures coming in long waves of experimentation and fights for survival.

But in the last century, we have achieved more in advancing control over our destinies than in all of the 50,000 years of humankind’s modern behavioral history.

Yet, just as we are feeling increasingly immortal and omnipotent, just as we feel in total control over the natural order on earth, nature comes down on us with a vengeance to remind us of who’s in charge and how precarious our lives, and livelihoods, can be. The randomness of nature’s forces, whether atmospheric conditions or biological mutations, keep us constantly on edge, as we take two steps forward and one step back in our campaign for dominance over nature.

We experience this conflict on many levels, both global and local. And since this is a wine column, my focus tends to be as much wine-centric as human-centric.

The proliferation of bountiful and excellent wines has never been greater than in the early decades of the 21st century. I’ve come to expect continued progress, perhaps even dominance, over nature’s influence in the vineyards.

Just as vineyard owners were feeling confident that they had mastered the tempestuousness of nature, along came stark reminders last month of its feckless disregard for man’s attempts to conquer the vicissitudes of nature’s dominance.

And not just one reminder, but two. Not just a statement, but a statement with a bold exclamation point.

Over the span of several weeks numerous wine regions were assaulted by devastating frost and/or debilitating hailstorms.

In the quiet of a late spring morning, with grapevines coming out of their winter hibernation and bursting with the early flowers that produce the rich, robust grapes of a successful harvest, French vineyard owners awoke to an abnormally late frost. Crops were lost all across France.

Nature has a particularly malevolent attitude toward the Burgundy region of France. Not just wielding its might by casting freezing temperatures into the midst of bucolic vineyards, but by emphasizing its omnipotence by hurling giant nuggets of hail onto nascent grapes struggling to survive. This was the second consecutive year of hailstorm devastation, dealing a particularly heavy financial burden on grape growers whose fortunes rise and fall with the weather.

The fickle hand of nature can be excruciatingly discriminatory, not isolated to specific wine regions such as Burgundy, but singling out small swaths of vineyards across France. Just as location and weather patterns are key factors in the success of one vineyard over another, so too can they be a detriment. Valley-based grapevines tend to enjoy early morning fog, which enhances the maturity and sugar content of developing grapes – except when that fog and mist succumb to frost, which kills young buds or grapes. Grapevines grown at a higher elevation may not be as fruit forward; however, they are less susceptible to damaging frosts.

Many wine regions suffered the indignity of bruises, lacerations and destruction. In addition to Burgundy, vineyards in the French regions of Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, Champagne, Languedoc and Alsace will likely suffer crop losses of 20 to 50 percent. In neighboring Italy, similar calamities and devastation struck in low-lying vineyards in Tuscany, Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy.

Are these meteorological phenomena a sign of a permanent decline in future wine production? Have they established a new paradigm for grape growers, winemakers and consumers? Perhaps, but let’s look at the season to date across the Atlantic. My, my, what a difference longitude can make. In the United States, nature has been smiling upon vineyards. Seasonal variations have been mild, portending another exceptional crop in 2017.

Man and nature. Adversarial conflict? Peaceful coexistence? As long as our relationship continues to be two steps forward, we can cope with one step back.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.



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