As a wine writer there are seasonal events that I anticipate as signs of change and a new order. In the doldrums of winter, I look forward to the release of many new wines in February and March. I anxiously seek wines of the new vintage, each a testament to the constant change occurring in the wine world, and its dependency on the vagaries and might of Mother Nature played out in the vineyards.
In the spring, budding trees and plants in my backyard evoke thoughts of simultaneous events in vineyards across the Northern Hemisphere, signs of a reawakening and a fresh start. But will the weather be favorable for a healthy budding and flowering of the grapevines? This is the beginning of the annual vineyard life cycle and a portent of the yield at harvest time.
During the summer months, I just kick back and experiment with new wine and food pairings and relax in the camaraderie of friends and family.
Then comes the fall. Grape harvest is in full swing. Mother Nature’s vagaries are at play nearly every day, influencing the success or failure of the harvest. Will it rain just before grapes are harvested, threatening to dilute the juice and perhaps introduce rot into the grape bunches? Will an early frost reduce the crop size? Will a late drought stall the optimum ripeness level of grapes? The anticipation builds. In a good season, winemakers may create their most expressive and pleasing wines. In a bad season, winemakers are hard pressed simply to produce a viable wine.
The results for the 2012 harvest are coming in from the vineyards in the Northern Hemisphere.
For much of Europe, 2012 looks to be a very mediocre year for crop sizes. According to various governmental agencies and trade associations, harvests in sections of France, Italy and Spain may be the lowest in over 40 years. This equates to a shortage, measured against anticipated demand, of 1.3 billion bottles, according to the biggest French wine cooperative.
Why such a drop in yields? The fickle finger of Mother Nature. The 2012 season was plagued by multiple calamities: a cold and wet spring, unusual hailstorms that destroyed grapes (nearly 40 percent of the French Champagne crop), and a hot summer, coupled with very little rain in the final stages of grape maturation before harvest. Overall, the harvest in France is expected to fall 20 percent from 2011; Italy may fare a bit better at 8 percent. Spain appears to the hardest hit due to a persistent drought: a 40 percent drop in yields.
As a result, bulk wine prices are expected to double in 2012 from just two years ago, placing significant pressure on consumer prices.
Is this a sign of a permanent decline in future wine production? Have climate changes created a new paradigm for grape growers, winemakers and consumers? Is global warming a reality?
Perhaps, but let’s look at the 2012 harvest across the Atlantic. My, my, what a difference longitude can make. In the United States, the 2012 harvest is anticipated to be one of the best in recent memory, both in yield and quality.
For most of the West Coast regions, ideal summer conditions and a relatively dry season will result in production levels approximately 10 to 20 percent greater than 2011. The fickle finger of Mother Nature has waved most favorably in these regions. The quality of the 2012 vintage in California and Oregon is receiving high grades. A number of producers are predicting the best vintage in the last 10 years.
I can attest to the quality of the 2012 harvest. My Uncle Charlie and I are home winemakers. Each fall we visit Prospero in Pleasantville to sample grapes as they arrive from California. This year the grapes are exceptional; the apogee of maturation and ripeness, full-bodied, well-balanced fruit and acid, concentrated berry juice. Thank you, Mother Nature.
Nick Antonaccio is a 35-ear Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He is co-host of “Glass Up, Glass Down,” a local cable television series on wine and food; he also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.