At the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium

Greg Jones presenting at ICCWS 2016

Greg Jones presenting at ICCWS 2016

570 delegates, three tons of ice, 22 000 glasses. Brighton in May. It’s the 9th International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, and it’s being held in the UK for the first time, and everyone is quite excited. I’m currently sitting in a session on Day 2, so I thought I’d report a bit on the first day.

Bruce Tindale, the event chair, kicked things off with some facts and figures on the UK wine industry. Things have been moving fast: there are now over 2000 hectares of vines here which has doubled over the last eight years. The UK is looking to grow to 3000 hectares by 2020, with production set to rise to 10 million bottles by then (the current average is 5 million). There are now 502 commercial vineyards and 133 wineries, and the retail value of the wine produced is some £82 million. Currently just 5% exported. Sparkling wine is 66% of production by volume.

Jancis Robinson was delivering the welcome keynote speech. ‘So many of the world’s finest wines are made in relatively cool climates,’ she said, pointing out that over the last few decades the cooler regions have found life a little easier: ‘Those of us in cool climates are fortunate in this era of climate change that we have benefited from rising temperatures.’

Jancis described the ICCWS as a hugely significant event, celebrating the coming of age of England and Wales as wine producing countries. ‘It is amazing to see the dramatic progress made by the English wine industry,’ she says, referring specifically to the recent success of Hambledon and Nyetimber at the Noble Rot tasting.

She’s a big fan of English sparkling wine. ‘Nowadays it is made with such competence and consistency,’ she points out. ‘It’s not a copy of Champagne. It’s hedgerow in a glass.’ Jancis suggests that the UK is playing an oversized influence in the world of wine, especially in the realm of writing: books, magazines and now online writing. So why not for winemaking also?

But it’s not just sparkling. ‘English still wines continue to make significant progress,’ she adds. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised to have my socks knocked off by an English Pinot Noir or Riesling.’

Given the success of England’s wine industry, she is surprised the government haven’t been more supportive. Addressing her comments to George Eustace MP, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), she made some political points. ‘Plumpton College’s WineSkills Programme has had to be abandoned because DEFRA has rescinded its funding of it,’ said Jancis, ‘at the very time when the English wine industry has reached new heights of accomplishment and fame,’ And there was more. ‘For some mysterious reason, DEFRA has failed to renew its membership of the OIV, the world’s massively important International Organisation of Vine and Wine. This means that Plumpton can’t participate in international research projects, leaving it marginalised from the world of wine academia. And it also means that the British in general and English producers in particular have no voice whatsoever in international wine negotiations and regulation. Holland, Belgium, Sweden, India and Azerbaijahn are all members, whereas it would only take a small, five figure sum for the UK to rejoin the OIV.’

The next session was with Greg Jones (Southern Oregon University) and Hans Schultz (Geisenheim), talking about climate change and emerging cool climate regions.

Hans pointed out that cool climates presented both opportunities and risks. The temperature during the growing seasons matters, but he also drew attention to day length effects, which climatic indices tend to neglect.

For coastal zones, high rainfall can be a risk, for continental zones, winter lows are often a problem.

They highlighted some extreme cool climate locations (with degrees latitude):

  • Leelanau Peninsula, northern Michigan 45.15
  • Kamloops, Canada 50.68
  • Lake Timagami, Canada 46.4
  • Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia 45.15
  • Sussex, Canada 45.4
  • Chiloe Island, Chile 42.67
  • Sarminento, Argentina 45.58
  • Bruny Island, Australia 43.32
  • Alexandra, New Zealand 45.26
  • Aalborg, Denmark 57.1
  • Gothenberg, Sweden 57.7 (close to sea, moderates the climate)
  • Zilona Gora, Poland 51.6 (very continental climate)

Historical records show that, if a rolling 10 year average is used, there has been an increase in growing season temperatures since the 1980s. Oxford in the UK is now the same as Geisehneim was in 1980, and Gothenberg is now the same as Oxford was in 1980. The impact of climate change has been felt more in northern latitudes. Over the past century there has been an average rise of 1.3 C.

Daylength has not been paid enough attention. Compare Sweden (57.7 N) and Adelaide Hills (34.7 N). At summer’s peak there is a 3 h 20 min difference in day length between the two.
Carbon dioxide assimilation by vines is 20-30 tons/ha per year, and the different day lengths can account for 0.8-3.2 tons CO2 per year.

Winter cold is a big risk in many cool climate wine regions. If temperatures drop down to -20 C, then it’s trouble for most Vitis vinifera. But different varieties show different susceptibilities. Gamay is very frost resistant, Pinotage also strong, and Chardonnay is also hardy. Syrah is very sensitive, as is Lagrein.

A one degree temperature change opens up some new areas for cool climate viticulture, and some cool areas become intermediate climates. Greg and Hans reckon we will reach this one degree change by 2040, which isn’t a long time. So it looks like constant change is here to stay. More on the rest of day one later. I need to pay attention to this talk.

1 comment to At the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium

  • Thanks for the write-up!

    I guess the picture is complex, with lots of factors involved. Speaking of Poland, the south-western city of Zielona Góra (51.9N rather than 51.6) might be slightly more north than south-eastern Jasło (49.7N) but it is definitely less “very continental” than the latter, getting higher mean temperature, higher summer average, more SAT and less rainfall as well as less frost in the winter.

    Frost resistance is one factor but another is late budding (spring frosts now a bigger problem than prolonged sub- –20C temps), early ripening, and resistance to mildew etc.

    Another important issue is that many continental climates in Europe are getting considerably drier in the summer, which used to be the wettest period. Water deficit is becoming an issue where you believed the opposite to be true.

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