Ξ March 28th, 2010 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, Technology, Wine History, Wine News |
This is the third and final part of my sterling interview with Climatologist Gregory V. Jones. Here he discusses many of the practical agricultural effects climate change ushers in. Behind general, global headlines, the noisy political debates, there are very real changes taking place that simply escape our immediate, everyday notice. However attractive as a spiritual philosophy, ‘living in the moment’ has a clear downside. For like the sailing stones of Death Valley, despite no one having seen the phenomenon, surely they do move.
On a different note, man is a pest and pathogen vector, of course. During the course of our talk the spotted wing drosophila (SWD) fly came up, one of the most recent destructive insects to invade the United States, in this instance in refrigerated containers from Asia. It is a pest about which I have written a number of times. Today an AP story crossed my desk about the wherefores and the whys of yet another invasive pest, the European Grapevine Moth. In this instance it is strongly suspected the bug was brought to Napa by a winegrower smuggling cane cuttings from France. What goes around, comes around.
Part 1 On Wine and Climate Change
Part 2 The Science and Politics of Climate Change
Admin Perhaps you could speak more about insects and new pathogens…
Gregory V. Jones This is all about environmental thresholds, but it is also tied to people. The environmental thresholds that we know basically say that a given vector or a given bacterium or disease, whatever it may be, has some kind of environmental component. It can’t exist where it is either too hot or too cold. Or where there is not enough moisture. And so, as temperature and moisture conditions change from place to place, what that does is it changes the environmental geographical patterns that any of these vectors, pests, bacterium, diseases can exist in. So it is a natural kind of consequence of changing climates. The compounding factor is when you throw in the human component, the fact that we move things around very efficiently through our vehicles and transport of material and goods. So while there might be some great geographical barriers to the movement of material, and I’ll Oregon as an example, the mountains of Northern California have been very good at keeping certain things out of our state. Some people would laugh and say it doesn’t fully keep the Californians out (laughs)…
Yeah. My family nearly moved to Oregon. We were not given a warm reception!
GJ So the idea would be that the geographical barrier there, the mountains and the cooler conditions, would keep out or hinder a lot of pest and/or diseases from potentially coming to Oregon. But because humans travel, and we carry things around with us, whether they be plant material or fruits or soils, we can take things with us and cause an issue that might not have been there otherwise. There are a lot of examples. Oregon right now is concerned about mealy bugs. Mealy bugs are known to be hitting California vineyards pretty hard right now in terms of carrying leaf-roll virus that is in some cases necessitating large re-plantings of vineyards. So Oregon is all about quarantining material. What happens when a grower goes down to visit his cousin in Lodi and grabs a bundle of cuttings and brings them up, and they’re infected, and plants them? That infected material gets moved around. And we have an issue.
This has happened very recently with the spotted wing drosophila (SWD) about which I’ve written. What began as an infestation in Washington cherries quickly spread through out the United States. Actually, it had already spread, having initially been imported from Asia to Florida. The speed of the fruit fly’s life cycle is subject to temperature. So if you import a fruit in refrigerated containers and distribute it to markets around the country, the degree to which the damaging effects of the new pest are unknown, the ruined fruit is simply discarded into dumpsters and landfills. Now you have SWD everywhere. So widespread has the pest become in so short time, that the USDA has decided that a quarantine would be of no practical use.
GJ Exactly. People are talking about it big time in Oregon right now as an issue for many of the berry crops we have up here. So if you think about it, people are part of the problem. But yet there are these environmental limits: if the climate becomes warmer, dryer, moister, whatever those requirements are, and it meets that insect’s or disease’s needs, it is going proliferate. We shouldn’t expect it to be this ideal world, that we’re never going to see movement and change of that kind of thing. It’s going to happen.
Many of these other consequences when one discusses climate change, insects, disease vectors, new epidemiological patterns, these don’t often enter into the debate. Talk centers on temperature almost exclusively.
GJ And you’re right. This goes back the perception based thing as I told you. The idea that we’re in the immediate here and now, human-based mental framework. If you say to somebody temperature have warmed 2 degrees over the last 20 years they’ll say ‘Well, that’s great! I’m really enjoying it!’ What they don’t understand are the underlying things that happen to us within our environment, with things like insects and/or pests, and/or water availability, soil erosion, soil salinity, all that kind of stuff. I think that there is a real issue there: The magnitude of that number [2 degrees], I’ve even been quoted about saying this, we have a number problem. We all talk about how temperatures have gone up by whatever it is, 1, 2, 3 degrees regionally, but it is that number that humans take to mean it’s no big deal. But they don’t understand the entire environmental ramifications of it.
Yes. In one of your co-authored articles there is an interesting detail mentioned in passing about wine styles. The Parker palate has often been cited as driving winemakers to produce higher alcohol, more fruit forward wines. But in one of your papers you refer to an author who states that as much a 50% of the high alcohol wines could potentially be attributed to climate change. Could you talk about this?
GJ This is kind of a statistical relationship. If you throw data variables into a pot and you try to find out what describes what amount of variability, that’s pretty much what falls out. But let me tell you what I think is the background, and I would tell Parker to his face the same thing. I’ve even seen him write somewhere that climate change hasn’t changed these styles, so to speak, but the issue comes down to this, and it’s pretty damn straight forward: In 1960, 1970, you couldn’t produce the same styles of wines in Napa that you produce today. Period. End of sentence. You just couldn’t do it! The climate was too cool, you couldn’t have extended hang time because the climate wouldn’t let you. Period. So, while Parker, the Parker palate has driven wine styles to be different today than they were in the ’70s, you can’t say that the climate and maybe some other factors didn’t come into play with it. If you tried to do the hang time that they’re doing today back in 1970, it would not happen. You look at the issue of methoxypyrozines [See pgs.87-88 of R. Jackson's Wine Science Admin], well, we’ve been able to kind of manage that, the green flavors, through a lot of different characteristics, but the reason methoxypyrozines were also more prevalent back in the ’70s and ’80s is because the climate didn’t ripen the damn fruit! I can’t believe that there are that many people out there that think that climate doesn’t mean anything in this puzzle. But yet they are willing to say that climate is very important for how they produce this delicate style, or whatever it may be.
On a slightly different tack, for many wine drinkers just to become acquainted with the broad strokes of a concept like terroir passes for a kind of knowledge. They are comfortable with knowing just that, and going no deeper. Most people believe that terroir is the agricultural equivalent of some horrid neo-romantic landscape, terroir as painted by Thomas Kinkade. That is as far as perception is willing to go.
GJ Here’s another thing I think about the nature of climate in parts of California, and I’ll use Napa as an example because I think it’s really played out there. So the fruit is being left out on the vine for a long time. What people are trying to do is get this ideal flavor profile relative to it. Well, the issue there is that if the grape was being grown in its ideal climate then sugar ripeness and flavor ripeness would happen at the same time. Arguably, most people would agree that would be the case. Most years sugar and flavor ripeness would happen at the same time. In some years a little variability might cause it to be a bit disconnected, but not disconnected to the point that you’ve got to ripen something to 28 degree brix while you’re waiting for this ideal flavor profile. That’s just overdone!
And part of what I think is producing some of this is the fact that the growing seasons are just quite different today than they were before. Minimum temperature have gone up tremendously. This causes a major difference in respiration and metabolism in the vine and in the fruit. I think that because minimum temperatures have gone up we’re seeing less and less green flavors than we ever have. But I also think what that does is that when nighttime temperatures… put it this way, when the diurnal temperature range is sufficient, cool nighttime temperatures sets in flavor development. That is the final cue for the vine and the berries to do their thing. And if you have a place where you’re growing grapes and the nighttime temperatures are elevated, and that cue to get sugar and flavor in line, if it doesn’t happen? Then you have to hang the fruit. You have to hang it for a long time.
I really think that is part of the puzzle. It’s probably a bigger issue for some varieties than for others. For example, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo are two varieties that just would not do very well in a high nighttime temperature environment, while Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do a little bit better.
Yes. As I move toward a kind of finish, I was curious about your own drinking preferences.
GJ Honestly, I try everything. I don’t necessarily have the best palate in the world. Maybe I just haven’t figured out yet how to train it. But I think it’s pretty good. What I really, truly enjoy is the marriage of wine and food. I enjoy the fact that there many different styles and varieties of wine that contribute to that enjoyment. What I don’t like is wine that doesn’t go with food, that doesn’t have some kind of balance of alcohol relative to acidity. It just doesn’t work.
Of course, that is one of the difficulties with tasting notes and certainly scoring wines. It is just plain silly when one Cabernet after another requires that you essentially have a burned charcoaled steak every night. Wine is today often understood as a free-standing food in its own right. Many tasting notes would seem to suggest you’re eating bacon, raspberries…
GJ I buy a lot of local wine. I support the Oregon wine industry where I can. But when I go to the store I love playing the varietal game, finding something I’ve never seen; or maybe it’s a variety I have seen before, but from a different area. So I play that varietal game to try and get a broader palate and to understand the variety. I don’t specifically look at the alcohol content and say I’m not going to buy that. However, there are some varieties that a higher alcohol content typically means that I just won’t buy it. And Cabernet Sauvignon is one, Zinfandel is another. They just don’t work for me. So, even though I’m not looking specifically for a high alcohol level on a wine, there are some varieties that I do.
But the bigger thing is that I just love to try different varieties. I had a bottle of wine the other night, I don’t even know how to say the variety, B-o-n-a-r-d-a. It’s grown in Argentina. I’ve never had this variety before. It wasn’t necessarily the cleanest and best wine I’ve ever had, but it was unique, it was different. That’s what I appreciated about it.
Yeah, I understand. I’m baffled by folks who stick to the same variety. I don’t get it. The point is to drink as widely as is possible, not only for understanding but for pleasure. The obsession with variety labeling as well has always been puzzling to me.
GJ Yes, appreciate the surprise and anticipation component of it. If I buy a wine that is something I have never seen or had before and it’s not good, if I have to use it to cook with (or dump it out if it’s really not good), that’s OK. That’s part of the experience. But, boy, it is the gems that stand out that make you say, “Yeah, this is what it’s all about!”
Exactly right. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing the film on Portuguese wines with Virgilio. There are so many flavors completely unknown to most folks here in the states. Perhaps people can be persuaded to ask for them.
Well, it has been an extraordinary pleasure to speak with you. Is there anything you’d care to add? What about your father’s wines? How is his work coming along?
GJ In my personal opinion? His wines are very good. We came to Oregon wanting to grow Iberian varietals and so we produce mostly Tempranillo, Grenache, Albariño, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela. We make some very traditional Iberian wines from them. And I think one of the interesting things is that across everything we make I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one place able to produce that wide of a range of wines with that kind of typicity. Maybe I should chalk it up to my dad, how he grows the grapes, his attention to winemaking, but I’ve had other people say the same thing. I’ve heard them out of context that they were just amazed.
And to do that in Oregon, a place that’s known for Pinot Noir, is something special. I tasted our 2009 Albariño last night. It had only been in bottle for few hours, but it is liquid gold. That’s the best thing I can say. It’s liquid gold.
For further reading
Oregon Wine Press
Climate and Wine: Quality Issues in a Warmer World