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Climate Change, a Hard Fact for European Winemakers

This photo was taken in Collio (Friuli), northeast Italy, by grape grower and winemaker Giampaolo Venica in late August. Note how the woods, adjacent to the vineyards, have already begun to brown, as if fall had arrived early.
This photo was taken in Collio (Friuli), northeast Italy, by grape grower and winemaker Giampaolo Venica in late August. Note how the woods, adjacent to the vineyards, have already begun to brown, as if fall had arrived early.

My wife, daughter and I are on the last leg of a road trip that has taken us through ten of Italy's 20 regions, from the far northeast to Mt. Vesuvius on the western coast of the south, to the tip of the heel of the boot in Lecce (Apulia [Puglia]). Today we're in central Italy, along the Adriatic sea, as we make our way back to Venice, where we'll leave tomorrow for Texas.

We've met and tasted with a score of grape growers and winemakers, and they all told me the same thing: 2012 was an immensely challenging vintage for them because of the "prolonged summer heat and drought."

As famed Piedmont (northwestern Italy) producer Angelo Gaja noted this week in a statement issued by his winery's media outlet:

Climate change -- marked by prolonged summer heat and drought -- is the cause for the sharp drop in Italy's grape production for 2012. It was also the reason behind the light vintages of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011.

Brunello growers association president and winemaker at Il Poggione, producer of Brunello di Montalcino, Fabrizio Bindocci wrote the following on his family's blog yesterday:

To make great wines, one needs healthy grapes at the right point of ripening. For this reason, we are passing through the vineyards of Sangiovese harvesting, selecting the bunches that have suffered the heat, and leaving still the whole grape bunches to ripen.

It is surely not an easy vintage, with a reduction of production not yet predictable but surely of 20%.

None of this is news: As early as two weeks ago, top growers in southern Europe began to concede publicly that 2012 is an immensely challenging vintage for them.

What I found remarkable this year (on my annual harvest pilgrimage to Italy) was how climate change is a hard, cold indisputable fact for every winemaker I spoke with. It's no longer a question of whether or not global warming is occurring; it's a question of how rapidly.

If you've ever lived in farmland, you know that farmers tend to be among the most conservative folks, politically and ideologically speaking. Farming and winemaking are big business in Italy and, although there's the occasional left-leaning exception, growers and winemakers tend to sit on the right side of the aisle.

In America, global warming is a widely accepted phenomenon on the left, while the right continues to call it a conspiracy conjured up by bleeding-heart liberals (read anti-business socialists).

Among European grape growers and winemakers (and farmers in general), even diehard conservatives accept climate change as a hard fact.

Everywhere we traveled, growers pointed to the woods (see above) and noted how fall colors began to appear as early as late August.

"The holm oaks are simply dying," said one winemaker in Tuscany. "They just don't have enough water."

As beautiful as the landscape is, it's also terrifying to them.

As the father of a nine-month-old girl, it's terrifying to me, too.



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