Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Cinsault grapes

At dinner in Cru in Kinsale, Alex spotted a wine he'd never encountered before. It was a South African Tiger Horse Cinsault, labelled as coming from old vines. Cinsault is characterised by vines of 40-65 years in age or more, in vineyards that are not irrigated, resulting in 14% alcohol, berry flavour, and light translucent red colour. It is typically said to be served with escargots or stew. How they arrived at those decisions is beyond me. We liked it with seafood. It was lightly fruity, lightly chilled, and served by the owner of Cru who came by to explain his selection of this wine in person. He wanted to be certain we understood what we ordered and also offered to exchange it for something else if we didn't like it. Our experience at Cru overall was exceptional.

I looked up Cinsault when we returned home and learned that it is a grape that thrives in hot windy weather. Hence, it's often found in places like South Africa and the Rhone Valley. It is also used to make rosés in the Provence region. But apparently, Cinsault is in decline, decreasing in total acreage in vineyards all over the world. Over a ten year period from 2000 to 2010, 14% of Cinsault vines were culled from vineyards worldwide and replaced with vines that are easier to cultivate. As a result, Cinsault wines are available in relatively small quantities. A NYT article I found recommends the wines of De Martino winery. It's available in Ireland so I shall be on a quest.

This is not unlike our adoption of Viognier for white, also an old vine variety that's more fickle to grow. I like that in a wine that I am drinking but not making.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Sonoma fires

Today, our hearts are with the people of California who again are suffering from the effects of wildfires. The Kincaid fire has ravaged at least three wineries, including the historic Soda Rock Winery which has been in place since the 1800s. All that is left is the stone facade of their main building and a steel sculpture of a boar called Lord Snort, a Burning Man artwork. They posted the photo on Facebook as sympathetic messages came from all over the world.

The Jackson Family Winery, Robert Young Estate Winery and Vineyard, Garden Creek Vineyards, The Field Stone Winery and Moville Vineyards reportedly also suffered extensive damage. The Alexander Valley is home to about 5,000 acres of vineyards with 31 wineries and 82 growers. Most vintners completed their grape harvest just last week and were in the critical stages of crush. Wind gusts up to 100 mph were reported but have now calmed somewhat. Firefighters are struggling to contain the fires before strong winds are forecast to return.

A new blaze broke out yesterday near the Getty Centre on the west side of Los Angeles hundreds of kilometres from where crews were fighting the state’s biggest and most destructive fire, the Kincade, north of San Francisco. Nearly 200,000 were evacuated and power was cut to millions to avoid exacerbating the potential for new fires. Some argue the power cuts are making it more difficult to escape and to fight the fires. The power companies are saying they can't survive the liability. What a conundrum. At least no one has died.

PostScript 30-10-19: The National Weather Service issued a new warning today: the Extreme Red Flag Warning, for a high-wind event taking place in much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties through Thursday evening.

This is unprecedented. A massive area has been evacuated and more is under advisory.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Pinot noir vines have grapes!

We certainly didn't expect it, didn't even bother looking, but the Pinot noir vines we planted this year have grape clusters. Oh my, what an encouraging development! And some are ripe and exceedingly tasty.

Meanwhile, the Rondo vines are continuing to produce new grapes after the first batch was devoured by our greedy birds. We'll see if they have time to ripen. I doubt it, especially if the predictions for snow on Friday come true.

Finally, we got word today from Galicia that the yield has been low this year:

"Here harvest has finished with a volume shortage this year, around 25% less juice as the grapes were dehydrated due to the very high temperatures just before harvest. So we will have a lot less albariño this year, although the quality is very good."

As Alex concluded, "It's happening."

Vineyard haiku

It rained all day yesterday. So I wrote a vineyard haiku.

The vines are drooping
From massive onslaught of rain
Battering their spines

Hmmmm. Maybe it's the start of a climate change collection.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Climate Change Experimentation

Trellises and companion crops in Galicia

Another article in the New York Times covers how the desert of Isreal is being used to test how the grapes of today will react to the climate of tomorrow. That's actually pretty smart. And, once again, they are adopting techniques we have already implemented like using trellises and ventilation.

What they won't learn, however, is how the extremes of climate will affect the grape output and production of wine. For that you need climate variability. And we certainly are getting a lot of that here. Today, soaking warm rain all day. Friday, the possibility of snow.

And it's not just vintners that are adjusting. Everyone in agriculture is scrambling to find answers. Fruit and nut farmers are having the toughest time as it takes so long to get to mature status for trees.

Netting to shade grapes

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The NYT examines climate change’s impact on wine

In the last line of part one in the 4-part series on the effects of climate change on viticulture, New York Times columnist Eric Azimov concludes,

"Viticulture by its nature is complicated. As the world’s climates are transformed, it is only becoming more so."

Curiously, he recounts the thinking of wine grape growers around the world and it sounds eerily familiar. Everything I've been writing about for the past 5 years is in there. The vines I've chosen, the location, the experimentation with different varietals, the soil effects, the thinking behind the decisions, and so on are all in there. Reading it made me feel like a scientist again. Reading it also made me think that I'm a mad scientist: smart enough to know how to try and crazy enough to try when everything is getting increasingly unpredictable. What have we done?  Are we going to drive ourselves insane?

I can't wait to read the next instalment.

Here's what the promotional statement about the series said:

"Around the world, smart wine producers are working on ways to keep their vineyards flourishing despite hotter summers, warmer winters, droughts and the sometimes violent expressions of climate change, like freak hailstorms, spring frosts, flooding and wildfires.

In the first of a four-part series, The Times’s wine critic, Eric Asimov, teases out the major themes: new technologies, experiments with different grapes, a shifting map for viticulture, higher-altitude vineyards and planting to limit rather than maximize exposure to sunlight."

Saturday, 5 October 2019


Well, we got off lucky. The vineyard suffered little damage, just some broken branches, from extra-tropical cyclone Lorenzo.  The orchard did okay, too, with just a few pears on the ground. The donkeys were not seen during the hurricane at all and we suspect they were hiding in their hollow on the north side. The winds were howling from the SE and then SW all day and all night, but the worst we got was 65 knots (120 km/hr). No damage that we could see to house or land, and our friend's boat was undamaged on our mooring.

Mace Head, at the northern corner of Galway Bay had a little less and our boat did fine in Kilrush up the Shannon River. So all in all, not too bad for the strongest hurricane (Category 5 at one stage) to come as far north and east in history. 

The donkeys have since all been accounted for. All nine came down to say Hi yesterday.

🔴 Mace head in the last hour had a gust of 108km/h and also had an average mean wind speed (10mins) of 87km/h. 🔴
🔺 The 87km/h mean speed would be under Red Warning Criteria. 🔺
Met Eireann's Red Warning Criteria;
Mean Speeds in excess of 80 km/h
Gusts Speeds in excess of 130 km/h
Obviously there was no Red Warning but just shows there may be no wind in some parts of the country but others can be much worse!
Highest Wind gust at Weather Alerts Ireland HQ was 51km/h yesterday.