By the end of 2020—with all the postponed weddings, closed clubs, and other canceled events—the Champagne Committee (CIVC), which represents thousands of producers across the region, believes that about 100 million bottles will go unsold. “We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression.” So, who really cares? You sow what you reap!!! Drink sparklings from other places, like California, Loire, Spain, and Italy.
So, Covid has affected wine making all over the world. And global warming has produced some of the earliest grape harvests in history. On the positive side, I would assume it means we get to drink this year’s vintage somewhat sooner. On the negative side, the fires here in California may force vintners to make more rose’ wine than ever before.
I am having a difficult time trying to feel sorry for the snotty champagne growers in France. I grew up in farm country, so I have no sympathy for their attitude! Food and Wine: While some booze sales have done okay with more people drinking at home, sales of the socially-inclined Champagne are down about $2 billion so far this year, representing about a third of last year’s nearly $6 billion total record turnover, according to the Associated Press.
From Winespeed: Treading grapes by foot was standard in the Douro Valley of Portugal for centuries until electricity came to the region (in the 1970s!). After that, standard grape crusher/destemmers were used. However, some grapes in the region are still trodden by human feet—especially grapes intended for vintage Ports. (I have fond memories—and pictures I’ll never reveal—of stomping grapes at Quinta do Vesuvio until 2:00 a.m.) But this treasured tradition requires crews to stand arm-in-arm down the length of lagares (la-GAR-ays), shallow stone or cement troughs (about 2 feet/0.6 meters high), as they march through the slippery mass of newly harvested grapes.
As the method is clearly incompatible with social distancing, this year all Port producers must rely on modern equipment instead. Symington Family Estates, owner of Quinta do Vesuvio, has suspended foot-treading at the property for the 2020 harvest – believed to be the first time Vesuvio has done so since the winery opened in 1827. “We very much hope that we will return to foot-treading at Vesuvio as soon as it is safe and responsible,” says Rob Symington.
Why cling to a costlier and more labor-intensive method? As it happens, the human foot is ideally suited to crushing grapes. Treading breaks the grapes, crushes the skins, and then mixes the skins with the juice for good flavor and color extraction—all without smashing the seeds, which contain tannin that is especially bitter-tasting. In the shallow lagares, the surface area of skins to juice is high, allowing color and flavor to be extracted extremely quickly. This is desirable because in Portugal, temperatures usually climb over 35°C (95°F) during harvest, precluding the languorous 6 to 12 days of maceration that wines in cooler climates enjoy.
Also, since Port is a sweet wine, winemakers must arrest fermentation early in the process before all sugar is converted into alcohol—up to a week before a dry wine will conclude on its own. That leaves Port producers with about 48 hours in which to extract the maximum color and flavor from their grapes, not a week or two.
From the Champagne Bureau: The Champagne harvest began this year14 days earlier compared to the 10-year average. The first villages started picking on August 17, the earliest start in Champagne’s history. The announcement is “a reminder that the steps the region is taking to reduce its impact on the environment are vital,” said Jennifer Hall, director of the Champagne Bureau, USA.
And if you worry about sulfites (from Karen at Winespeed): Red wines contain about 50-75 parts per million of sulfites, whites contain about 100-150 ppm, and dried fruit typically contains almost 3,700 ppm (and French fries have more than 1800 ppm). Yet there is a pervasive belief among U.S. wine consumers that the sulfur dioxide (SO₂) that can legally be added to wine to inhibit microbial spoilage and to keep it from immediately oxidizing, causes headaches. Many steer clear of wine for this reason. Perhaps that’s because since 1988, a sulfite warning label has been required by law on all bottles of wine sold in the U.S. that contain 10 parts per million SO₂ or more.
Andrew L. Waterhouse, a professor of enology in the department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis has said: “There’s no data showing sulfites cause headaches. But people ascribe all sorts of nasty things to sulfites because there’s a label.” Sulfur is found in the natural environment (it’s part of the earth’s crust) and sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, so some amount of sulfite is going to be found in wines whether it’s added or not.
Meanwhile, the FDA estimates that only about 1 percent of Americans are sulfite hypersensitive—and 5 percent of that 1 percent are asthmatics, for whom sulfites can cause difficulty in breathing. But not a headache. The so-called “red wine headache” is more likely the result of the drinker being dehydrated or of alcohol, tannins, histamines or sometimes high residual sugar, rather than the 0.005% of SO2 in the glass.
Speaking of wisdom:
With the warm to hot summer evenings, we are drinking lighter and crisper wines. I strongly suggest a sparkling wine to keep you calm and cool.
A word about cava: Over the last few years, Spain’s best sparkling wine producers have initiated a total revolution in quality. Not only are the wines aged on yeast lees longer (up to 36 months), but the wines are fresher, more complex, and far more delicious. If ever there was a sitting-on-the-deck wine, this is it. Agustí Torelló Mata is one of Penedes’ top small producers working with the region’s traditional indigenous grapes: macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada. (11.5% abv)