The importance of being aware of climate change if you make wine

Sunburned grape

With few blunt exceptions, global warming and climate change are a reality. To understand the importance and impact of these changes on wine it is necessary to understand the concept of terroir. Terroir can be defined as the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. As the characteristic taste and flavour are imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced, terroir changes will impact the wine’s flavor profile.With few blunt exceptions, global warming and climate change are a reality.

Vines are grown in a wide variety of climatic situations. However, a majority of the major wine-growing regions are located between the 35th and the 50th parallels in the Northern Hemisphere and between the 30th and the 45th parallels in the Southern Hemisphere. Climate is a major factor in wine production and, among environmental factors, climate has a greater impact on vine development and fruit composition compared to soil and grape variety.

The main measurable effect of climate change is a steady increase in temperature. This is observed worldwide, although significant differences in the rate of heating exist from one region to another. The date on which bud break, flowering, and véraison occur is driven by temperature. This relation is so strong that vine phenology can be predicted by models that are based only on temperature. Temperature also affects fruit ripening and sugar accumulation that increases with higher temperature. Certain secondary metabolites like anthocyanins are negatively affected when the temperature increases and grape acidity, in particular the malic acid content, decreases in high temperature.

It is quite easy to model phenology based on predicted temperatures, but predicting grape composition as a result of changing climatic conditions in the years to come is much less obvious. However, it is very likely that the already observed trend in grape composition will continue. Increased sugar levels in grapes yield wines with a higher alcohol level. Wine quality can be impaired when alcohol level is too low but also when the alcohol level is too high.

Climate change is a major challenge for viticulture in the coming decades. In the recent past, wine quality has increased in most wine-growing regions because of higher temperatures and more frequent water deficits while yields have decreased. If the tendency continues, quality might be negatively affected in the near future. Growers need to implement adaptive strategies to continue the production of high-quality wines at economically acceptable yields in a warmer and dryer climate.

The fact is there is a lot you can do at the winery, but when you have a naturally healthy and good grape 90% of all the work is already done.

Expectations from the New World: social interactions and wine quality.

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and newspapers talking about how to choose a wine in a supermarket. Most of them addressing wine labeling issues. What we can find and how to interpret the information stamped on a label.

In Europe this may not be so useful as wine culture is widespread in all social strata. I believe in the Old World it’s not so difficult for people to understand labels or even to understand what quality classifications and geographical indications of origin mean. However in the New World we can say that wine culture is not so entrenched outside the producing zones and people have some difficulty understanding labels and classifications. Maybe that’s why Parker became so famous with his ranking.

What I wanted to address in this post is not how to choose a wine, but the expectation we have when buying it. How much influence the label and price we pay for a bottle have on our expectation about the quality of the wine. Wine consumption in the New World is often associated with a special occasion and we can say that a dinner with a bottle of wine on the table is considered a special moment. Can this affect the perception of drink quality? Are we influenced by social factors in our perception of quality?

What I want to discuss is how much our quality assessment is influenced by issues not directly related to the wine itself as price, bottle and label beauty, urban legends, occasion etc. When I speak of urban legends I have a clear example of this. In Brazil an urban legend arose that a bottle of wine that had a concave bottom kept a wine of superior quality. Can you believe in such a nonsense thing?!

The new generations and the long wait for Barolo

Do you think the new generations maintain the same consumption relationship with wine as the previous ones? Can we say that the changes in consumer relations observed mainly from the arrival of millennials are also occurring in the wine market? The fact is millennials are reinventing the wine culture. With specific habits, and out-of-the-box thinking and philosophy, influence on wine culture is very noticeable. Obviously, millennials have brought various changes to the world and the way different things and habits are perceived.

New generations from millennials have considerably changed the logic of consumption. For most of them owning a property such as a house or a car is no more important than being able to use it without owning it. Based on this new consumer logic a whole new service industry has developed and new companies like Uber and AirBnb have sprung up. These new ways of consuming are changing traditional services like banking, healthcare , education etc. But what is the impact of these changes on wine consumption?

Do we still see people with vintage charts or wine in cellars waiting years to be tasted? Another interesting fact is that the wine consumption of the new generations has increased a lot and with this the market has adapted to them. More and more I have seen great Barolos of recent vintages being tasted by the new generations. Can we say that producers have been trying to deliver ready-made wines to the market instead of aging wines?

One thing is certain, the habit of tasting a good wine sharing it with friends seems to remain unchanged. As millennials still make the majority of target audience for various industries, wine included, meeting their demands and wishes is a natural thing to do, especially from a business point of view.

Have you heard about PIWI?

First of all, according to PIWI International, PIWI is a German acronym for Pilzwiderstandsfähige Rebsorten and stands for fungus resistant grape varieties. These were created by crossing European grape varieties and American fungus resistant varietals.  Most of them still are known as hybrids or interspecific varietals and were first used in France from 1880 to 1935.

The aim was to combine the good resistance to diseases and phylloxera of the American grape varieties with the high quality of European varietals. Unfortunately these new varietals were not able to survive on their own root. Today there’s a whole new generation of PIWIs, the result of decades of crossings created since the 1950s, some of which are showing real promise.

So, why PIWI has been called as “the wine of the future”? Because these grapes are resistant to the two main diseases: the downy and powdery mildew. This is the reason why every year traditional grape varieties have to be treated chemically 6 – 16 times, depending on weather conditions. Originally these fungus illnesses were not a problem in European viticulture, since they were not native. Every time a wine grower treats his vines, he sprays chemicals on them and this is how theses substances end up in nature.

Currently there are 550 PIWI winegrowers with vineyards in 9 countries in Europe: Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria. The environmental benefits of PIWIs are not in doubt. The key question will be: how well do they stack up on the taste front? PIWIs are definitely having a moment…coming soon to a vineyard near you.

Climate change and wine quality

Sometimes I hear around that higher alcohol level means a high quality wine. I really don’t know where, who and when this came from. So far, after some experience tasting wines I have never seen any correlation between quality and alcohol level. So let’s try to discuss it.

Before trying to understand the consequences of global warming and climate change on wine, we must first understand and define what factors influence the quality of wine. While grape quality and climate play a significant role, post-harvest winemaking techniques such as maceration, fermentation, extraction, and aging also influence wine flavors immensely. But here lets focus on grape quality.

With the gradual increase in temperature and changes in the periods of rain and drought, we have also seen a significant change in the grape ripening time and consequently in the harvest period. As the ripening time decreases, we can also observe a change in the organoleptic composition of the must, which may affect the expected characteristics of certain terroirs.

Another considerable factor is the increase in sugar concentration in the grape and the decrease in acidity. Increasing sugar concentration causes an increase in alcoholic gradation at the end of fermentation. Often alcohol volume reduction techniques need to be used to maintain the characteristics and style of a particular type of wine.

So when we get into a quality discussion we need to understand that some factors resulting from global warming can cause a very significant change in the taste, aroma and texture characteristics of wine. In order to build an assessment that gives a sense of the changes that are taking place, it is very important to perform vertical tastings or even to take notes of your tastings over the vintages for a comparative study.

As a direct result of climate change we are already seeing drastic changes in some producing regions. Can you imagine a Portuguese grape variety as part of the Bordeaux blend? The wine world is changing very fast.

The real influence of a digital wine influencer.

The term influencer has never been so trending as it is today. Simply browsing unintentionally on social networks like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram you will be bombarded by suggested content from what analytic data processing engines have defined as your interest from your web behavior.

Over the past few years, no more than five or six, we have seen stories of ordinary people who, by documenting and recording their daily lives, have accumulated a legion of followers. The marketing industry quickly saw this as a good way to promote products and services. But why this organic micro blog interaction became so important to promote brands, products and services? A fact about humans is that by empathy we tend to copy the lifestyle of those with whom we identify. Thus, seeing a person using a product or consuming a service influences us to do the same. Promoting content from a truly organic audience is much more genuine, authentic, and effective than a banner ad on a web page.

As in many businesses, this new way of promoting products and services has also come to the wine market at some point. Until then, the advertising campaigns in the area of alcoholic beverages was based on artists in moments of pleasure tasting a glass of wine. Mostly older men flirting or accompanied by beautiful attractive women in a classic bar scene. This is not effective anymore. From the rise of Generation Y onwards, the optics of consumption have changed and the concept of lifestyle has had a much greater influence on consumer relations. The optics of property have been continually replaced by the optics of use. Having a car has become less relevant than getting around with the comfort of a car as we see in the example of Uber.

From this, people have developed a lifestyle identification with relatively anonymous characters on social media. Ask yourself why do you follow and give likes on photos of a unknown sommelier from a Hong Kong restaurant that you have never heard of, had the first contact from a content search engine on Instagram and thereafter followed him. The question we need to think about from this is what is the real influence that such people have on our action to choose a product or service? Another important question is what would be the impact if you knew that the photo you are viewing on Instagram is a paid ad for a product or service?

Precisely the answer to this second question has changed the way digital marketing has taken place after the first move. In the specific case of wine, biased posts have not been very well accepted by the audience. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the public that consumes this kind of information is usually an audience that cultivates a passion for the product itself and, as a result, usually tends to have a greater knowledge about it.

By observing how certain content has emerged promoting major brand products and services we can understand that the main focus has been to use social media profiles with less followers and that do not have a behavior visibly associated with paid or sponsored content. This behavior change has been observed mainly in the wine market and one of several possibilities for this change is related to the credibility and authenticity of the social media profiles of the so-called digital influencers.

In countries where wine is not a traditional and widely consumed product like Brazil, this change is even more profound. Wine consumption in Brazil is restricted to the wealthier social classes and is associated with social status. The wine consumer in Brazil is highly educated and tends to devote himself to the study of wine in tasting groups with friends. Thus, content related to this audience is expected to necessarily have credibility.

From these observations we can draw as a possible conclusion that the audience perception for paid social media content for the wine market is not the same as that observed in mass product markets. Marketing promotion strategies have been undergoing considerable changes since their emergence in order to adapt to the concept of influence in this specific market.

Protect the artisans, said Angelo Gaja.

“An artisan does what he does for passion and not to please the market”

Angelo Gaja

On July 15 2019 my classmates and I were received by Angelo Gaja at the Cantina Gaja Barbaresco headquarters, the Castello Palazzo dei Galleani built in 1695 by Giovanni Galleani. He greeted us all with a brief and firm handshake and gave himself to each of us his business card. Angelo was accompanied by his kind son Giovanni Gaja.

Angelo began with a brief explanation of the castle’s history and restoration while introducing us to the Riedel wine glass and decanter room.

Then we went to the tasting room where Angelo told us about his family history, his winery history and also a bit of what he thinks about global warming and climate change. Angelo made a passionate defense of the artisan producers and explained to us what it means in terms of innovation in the world of wine. According to him the artisan production is fundamental to the preserve traditions and also to have new approaches to production as a counterpoint to the mass industrial production.

About climate change, Angelo said it is impossible to deny climate change and global warming because changes are visible not only at the vineyards but also in the wines. With climate changes the grapes have matured prematurely causing a change in the volatile compounds present in the must. In addition, the sugar levels in the grape have risen bringing as a result wines with an alcohol content about 2 or 3 degrees more than 40 years ago.

It is a fact that global warming has caused great changes in the viticulture profile not only in Barolo and Barbaresco. Winemakers have sought to adapt to this by planting vineyards in higher altitude plots to maintain the ideal temperature or even seeking to exchange varieties of grapes looking for others that best suit the new conditions.

For me personally it was a great experience to listen to Angelo Gaja’s words. I was very surprised by their political view and thoughts. Also how he have been facing the need of changes. I know a lot of new people who do not have a third of the joviality and energy of Angelo Gaja.

Words that I recorded well:

“Fare questo lavoro ci permette di avere un piede nella natura e un piede nel mondo. E in futuro diventirà sempre più importante avere un lavoro per cui si ha passione”

Angelo Gaja

Production of fine wines in the Brazilian semi-arid region

Brazil produces wine since the beginning of its colonization. But was the arrival of the first Italian immigrants in 1875 that brought importance to the activity. Currently the production of fine wines in Brazil reaches 10,000 hectares of Vitis vinifera grapes, divided mainly among six regions: Serra Gaúcha, Campanha, Serra do Sudeste and Campos de Cima da Serra, in Rio Grande do Sul, Planalto Catarinense, in Santa Catarina , and the São Francisco Valley, in the Northeast of the country.

There are approximately 150 wineries making fine wines scattered throughout the country. The Brazilian wine industry is still formed by about 1,000 other wineries, most of them installed in small farms (an average of 2 hectares per family), dedicated to the production of table wines or artisan wines. In all, between vitis vinifera and table grapes, the area covered by vineyards in the country is approximately 89,000 hectares, in poles located from north to south.

In the São Francisco Valley, 15% of Brazil’s fine wines are produced – only Vale dos Vinhedos, in Rio Grande do Sul, has more expressive numbers. Wine production in the region began during the colonization, but gained importance in the 1970s.

With stony soil, few rainfall (less than 400 mm per year) and lots of sun and heat, the Brazilian semi-arid is not the typical place where you would expect to find wineries. But it is precisely the combination of climate and irrigation that allows grape maturation to occur more rapidly and several times a year. With the most modern techniques of pruning and irrigation allied to the climate of the region it is possible to have harvest several times in the same year.

Centopassi, wines a hundred steps from Mafia.

I cento passi (The hundred steps) is an Italian film released in 2000, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana about the life of Peppino Impastato, a political activist who opposed the Mafia in Sicily. The story takes place in the small town of Cinisi in the province of Palermo, the home town of the Impastato family. One hundred steps was the number of steps it took to get from the his house to the house of the Mafia boss Tano Badalamenti.

In April of this year I had the pleasure of visiting the Centopassi Winery situated on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily. It was an amazing experience. We visited the facilities of the winery, tasted several wines and had the pleasure of listening to the history of the winery.

Centopassi is manged by Libera Terra, a cooperative created with the aim of developing stunning but historically “difficult” territories. After a social and productive rehabilitation of assets freed from various mafia groups, the organization aims to obtain high quality products, which respect both the environment and the dignity of its workers.

The mission of the Libera Terra project is to give dignity to territories with a strong mafia presence through the creation of autonomous and cooperative farms that are self-sufficient, stable, and that are able to create work places, thereby establishing a moral economic system based on legality, social justice and market.

Tasting the wines listening the history of that land, people and vineyards brought different notes and perceptions. Is impossible not to relate the fear and the violence of Mafia with the wines. The most impressive note for me was the iron, ferrous aroma from the Nero d’Avola that made me remember the smell of blood. I was impressed by the quality, richness and personality of the wines. The initiative is beautiful and worth the visit.

What is a Wine Teller position?

Have you seen the professions related to the wine world? Well, I believe there is no doubt about the most common ones like those related to the production of grape and wine such as wine grower and winemaker. But what is a Brand Ambassador in the wine business? I’m sure many know how to define the role of a Brand Ambassador. Now, what does a Wine Teller do? Have you seen this position somewhere like LinkedIn for example?

If you do a quick search on LinkedIn using “wine teller” and select the criteria box “People” you will see a list of people that works as a Wine Teller position in wineries, distributors, importers, wine stores, hospitality business and also blogs, specialized magazines and editors. But what they do in fact?

If I taste wines and I write about my personal experiences tasting them in a blog or a micro blog like Instagram can I nominate myself as a Wine Teller? For me the answer is yes but you can also self nominate as a Wine Influencer (topic for new post). But I would like to discuss what a Wine Teller does inside a business, a company. What is the role itself? What do I need to study to apply for a Wine Teller position?

Well, I am finishing up a master’s degree in Wine Culture, Communication and Management at University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and at the end of this course is expected of me to have the skills needed to be a Wine Teller. I have classes and activities related to marketing, business and management, oenology, viticulture, law and legislation, wine production, wine business, wine tasting etc.

After a while a Wine Teller in my humble opinion is someone that can increase the value of a brand by understanding the market and managing how to explore the relation between the products/services and the reason why people consume them. So a Wine Teller is one important link between the brand and the consumers digitally on social media or in person interacting with people on site.

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