Tuesday, October 03, 2023

ADVERTISING: Advertorial — The rest of harvest

by GEORGE BALLING/the dinner party
| August 31, 2022 1:00 AM

We wrote last week to update everyone on the start of the wine grape harvest here in the Western U.S. As we all know the wine grape crop from Europe is every bit as important. The update on Europe is nuanced like it is here at home. The many different growing regions across the wine producing countries of the “old world” each have their own results. While there are general conditions that affect the entire continent not accounting for the specific conditions and results by region would be similar to painting the conditions the same for Santa Barbara and the Columbia Valley in any one year.

The biggest impact in many parts of Europe this year was the hot dry summer they experienced. Ask any grape grower or winemaker about their favorite weather for a good crop and they will tell you warm and dry makes for happy wine grapes. It limits disease and ripens the crop more quickly and evenly. The faster ripening from a warmer summer allows harvest to be completed prior to any fall rains, also a bonus. On the flipside though high temperatures makes canopy management more important to prevent sun damage to the grapes.

For Bordeaux and points south across Spain, Portugal and the southern reaches of Italy the very warm and dry conditions have produced a smaller than normal crop in 2022. While the quality of the grapes in many of these regions is very good to great the absence of rain combined with traditional farming methods and regulations that don’t allow for irrigation has limited the size of the grapes. The bundles of grapes are full and consistent but the individual fruit is just smaller. The grape chemistry though is being widely proclaimed as some of the best ever.

Further to the north and east in the appellations of Burgundy, the Loire Valley and parts of the Rhone Valley and other regions, the results are not as positive. Burgundy will have a very small crop and from some vineyards no crop at all. They were affected by some of the same conditions we experienced here in the US. A late spring frost followed by hail and rain storms wiped out the entire crop in many of the vineyards in Burgundy and Champagne. This is exceptionally tough news for the Champagne markets as a lack of supply is already impacting the availability of bubbly. With another small crop we would expect to see an extended period without access to some of the biggest name Champagnes.

The northern stretches of the Rhone and Loire Valleys as well as Alsace and parts of Northern Italy similarly had a very cold and wet start to the growing year. For all of these regions affected by that weather pattern the crop will be somewhat to very limited for tonnage harvested. In areas like Piedmont in far Northern Italy where late ripening varietals like Nebbiolo are “king” it is likely to be a very tough year as the temperatures cool quickly as they move into fall. It will make getting the grape crop ripe very challenging and will create a more austere set of wines made from the always heavily tannined Nebbiolo varietal.

Further south in Italy like the South of France and the Iberian Peninsula the crop looks to be of very high quality but like those areas small in size.

There has been a trend recently in Europe to attempt growing wine grapes in previously untapped areas because the changing climate has supposedly made them more hospitable for cultivating wine grapes. We are quite suspicious of the potential for this. Wine grapes grow where wine grapes grow for a reason, the weather conditions and all aspects of the terroir make for high quality grapes and the transient nature of temperatures and rain fall will continue to make these new found areas less than desirable for grape cultivation. Similarly, to the United States, there are bonded wineries in all 50 states it does not mean there should be wineries in all parts of the country. The same is true for Europe. As we move into another harvest, we remain skeptical of some of these new found appellations, especially in a more challenging year like 2022.

With another several weeks to go in the 2022 vintage we will continue to hope for the best harvest possible in Europe and will keep you all posted as we move through the crucial conclusion of the growing season.

• • •

George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018.

George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop.

You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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