Anyone for Rain Dancing in SW France Vineyards?

The vine leaves in SW France look beautiful at this time of year.   Most days when I walk beside the vineyards, I photograph the vines and marvel at the changing nuanced colours of the leaves; gold, scarlet, bronze, green, and by extension at the changing colours of the landscape.

I never tire of looking at the view; the winding road disappearing into the distance, the tall, ghostly coloured water tower on the hilltop and the sprinkling of farmhouses. The straight lines of vines marching up and down the undulating landscape which fascinate and remind me of David Hockney’s colourful paintings of the Yorkshire dales.

There is even a friendly cat of no fixed address that parades each day in front of the local cemetery.  I call him the Cemetery Cat.

At the same time as we enjoy the autumn sunshine highlighting the local beauty and warming us as we walk about, the local newspaper, Sud Ouest, is raising the alarm bells about the effects of climate change in the area, in particular the reduced rainfall.

Each day on the back page of the paper, there is a table showing the minimum and maximum temperatures in southwest France on the same day over the long term: 15, 30 and 50 years. The figures indicate that it appears that it is the minimum temperatures that have been affected;  in other words the weather does not get as cold now as it did 50 years ago in this area.   The newspaper also provides local 2017 climate statistics showing sunshine days are up and rainfall levels are down.  2017 is described as a dry and sunny year. The weather forecast for the next 15 days also indicates less rain than “usual” for this time of year.

The Sud Ouest local newspaper for Bergerac and Sarlat areas has a headline on Monday, November 13, 2017 that reads: Va-t-il falloir faire la danse de la pluie?     In other words, “Will we have to do the rain dance?”

Perhaps.

Certainly, some vine growers, aware of climate warming, are becoming concerned about the reduced level of precipitation at key moments in the vine production of grapes.   In July this year, for example, there was 50% of the usual rainfall for the month.

The newspaper references individuals in the winemaking community who are saying its necessary to start the discussion and debate about vine irrigation in France, where it is essentially prohibited due to the multiple authorizations necessary to irrigate vines and with few exceptions for specific reasons, e.g. newly planted vines.

Currently, when there is lack of water, the stressed vines search for water in the ground below by sending down deep roots.

Vine irrigation is a sensitive topic.   Some wine makers are concerned that irrigation will negatively affect or reduce the bountiful impact of vineyard ‘terroir “and lower the quality of the wines.  Many believe that marginally stressing the vines helps to produce superior fruit.     Some consider that France should allow vine irrigation as elsewhere in the world, where vine irrigation is well established. Others are concerned that irrigation will lead to increased production and affect the wine market and prices.       Additionally, irrigation in periods of reduced precipitation will place demands on water management in the area, another  consideration.

There is no question that the topic of vine irrigation in France will be on the table for discussion and debate going forward.   This is an important discussion to follow in the wine world.

In the bigger picture, the reduced level of precipitation and increased temperatures affect more than the vineyards and wine making.

So, what to do?

Back to the newspaper’s question about rain dancing.   Getting out the rain dancing shoes may be a good idea.   It’s certainly one approach. However, I interpret the suggestion of rain dancing as code for the fact there is no easy answer to these questions.   What’s interesting is that the local paper has taken the initiative to present a two-page article about the reduced rainfall this year.   It has specifically commented on the impact on the wine industry, which is a major economic driver for the area.

Beneath the beauty of the area and the elegance of the wines are challenging issues to be addressed.     Fortunately, there are imaginative, informed and creative wine makers in the area considering these issues and over time undoubtedly driving change in winemaking practices to accommodate environmental impacts.

Rain dancing?   Perhaps, but to a new or different melody.

References

Sud Ouest Newspaper, November 13, 2017 Bergerac and Sarlat edition.

Canadian wine tasting in London, UK: “Amazing!”

“My inbox is full of compliments about the amazing evening of Canadian wines;  the participants loved the event”:  so comments the organizer of a Canadian Wine Tasting event in London in October.

For those who know Canadian wines, this response is not surprising but nevertheless it’s good to hear.

A couple of months ago, I was asked to advise on wines for a Canadian wine tasting at a private function in London. I am happy to support Canadian wine export efforts in even a minor way and so I was delighted to help and have the opportunity to lead this wine tasting event.

First of all, I established my criteria for recommending wines for the tasting:

1,  The wines had to represent Canada as a whole, not just British Columbia or Ontario but coast to coast, which meant including Atlantic Canada.

2.   The wines had to be available in the UK.  No point in presenting wines that couldn’t be accessed locally.

3.    To the extent possible, I wanted to be familiar with the individual wines and wineries.

Meeting these criteria was interesting in itself.    Figuring out which wineries were represented in the UK and by whom took some digging.   Given the peculiarities of interprovincial trade within Canada, identifying suitable wine choices from Atlantic Canada and Ontario involved some risk taking as I didn’t taste my wine recommendations from these two areas in advance.   I relied upon my network to suggest appropriate  Nova Scotia and Ontario wines.   I kept hearing about Benjamin Bridge sparkling wines from Nova Scotia and I knew that Peller Estates in the Niagara Peninsular consistently win awards for their Riesling Ice wine.

Here are the five Canadian wines I recommended and which we tasted together with the name of the UK organization where they can be purchased

We tasted them in the following order:

Nova Scotia

Benjamin Bridge Brut Sparkling Wine 2011.  Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia,   Handcrafted from 100% Chardonnay.   With maritime freshness and soft bubbles, this ‘methode classique’ sparkling wine set the tone for excellence. Regarded by many as the best Sparkling wine in Canada.    benjaminbridge.com.  Available from Friarwood com.

British Columbia

Meyer Family Vineyard Chardonnay 2013   Apples, plums, pears, and other flavours roll into yellow fruit, smoky spices and mineral elements.  Recognized as #2 small winery in Canada in 2017.    We enjoy both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made by this Okanagan Falls winery and are members of their wine club.  I have got to know JAK Meyer, proprietor over the past few years. mfvwines.com  Available from Davy.co.uk and also from Marks and Spenser.

Clos du Soleil Signature 2012.   Certified organic winery produces their flagship red wine from their vineyards in the Similkameen Valley and in Osoyoos, Okanagan Valley.  Old world elegance and new world edge is how they describe their style.    Hand harvested, gently fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak barrels.   We visited Clos du Soleil a few years ago and met the founder, Spenser Massie.   We admire their wine making values and the grandeur of the location.   clos du Soleil.ca.  Available from Cellier.co.uk

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Meritage 2012.    This is their Bordeaux style red wine with layers of complexity.  Red and black fruit, sweet spices and chocolate.  We have been visiting Burrowing Owl Winery for many years and also enjoy the hospitality at their on site guest house.   We enjoy the wines, the ambience of the place, and support their efforts for the preservation of the burrowing owl species and conservation of the habitat of this endangered underground nesting bird.  Located in Oliver, Okanagan Valley.  burrowingowlwine.ca.   Available from Drayman.co.uk.   On a weekend in Shropshire, West Midlands we also discovered Burrowing Owl wine in the historic town of Shrewsbury  at Tanners Wine Merchants.  tanners-wines.co.uk

 

Ontario

Peller Estates Winery, Ice Wine Riesling 2013.  Picked at the coldest moment on a winter’s night, each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine.  Smooth, luxurious, honeyed, captivating.  Our hosts provided a generous selection of crackers and cheeses, including blue cheese which enabled me to demonstrate the magical pairing of Ice Wine and blue cheese, and made the point better than any description.  Located at Niagara-on-the-Lake.   peller.com.   Available from Majestic.co.uk.

There are many excellent Canadian wine choices and these wines that I have selected may tempt the wine enthusiast to further exploration.    I also suggest checking out the listed websites for further insights into dynamic Canadian approaches to wine tourism.

It has been a pleasure and privilege to introduce these excellent Canadian wines to a group of wine enthusiasts in London.  The wines speak for themselves and we had fun tasting and chatting about them.   One of the participants was from Nova Scotia and described the beauty of the Gaspereau Valley where Benjamin Bridge is situated.

This is the 60th posting on my blog.  It feels like a milestone to me and somehow appropriate to be writing about Canadian wines because Canada is where I live.

Not bad, eh!

_________

With Thanks:

To Davy Wine Merchants for their assistance in the final sourcing of the wines.

To the Canadian Trade Commission for supplying information about Canadian wine regions for wine tasting participants..

Award winning wines – Decanter World Wine Awards 2017

A large package arrives from Decanter Magazine. 

It’s the ledger of winners of the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

In equal measure, I feel interested to see the results and dismayed at the size of the package: 306 pages of dense information.     How to make sense of the results without spending hours and hours reading the ledger word for word?

Going back to basics makes the most sense.  I ask myself: what are the key messages from the wine awards?

Here are my three take-aways from the report

1.

The value placed by Decanter magazine on the consumer benefits of identifying and promoting wine quality,

and,

spotlighting lesser known wines and/or wine regions.

2.

Recognizing the expansion of the wine industry into many more countries and wine regions than I would generally consider.       Literally A to Z  from Albania to Veneto.   I count 68 countries and wine regions in total.  (Countries and wine regions are counted separately, for example: New Zealand is 1 entry and there are 6 French wine regions noted).

Who would have thought a few years ago about wines from new and exciting regions, or “lesser known areas” as Decanter discreetly states, entering these global competitive processes?

This point is exemplified in the list of countries represented in the description of Platinum Best in Show wines.  In the Decanter World Wine Awards, Platinum Best in Show is the highest accolade possible.   All Platinum Best in Category winners from around the world are pitted against each other to win the Platinum Best in Show.   There are 34 wines in this category which triumphed over 17,229 entrants to the competitive process.   Some of the countries these wines are from are:  Moravia (Czech Replublic), Canada, England, Uraguay, Austria, Portugal, Corsica, Luxembourg as well as the usual suspects France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand.

3.

Acknowledging the rich diversity of grape varieties and wine styles around the globe together with the complexity of wine production with issues of sustainability and environmental considerations in an ever changing world.

In this context, the wine industry is an increasingly crowded market place with all that it implies in terms of running a business and succeeding; the risk and reward considerations are daunting.

As I continue reviewing the report, I recognize many wines in the ledger of winners.   One I am particularly delighted to see is the Best Value Cypriot White;  Vouni Panayia, Alina  Xynisteri, from the Paphos region, Cyprus that I wrote about in my most recent post after our visit there in the early Spring this year.

At the end of the day, over dinner, we discuss the report and in general the challenges of making wine and running a Winery.   Clearly, the imperative is to make the highest quality wine possible and this is all good news for the consumer.

Our choice of wine to accompany dinner is new to us:   Painted Rock Estate  Winery from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.   We enjoy one of their acclaimed reds,  a  Merlot:  dark fruit flavours with a touch of spice and chocolate that lingered well on the palate and paired well with a small tenderloin steak with sautéed mushrooms in a red wine and mustard sauce.

The 306 pages of the DWWA 2017 report don’t look so intimidating now and I certainly appreciate the opportunity to discover more about the diversity of award winning wines, wine makers and wine making trends. For me, the real value in this competitive process is the increasing emphasis on and encouragement for high quality wines.

Reference:

The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 competitive process together with all tasting notes and related information can be found at http://www.Decanter.com/dwwa

September 2017

Inspired by Chelsea Flower Show, sustained by champagne

I am inspired by the magnificent displays of flowers and plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year in London and sustained by a memorable glass of Louis Roederer Brut champagne.

Not just roses catch my eye but hostas, dahlias, alliums and succulent plants all attract attention.   Thoughts turn to where I can squeeze in another plant in my garden;  what about that Restless Sea hosta?

We spend three plus hours at Chelsea, looking at the model gardens, enquiring about various plants in the Pavillion and admiring the garden sculptures in stone and wood.   Such creativity and talent on display.

We are impressed by the Royal Bank of Canada model garden, inspired by the Boreal forests of northern Canada.   RBC wins a gold again this year.

On a hot afternoon, a visit of several hours is the best way to enjoy Chelsea Flower Show in my view.   In previous years, I have attended for the whole day and my feet have not appreciated my efforts.

In the last half hour before closing, we find our way to the champagne tents where both Louis Roederer and Billecart Salmon champagne are on offer.  I enjoy both and have visited each of these champagne houses in France.  In 2014,   I wrote a series about champagne and associated visits, which are listed in my archives. Here are a couple of photos from the 2014 elizabethsvines archives:

Today, we choose the Louis Roederer Brut.   The classic, dry, biscuity, refreshing flavour with subtle bubbles is just what we need to celebrate another Chelsea visit.   I even forgot to take a photo…

 

 

Wine and Architecture: La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, SW France: a place for play and culture

I am looking at this exciting modern architecture on the banks of the Garonne river in Bordeaux and my imagination runs away with me.

La Cité du Vin

La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux

I can’t help thinking that this building reminds me of the Mother Goose children’s story of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, albeit a golden shoe when the sun shines upon it.   As in the nursery rhyme, there are even people in the “Shoe” as the building is a hive of activity of visitors engaging with the various exhibits about wine.

In all seriousness, it’s a building with a sense of liquidity, that reflects the curves in the river as the Garonne and then the Dordogne rivers join together as the Gironde estuary and empty into the Atlantic.  This waterway has been the key transportation link for centuries between the Bordeaux wines and their thirsty markets abroad, in particular the United Kingdom with its love of claret.

Architects Anouk Legendre and Nicholas Desmazières from XTU Architects in Paris have created this elegant building to showcase the international wine culture which celebrates and explores the place of wine in culture from the time of the Egyptians to the modern day.     It is said that not only does the colour of the building change daily and hourly with the weather but also with the changing light of the seasons, in the same way that the leaves on a vine change colour to mirror the seasons.

The mission of La Cité du Vin is to promote and share the cultural, universal and living heritage that is wine with the broadest possible audience.

It’s an ambitious focus but achievable in this beautiful and elegant city of Bordeaux whose very name is synonymous with great wine.   Building upon the City’s legacy of greatness, this modern conceptual building reflects the future orientation of the City and its wine industry.

La Cité du Vin is the initiative of the Fondation Pour La Culture et Les Civilisations du Vin.  It is heralded as a place of play and exploration – no wonder I recognize the playfulness of a children’s nursery rhyme.    All the senses are engaged as a friend and I explore the exhibits on display.

The founding principles of La Cité du Vin are:  passing on knowledge interactively,  experiencing things at your own pace, learning according to your own wishes.   These principles are demonstrated in the accessible way the information is presented.

Progress and technology are demonstrated in the Hi-Tech/Hi-Touch systems used to animate and personalize displays about wine districts around the world.   I am delighted to see film footage of the Okanagan Valley In British Columbia as the film illustrates wine areas around the world.

There are many interesting and fun opportunities to learn about wine, wine aromas, wine history, wine in the arts,  history – even Thomas Jefferson is present in the name of the Auditorium –  and,  of course, to enjoy wine tastings, wine and food pairings and even cooking classes. I look forward to experiencing these latter offerings on a future visit.

Cité du Vin

Thomas Jefferson Auditorium

One of the many great things about visiting Bordeaux is that it is very easy and inexpensive to get around using the modern, clean and efficient, Canadian, tram system. Getting to La Cité du Vin is no exception as there is a special tram station just outside the entrance.   In addition, the higher speed TGV train service has started between Paris and Bordeaux, making the journey in just over two hours.

At the end of our tour, which took several hours as there are so many interesting things to see and play with, we headed up to the tasting bar, Latitude 20, which has a spectacular ceiling made of wine bottles.  While tasting wine from distant countries, visitors can look out over the city rooftops.

Wine tasting room, Belvedere, Cité du Vin

Spectacular Latitude 20 tasting room with views over Bordeaux

La Cité opened on June 1, 2016 and excited interest and articles around the world.   Writers haven’t been quite sure how to describe this endeavour.  It’s been called variously: a wine theme park for adults, a museum, a cultural facility, an exhibition park, a museum-theme park hybrid, the Guggenheim to Wine, a cultural centre of wine, a world-beating wine museum, an over-the-top mega project, a playground for wine lovers.

La Cité du Vin is young and offers many opportunities for learning, for fun and entertainment.   In a way, it is refreshing that it defies precise definition and labelling.   For me, for now,  it will just be La Cité du Vin.

La Cité du Vin - experiencing the scale and colours

La Cité du Vin – experiencing the scale and colours

La Cité du Vin has an ambitious agenda of showing wine in the context of history, social customs, geography, geology, food and agriculture, oenology and the arts.    In this way, La Cité emphasizes all the reasons I am interested in wine as it opens the door to these subjects.

To quote La Cité du Vin text:  “…whether mythical, sacred, religious or magical, experience the culture of wine as a formidable epic which has shaped mankind and the way we live, which as been a source of inspiration in both past and present”.

Exactly.

——————

References

La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux    http://www.laciteduvin

If you enjoyed this article, please tweet it, “like it” or leave a comment.   I would enjoy hearing from you.    The space for this is below.  Thank you.