Hail strikes Burgundy and Beaujolais — again

Climate change is a bitch. Severe weather events have roiled wine growing areas with depressing regularity in recent years. Burgundy seems to be on the forefront of this plagued by floods, hail storms, late frosts and other events that have reduced (or in some places even eliminated) the crop.

Jeremy Seysses, owner and winemaker at Domaine Dujac, posted the above photo to instagram along with this description.

Yesterday night, 10th July, brought heartbreak in the form of hail. Of our vineyards, the top of the hill of Morey was hit hardest, Monts Luisants worst, probably 30-40% damage; Clos St Denis and Clos de la Roche next, then Combottes. Bonnes Mares had minor damage. The rest of the domaine seems ok. The leaves like they were put through a shredder. The fruit is pummeled. The shoots battered. We’ll still make some wine, though!

There was also severe weather in Beaujolais for the second year in a row…gah! I feel sorry for the vignerons who try to make a living in this increasingly unpredictable endeavor.

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Loving Grana Padano

You're at the store with two pieces of cheese in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is Grana Pandano the other is Parmigiano Reggiano.

You'd buy the Parmigiano right? The king of cheeses, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two pieces of cheese are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line Grana Pandano, while the Parmigiano is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the Parmigiano spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the cheese?

You're at the store with two bottles of wine in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is cabernet sauvignon the other is syrah.

You'd buy the cabernet right? The king of wines, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two bottles of wine are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line syrah, while the cabernet is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the cabernet spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the wine?

Grana Pandano and Parmigiano Reggiano are the same type of cheese. While at its pinnacle many connoisseurs consider Parmigiano the ultimate expression of this style of chesse, there are many passionate producers and consumers of Grana Pandano that would take exception with their position.

One thing I've learned is that dollar-for-dollar you get better value for Grana than you do with the more famous Parmigiano. Often it's a far better choice to buy the most expensive product with a less famous name than the lowest price product with a more exalted name.

I apply the same strategy to buying wine. If I have $30 to spend cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay don't even enter my mind. My thoughts go to gamay, syrah, tempranillo, aglianico, vermentino, chenin blanc and on and on. Today it seems the choices are limitless.

Like the Reggiano cheese place name, many wine appellations get bonus points for name recognition that spot them extra dollars on each bottle over their competitors. When you buy wine from a famous place name you pay a premium for that privilege. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes. There are experiences you can get from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Napa that are truly sublime. But with the $30 I want to spend, sublime will not be found in those appellations. You can find extraordinary wine experiences on a budget if you're willing to go beyond these famous place-names. Think El Dorado, Mendocino, Rogue, Sablet, Madiran, Languedoc, Corsica, Sardegna, our own Applegate Valley and, as with the varieties, the options go on and on.

Never in the history of wine has it been easier to drink great wines without spending a fortune. Next time you're in a wine shop hold that bottle of cabernet in one hand and a different wine from a place or variety you don't know in the other and ask yourself what you want to pay for - the name or the wine?

Freeze and flood: a rough start to the Burgundy 2016 vintage

April frosts bring May floods?

Weather at harvest used to be dicey with rains. But now severe and unusual weather events are buffeting the Burgundy region throughout the growing season with shocking and disheartening regularity. Devastating hail storms pounded vintages 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Last month, there was some bitterly cold weather overnight on April 27, which led to frost damage. By the BIVB’s estimates, 46% of vineyards in the region were badly damaged. Jasper Morris, the Burgundy Director at London’s Berry Bros & Rudd, wrote about the frost damage on his blog:

The Beaune vineyard I partly own, Les Pertuisots, seems to have lost everything, as do neighbouring plots, while a few yards down the road the Clos des Mouches was much less affected, according to the Drouhins. There is no rhyme nor reason, and even vineyards which have not been affected in living memory, such as Le Montrachet, have been badly damaged this time round.

Bill Nanson writes this week on his blog:

Honestly the vines are ‘all over the place’ you can really see the lack of consistency when you walk in the vineyards; there are big sprouts of growth here-and-there, surrounded by a much smaller average growth of leaves. The first, larger shoots, are those who survived the frost, the latter is the new growth (recovery) from the previously dormant buds. I’ve never seen such higgledy-piggledy growth in the vines.

And then there is flooding and hail this week in Chablis, as seen in the photo above with more on Bill’s blog.

What does all this mean for the region? Well, a final judgement of the Burgundy 2016 vintage will be best rendered when tasting the wine in the glass–quality has been snatched from the jaws of defeat in several recent, difficult vintages. But it certainly looks as if yields will be down with the resulting wine volumes, which, of course, means…higher prices for consumers and possibly declining revenues for producers.

Some producers have recognized this double whammy and made long-term plans to diversify, buying properties in lower cost areas such as the Jura or some cru Beajolais.

Burgundy…a wine that can bring so much pleasure yet also so much pain–on consumers’ wallets and producers’ balance sheets.

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UNESCO recognizes Burgundy’s “climats” and Champagne’s hills

UNESCO_burgundy

UNESCO added wine regions to their list of World Heritage sites at Saturday’s meeting in Bonn. The 1,247 “climats” of Burgundy as well as the Champagne hillsides received official recognition as cultural sites.

UNESCO_burgundy_2Campaigns in each French region supported the bids as well as the French government since UN member states are limited in nominating sites in their own boundaries. Burgundy’s campaign video appears below (in English) with more details on their site. Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti led the campaign for Burgundy’s inclusion; above he is congratulated after the vote in favor.

The vineyards in the regions now receive an extra level of protection from future development and they qualify for additional financial aid for preservation and may get a fillip from additional tourism. A new Cité des Vins is slated to open next year in Beaune with the aim of welcoming 90,000 tourists. What do you think: will this make you want to visit more? I was pretty much sold at the word Burgundy…

St. Emilion in Bordeaux received World Heritage status in 1999, the Mosel in 2002, and Barolo and Barbaresco were recognized last year. There are 1,031 sites now on the list.

From UNESCO:

Climats, terroirs of Burgundy
The climates are precisely delimited vineyard parcels on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune south of the city of Dijon. They differ from one another due to specific natural conditions (geology and exposure) as well as vine types and have been shaped by human cultivation. Over time they came to be recognized by the wine they produce. This cultural landscape consists of two parts. Firstly, the vineyards and associated production units including villages and the town of Beaune, which together represent the commercial dimension of the production system. The second part includes the historic centre of Dijon, which embodies the political regulatory impetus that gave birth to the climats system. The site is an outstanding example of grape cultivation and wine production developed since the High Middle Ages.

Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars
The property encompasses sites where the method of producing sparkling wines was developed on the principle of secondary fermentation in the bottle since the early 17th century to its early industrialization in the 19th century. The property is made up of three distinct ensembles: the historic vineyards of Hautvilliers, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Saint-Nicaise Hill in Reims, and the Avenue de Champagne and Fort Chabrol in Epernay. These three components – the supply basin formed by the historic hillsides, the production sites (with their underground cellars) and the sales and distribution centres (the Champagne Houses) – illustrate the entire champagne production process. The property bears clear testimony to the development of a very specialized artisan activity that has become an agro-industrial enterprise.

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