Climate change and the vineyard

February 26, 2010

Two Hills Vineyard

Most of my libertarian friends are avid and passionate non-believers in global warning and climate change. They fiercely contest the validity of many research results. This sometimes reminds me of religious zealotry. However, one has to say that their opponents do not hesitate to falsify data and blackmail the public emotionally and otherwise. But many libertarians live in a constant state of denial when it comes to climate change. Well, so be it. I do not know where to stand in this debate but I would categorize myself as an “unremitting sceptic” in this regard.

Having said that, the changing climate pattern over the last two decades in my own vineyard and observations from vineyards around me cannot be ignored. Recently, Prof. Edward ‘Snow’ Barlow, professor of horticulture and viticulture and head of the School of Land and Environment (Agriculture and Food Systems) at the University of Melbourne and a practising viticulturist (he has a 24 ha vineyard in the Strathbogie Ranges) has published his new research findings about climate change and its effects on Victorian viticulture. An article in The Age by Jeni Port (10 January 2010) alerted me to this research.

One of the main trends in Victoria seems to be that vintage time moved forward considerably since 1982. In one location at the Mornington Peninsula it has come forward by 40 days in 40 years for Pinot Noir and 32 days for Chardonnay. At other locations, for instance at Tahbilk, one of Victoria’s oldest winery, picking days have fast tracked by 20 days.

Since we established our own vineyard (Two Hills Vineyard) in Glenburn in 1996-97 we had a high degree of variations in our growing seasons. But 10-12 growing seasons is not long if you want to see patterns. After all, we are the only vineyard in the location and comparative data are few and far between.

Our grapes

The Cabernet which we pulled out in 2001 might under these changing conditions been able to ripen the fruit after all. Should we have left it in? These and many more questions beg an answer. What will an earlier harvest mean for us? Will our early ripening varieties produce better yields or a higher quality of fruit? In contrast to other production locations we have sufficient water to irrigate if necessary, but is our fruit quality really higher than before?

If the “commercial life” of a vineyard is about 25 years, we are at about half-time. If Prof. Barlow’s predictions of vintage time for Victoria in 2030 and 2050 are realistic, we might be just in the position to make it, so to say. The selection of grape varieties for replanting in about 2025 could be based on a much broader scientific knowledge.

Prof. Barlow thinks that Australian vintners and winemakers are at the forefront of climate change, “the canary in the coal mine”, as he puts it.

Life is full of adventure, especially in the rural hinterland of Melbourne.

The article in The Age closes with the remark, that Prof. Barlow “rarely meets a climate sceptic in the wine industry”. From my conversations with libertarians I cannot confirm this, but libertarians are mostly found in urban centres and hardly in the field.

Vineyards of Thailand Part 3: PB Valley Khao Yai Winery

February 25, 2010

Wine tastings at PB Valley

PB Valley is the largest of the Khao Yai vineyards and wineries. It’s total production is about 600,000 bottles a year. It is also the oldest vineyard in the region. It was started in 1989 on a large plot of land. It took a couple of years to identify the most suitable grape varieties for the climate.

PB Valley wines have won a number of international wine awards (mostly at AWC in Vienna). Apart from vineyard and winery, it also has a restaurant, the Great Hornbill with about 200+ seats, and holiday accommodation. I like their reserve Shiraz and Tempranillo wines best.

Unfortunately, we had no time for a winery tour or any organised tasting. We just dashed to the cellar door and bought a couple of bottles. As in other wineries, the product range includes all kinds- of non-wine products from health care, cosmetics to nutrition.

The entrance to the sales room

The cellar door

Wide product range

If you visit Bangkok, rent a car with driver for the day and visit the wineries and vineyards of PB Valley and Gran Monte. This gives you a perfect start for the exploration of new latitude wines. The area is beautiful and the national park offers some unique experiences of Thailand.

If you have no time, visit their sales offices in Bangkok and stock up on their wines.

Chatuchak market in Bangkok

February 23, 2010

The Wednesday market at Chatuchak

The other week the whole family decided on an outing and we visited Chatuchak market, a plan we had for a long time since Wednesdays are exclusively reserved for the gardeners and plant producers. An enthusiastic gardener like myself treasures such occasions. It was amazing to see the variety of plants on offer. I would love to have a huge garden but instead my third floor terrace is rather limited as regards available space. It was still wonderful to stroll through the rows of vendors and customers.

Chatuchak market has become a magnet for tourist, domestic as well as foreign. I was surprised that this also included the Wednesdays. One cannot take these plants home so easily on a plane. I guess the flowers, the colours and the beautiful scents are the main attractions. I also like the people selling their plants, they have the appearance of rural folks, people from the hinterland, rough, proud, relaxed and very friendly.

Chatuchak market is a must for all tourist visiting Bangkok. My verdict: highly recommended. Have fun!

Orchids and bananas

The man in the mirror glasses

Getting ready for the 2010 vintage

February 22, 2010

Two Hills Pinot Noir shortly before the nets went on

The nets are on now, and we are expecting a good harvest at Two Hills Vineyard for 2010. After the total loss of last year the prospects are not too bad.

Estimates are:

– Sauvignon Blanc: about 8 tonnes of fruit, and already sold
– Pinot Noir: about 5 tonnes of fruit and still looking for a home

The Merlot grapes look good too, but we are not making any wine this year. This will make the bird in the vicinity very happy, what a feast. That’s the price we have to pay for the grape glut. It’s sad but cannot be helped at this point in time.

Our new tractor will come into action for the vintage. This will make things easier, I hope.
Let us hope no unexpected disaster occurs before the grapes are in safely.

The plan for 2011 is to mothball the vineyard for a couple of years and see if the market recovers.

Sunday walk in the vineyard – a wish

February 21, 2010

“Bildstock” near Nittel, Upper Mosel

Today, I would love to walk through a vineyard with my mother, preferably along the Mosel or the Saar. It is her 80th birthday today. I salute you mum and wish you many more years on this earth.

We could have lunch in one of the many country inns and enjoy a local Riesling wine.

But instead I am far away from the action, in Bangkok, in the tropics. This is one of the downsides if one works in far away places. As consolation I will open a bottle of Saar Riesling later with lunch.

Wine of the day: Climbing Merlot by Cumulus Wines

February 20, 2010

Cumulus Climbing Merlot

I do not drink much wine from New South Wales, except maybe Semillon wines from the Hunter Valley. The other day some wines from Cumulus Wines, the largest producer (about 500 ha under vines, not a boutique producer), located in the Orange Region, appeared in our supermarket in Thonglor, Bangkok.

I bought a couple of bottles from the Climbing Series (Shiraz and Merlot). My children liked the label. The ‘2007 Climbing Merlot’ won gold, silver and plenty of bronze medals. It’s a cool climate (grown above 600 m), fruity wine, elegant with a good structure, a delight of a wine, even if one has to fork out about 20 Euro/30 A$ for the bottle here in Bangkok.

Night life in Bangkok

February 19, 2010

Without words, but with a lot of insects

Wine of the day: 2008 Yering Chardonnay

February 18, 2010

After a hot day in the tropics nothing is better than a nice glass of white wine. We selected a ‘2008 Yering Station Chardonnay’ from the Yarra Valley. Yering Station is the oldest vineyard in Victoria. The winery is a must visit if you are touring the Yarra Valley. It’s located just outside Yarra Glen.

Only very recently had this wine arrived in our supermarket in Thonglor, Bangkok. It’s moderately priced for Thai conditions (less than 10 EURO or A$ 15) and a very lovely drink.

Wine on the terrace: 2008 Yering Station Chardonnay

Yering Station has still ‘grape growers with contracts’ and our friend Steve Sadlier is one of them. If we want to drink wine from his grapes, Yering Station is the winery to buy it from. Steve produces excellent cool climate fruit in the Yarra Valley.

We were a bit homesick and needed a reminder that Australia can be very near. Cheers folks

Who destroyed the Australian wine industry? …and the culprit is….

February 15, 2010

I have not been reading the Daily Wine News for a couple of days. After coming home last night, I browsed through the accumulated news. And, Eureka, I found for the first time someone who points his finger in the direction of the big corporate producers.

So far the tenor of most critics has been that there is just too much wine around (surplus of 20-40 million cases of wine each year) and that mostly greedy investors, money trusts and lifestyle (hobby) vintners, loaded with money made in construction or as medical doctors are the ones to blame. They are the ones who single handedly destroyed the wine sector; they produced the “wine lake”, and planted unsustainable hectares of new vineyards. The remedy was also clear: the small ones have to go. Instead wine production had better be left to the professionals (i.e. the corporates).

In comes Brian Croser, the founder and former owner of Adelaide Hills based Petaluma winery, with his view of the problem. He believes that the 2,000-odd Australian vintners are the originators of first-class Australian wine and have been the creators of the outstanding international image of their produce. The large companies, the corporates, have benefited from this positive image and “sailed on it”. However they mainly produce commodity wines of inferior quality which they dump on world markets, thereby destroying the reputation of fine Australian wines.

Whether this is true or not is certainly debatable. Everyone who extended their plantings in the hope of a larger marketshare is somehow to blame. However, finally we can hear another tune, not heard before and the public conversation has not only become more colourful but also more pluralistic, which is good for everyone.

If we have to pull out 40,000 ha of grape vines, they should come from various sources. If one of the four big companies would go and leave the sector, a lot could be gained for the remaining producers. Alternatively, small producers could pull out. What would be better for the country? this is a question not easily answered.

We will see small, medium as well as big companies leaving the industry. Many small family businesses will have their niche and will thrive regardless of the downturn of the sector. Others will close down, especially fruit producers who are at the end of the value chain (actually they are at the start of it). Also some of the investor and dividend driven schemes will come to an end. Vineyards and wineries will be hard to sell for some time to come. The big corporates will clean up their portfolios, they might de-invest in wine production and move into other segments of the beverage industry. Lower average profits in wine making will make other investments relatively more profitable. The wine sector will remain unattactive for young professionals for a while until the pendulum swings back, and the cycle of boom and bust will start all over again.

We at Two Hills Vineyard came too late to the party, and were caught out, so to say. I guess, we will go into hibernation and see what the prospects are in a couple of years time. I hope we can afford this strategy and that it will pay off some day when we can reduce costs and better market our produce. I remain optimistic and we will hang in there. Cheers to Two Hills wines!

Two Hills Vineyard, Glenburn


February 14, 2010

I know, it’s not very romantic but I found this banner in my Soi advertising for some more business and using the Valentines occasion in a skilful way.

Have a peaceful Sunday, drink a good bottle of wine with your wife/partner, go out for lunch and after all show your love.