Part of the pleasure of writing a wine blog in spring is the myriad cheerful associations. Warming evenings, sampling the new season's rose and sitting outside with friends. Whilst the latter has obviously been curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic, I'm feeling pretty hard done by on the other fronts. Watching rain drops trickle down the window, dark clouds chasing each other in a race to be the next to deposit their heavy burden on us, I can't help thinking things are changing.
And it's true of course, they are. Vintage reports from around the world confirm that. Consider the far end of the globe. Last year the Australian wine industry took a real hammering from the weather. Massive bush fires raged through many wine producing areas, tainiting grapes with smoke and destroying some crops. Then, just when they seemed to have expended themselves, flooding took over! Just to nail down the lid, Australia's biggest trading partner, China, slammed a 200% tariff on imports of Australian wine.
You'd think this was off to a better start given the news that New Zealand has a harvest that is expected to produce exceptional wines - and of course we are the biggest importers of Kiwi wine after Australia. Unfortunately the late spring frosts and unusually cool spring weather in New Zealand mean that there isn't much of it! It's already clear that suppliers are going to have to make some tough choices about who gets their wine. The short version is there won't be enough to go around.
To round off the gloom in the southern hemisphere Chile has had exceptionally heavy rainfall The record for rain in a single day in January was set in 1933 when 22.4mm fell. On the 29th of January just gone 31.4mm fell - almost half as much again! Too much rain is not a friend to vines, and can result in bloated grapes and diluted flavours. Nearer home, European vineyards are only just starting to get busy and a lot of fingers are being crossed for a good summer. Going by the weather to date, more of us need to cross our fingers!
Every cloud has a silver lining of course. In this case the rise and rise of British wine. The brutal truth is that global warming is probably the main reason why the quality of wine grown in the UK is improving so rapidly. England and Wales have always been 'marginal', meaning there is at best only just enough sunshine in the growing year to ripen grapes, despite the fact that we plant grapes that perform well in other marginal climates. White wine has been a burgeoning success story for a few years now, especially sparkling white wine. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is that sparkling white wine requires an acidic base wine, something we've been able to achieve for some years because 'unripe' means acidic when talking about wine grapes. Red is proving a harder nut to crack, especially when market conditions and taxation mean that home-grown reds are always going to be expensive.
Of course, wine is not an essential to life. Ultimately it's a luxury, but after the last year or so most of us are feeling we deserve a little luxury - none more so than our emergency workers, especially those in the NHS. So let's hope the clouds that are rolling in just keep going and fade away into the distance. As soon as they do and the sun appears, we can do the things we Brits do best - turn bright pink and peel whilst we cremate every kind of food we can fit on the barbeque. And in that spirit I think I'm going to go and put that bottle of rose in the fridge, just in case!