The Climate Times They Are A Changing

The debate over whether changes in our environment are the consequence of human activity or the product of natural forces that have been shaping the Earth’s weather since the dawn of time has thrust itself into the global conversation like never before. Scientists have documented the shrinking of the ice shields globally, an ever-increasing number of record-high temperatures, and the toll of prolonged droughts are inflicting on all life on this planet. Life on Earth is persistent and will adapt over time to long-term fluctuations that threaten its existence.

After hearing numerous reports of how vineyard managers are adjusting to preserve the production and quality of their vines I wanted to hear from the winemakers themselves why they are moving proactively to stay ahead of climate change related problems and exactly what measures they were implementing now in hopes of being successful in the long run. Vineyards are our proverbial “Canary in the coal mine” and they are signaling a warning of problems to come. 

For this article, I had the unique good fortune to draw on the expertise of individuals who are not only well-known winemakers, growers, and wine media authorities but also good friends whose opinions I trust. The following are their personal observations and first-hand accounts of how climate change is affecting winemaking operations in their area.

J.Stephen Casscles is a renowned vintner, horticulturist, and author that is currently working in partnership with the Milea Estate Vineyard in the Hudson Valley of New York to produce their Hudson Valley Heritage Wines. You can purchase the rare wines made with their estate-grown heirloom grapes from the Milea Estate website Here’s what Steve told me about how climate change is impacting vineyards in the Hudson Valley.

“The 2022 grape growing season was very difficult for the Hudson Valley and Eastern Massachusetts. In varying degrees, we had a drought that started in April and ended in late September in Eastern Massachusetts. For us in the Hudson Valley, our drought started in May and lasted until the middle of August.  Our temperatures were on average 3 to 4 degrees warmer than usual (and our norms in the summer have been going up for some time), In the Hudson Valley, we had a very wet September with 50 to 60 percent more rain as we were starting the earliest harvest season I have ever witnessed. With the ground so dry and sun-baked, all of the September rains (which can in 3 torrential downpours, so that much of the rain could not be absorbed in the soil, so we had flooding, which encouraged soil erosion.  Our Fall was warmer than average by 3 to 4 degrees so while my interspecific hybrids hardened off, many vinifera did not harden off as well. Hence, when we had our Christmas Eve Bomb Cyclone, where temperatures fell from 53 F to 9 F in about 12 hours, we had some vine damage.  After 3 days of fridge temperatures, we then experienced above-normal temperatures.  While, this seems to be a uniquely hard growing season, with climate change, this may be the “new norm”.  That is warmer Springs with sudden last Spring frosts, warmer and wetter summers, and falls, that end abruptly with our now fairly common Christmas time polar vortex or cyclone bomb (I see this in reverse too as a bomb cyclone).  Hence, I am expecting that the weather patterns that we saw in 2022 will become more common.  At my vineyard and at the Milea Estate Vineyard Heritage Grape/Wine Project, I have been shifting my work to not only find suitable interspecific hybrids that are cold hardy, fungus disease resistant, and make quality wine…. also include grapes that in addition to the above goals, also can produce a secondary crop with secondary buds when we get more commonly late spring frosts. In addition, because of our increasingly warmer falls, our grape wood is not hardening off to face our more commonly occurring Christmas-time polar vortex or cyclone bomb.  In association with the Milea Estate Vineyard Heritage Grape/Wine Program, we are now making wines out of these heritage varieties that can roll with the punches that Mother Nature is sending our way.   ***** Grape varieties that meet all 5 criteria listed above to better face our changing climate are Chelois, Pallmer, Burdin 6055 (reds), and Jefferson (a pink grape that makes a white wine).”

To get a glimpse into how climate change is altering the environment south of the equator in Australia I contacted Dan Traucki, acclaimed journalist, wine consultant, and Director of WineAssist for his candid insights on this subject. 

“The biggest single thing that growers are doing to combat global warming in the vineyard, is experimenting with and planting new (emerging) varieties.

From the coolest areas through to the warmest they are looking at what they grow and moving towards more heat and drought-tolerant varieties.

Australia has gone from growing around 80-90 varieties prior to the turn of the century, to currently growing 156 varieties and rising.

The charge is being led by the growers in the warmest areas such as South Australia’s Riverland, due to its hot climate and from time to time the restrictions the government places on irrigation (due to drought). Many growers are experimenting or have adopted Mediterranean varieties that are much more suited to this climate than the traditional Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot. Sure they still make a Shiraz and Cabernet but their focus and emphasis is on the “new” warmer climate varieties.

When I was the CEO of a grape growing company (1,500 acres) up there in 2001-2004, the region was mainly a bulk wine-producing region producing no more than 15-25 varieties (the classics), whereas today there are a number of excellent small/ish producers producing an array of interesting and exciting varieties, for example, Bassham Wines produces 24 different varieties- having just recently launched Arinto, Fiano, Montepulciano and Nero d’Avola to mention but a few. Whilst out of the 13 wines that 919Wines produces only three are “traditional” or classic varieties.

The Barossa, the traditional home of mighty Aussie Shiraz, is now becoming well known for other big and interesting reds such as Durif & Zinfandel- in fact, in my opinion, Australia’s best Zin’s come from the Barossa.

Right across the country regions are exploring new more heat-tolerant varieties suitable for their particular region. Thus Australia now has over 400 Tempranillo growers amongst its 2,600 wineries, compared with 60 in 1990.

The other development is the rising number of vineyards that are converting to either Organic or Biodynamic. Whilst mainly done for environmental reasons, I have been told that there are climate change benefits in that these practices make for a more natural vineyard that requires slightly less irrigation, thereby helping with the upcoming and ongoing challenge of water availability. 

The Mighty Murray River upon which South Australia depends for almost all its water for humans and irrigation, which has been in drought for several years is currently flooding and is expected to peak at a new record- even higher than the devastating 1956 flood- many vineyards are underwater and I saw images of one where only the crowns of the vines were visible above the water!!

Meanwhile, within 50 kilometers of the flood zone, there are catastrophic bushfires raging.

Half the emergency services are battling floods and the other half raging bushfires all within the one county, for the first time in recorded history!!!”

Award-winning winemaker, grower, and owner of Chateau Niagara, Jim Baker gives us his take on how climate change has altered his winemaking operation on the Niagara Plain in Newfane, New York.

“We had a devastating cold snap in the third week of January 2022. As a result, our vineyard died back to the ground. As part of the farming culture in cool climates, we hilled up our vines, basically plowing a mound of soil up onto the plant. This allows us to use the soil as insulation from sudden, deep cold snaps. This protected the dormant buds at the graft union and when spring hit, after we de-hilled the vines, these buds sprang into action. We spent the summer regrowing them but alas, had no harvest. 

So one of the effects of climate change is more extremes. Our summers have been generally a bit longer, our winters shorter, and overall milder. I noticed the shoreline of lake Ontario had no ice built up this year. Another observation is that the high-humidity disease of downy and powdery mildew has been tougher to deal with. The effect has been subtle on the insect population as well, with more Japanese beetles overwintering as grubs and emerging to feed on the grapes. On a more positive note, the number of growing degree days is increased,  resulting in riper fruit with improvements in the Bordeaux reds in particular. Overall it seems positive for us, at least that is the view from Niagara.”

The following are excerpts from an interview I did recently with Ulrike Platter, Director of Castel Sallegg in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. You can read the interview in its entirety in an earlier post on this blog.

In addition, 80% of our vines are 30-50 years old, which means that the roots are growing very deep to get enough water for themselves even in a very hot season. These vines are stable.

“Our vineyard manager noticed the changes, especially this year, which was hot and dry. Since Castel Sallegg is more of a red wine winery (we produce 58% of red wines) and we often had difficulties in the past years, with the red grapes, such as Lagrein, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon fully ripening, so 2022 was a great year for us.

Problems can be seen in younger plants or new plants.

For this purpose, we invested in a project for the next few years, which will digitize needs-based irrigation. This means that the humidity of the soil is measured by soil sensors and the wines in different places were partially watered by a targeted system.

Since we have some vineyards on a slope and the vines get less water at the top by draining and the vines at the foot get more water we can irrigate more targeted and water-saving.

We have also noticed increased hail in recent years. For this reason, we will place our most important vineyards under hail nets in the next 2-3 years.”

The following is an excerpt from a recent interview I did with Andrea Moser, Chief Enologist at Erste+Neue a winery and vineyard located in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy.

“Facing the challenges of climate change is becoming increasingly important in every wine-growing region of the globe, and in South Tyrol, too, it is no different.

However, Alto Adige and specifically our area benefits greatly with respect to this issue, in fact, our orographic situation is very particular. The vineyards start in fact with the red varieties at about 230 m.a.s.l. and arrive in just a few kilometers to elevations of about 700 m.a.s.l. where the white varieties find excellent ripening conditions. This large elevation range, combined with a constant south-to-north wind “the Garda Hour” and strong temperature fluctuations between day and night due to the mountains that surround us (Mendola range), allows us to consistently obtain high qualities on both red and white grape varieties.

Ripe but fresh and elegant reds and whites with low ph, good acidity, crisp and fresh that perfectly embody the spirit of our territory and our vineyards located in the middle of the Alps.”

It doesn’t matter which side of the climate change debate you favor, there is no denying that the environmental forces in the vineyards of the world have changed and continue to do so. The grapes in northern vineyards are ripening more fully as the growing degree days increase and the growing zone edges further north each year. The vineyard managers and winemakers whose vineyards are located in the traditionally ideal spots for growing wine grapes are being forced to adapt to earlier and earlier harvest dates. One of the options being explored is to seek higher ground and the advantages that come with planting at altitude now affords. The rise in air and ground temperatures aren’t the only danger we have to worry about. Historic droughts, huge storms, floods of biblical proportions, and freakish weather events have become the new normal that must be endured and prepared for as we enter an era of unprecedented climate uncertainty. 

These are immense problems that must be addressed universally but solved locally. In a world facing such extraordinary challenges, you might be wondering what you can do to help. The only thing any of us can do is to be thoughtful of how our actions affect the environment and all living in it because we can only control what we do and that is what really matters. You can help by sharing a link to this post on your social media to raise awareness and sensitivity to our current situation.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Days of Wine and Cheeses

You may have surmised from the name of this blog and my social media handle (wpawinepirate) that I am a Jimmy Buffett fan, a Parrothead, if you will. I have been a member of the Phlock for a long time, making some good friends and beautiful memories along the way. Jimmy’s lyrics “Warm summer breezes and French wine and cheeses” from his song “He went to Paris” was the inspiration for a series of posts I will be writing about wine and cheese pairing

I will never forget the first time I tasted Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam. It was at their shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Mt. Tam is a triple cream bloomy rind American recipe cheese made from pasteurized organic pasture-based cow milk that is produced by farm partners using sustainable farming practices. Mt. Tam is made in Marin County near San Francisco, as if you had any doubt it was a California product after that lead-in. Cowgirl Creamery describes their Mt. Tam as “At room temperature, features a dense fudgy core enveloped in an evolving pudgy creamline.” This cheese is both creamy and buttery but also displays earthy flavors. Mt. Tam pairs well with sparklers like Prosecco and Cava or a California Chardonnay that will cleanse your palate. Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava Brut or Trefethen Family Vineyards 2018 Chardonnay Oak Hill District Napa Valley work nicely with Mt. Tam.

Staying on the coast of California, my next cheese is Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove Chevre in rural Humboldt County. Humboldt Fog is a unique soft-ripened goat cheese. It is made from high-quality goat milk sourced from local farms. This is a pasteurized goat milk cheese. The quality of the milk used in the making of Humboldt Fog is reflected in its clean and balanced flavors while muted acidity and salt levels prevent the potent goaty taste that turns some people off to goat cheese. Enjoy Humboldt Fog with the iconic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Cloudy Bay, or Sokol Blosser Redland Cuvee Estate Willamette Valley 2018, a medium-bodied Pinot Noir from Oregon.           

I will be exploring cheeses from America’s Heartland and the East Coast in my next post.                                  

Review: Bogle Merlot 2018

Are you looking for an “Everyday” Merlot that won’t break the bank? An “Everyday” wine is one that is dependable, has an excellent quality-to-price ratio, pairs well with your favorite foods, can be easily found, and most of all one you enjoy drinking. Bogle Merlot 2018 checks all of these boxes and is very popular because it does. 

Bogle Merlot 2018 is a California Merlot from the Clarksburg Region. It has flavors of black fruit, vanilla, and oak with balanced acidity and approachable tannins. Bogle ages all of its red wines in oak barrels for twelve months. This practice is a rarity for a producer of this scale. I purchased my bottle for $12.99 at a Pennsylvania P.L.C.B. store but you can find it for less from other sources. Its 13.5 A.B.V. gives this Red a little “Jump” so be careful it can fool you. Just sayin!

Ensenada, Mexico’s Napa Valley

V is for Vino host Vince Anter enjoys a toast to the wine of Ensenada. Photo Credit: V is for Vino

Ensenada is often called the Napa Valley of Mexico for good reason. This region has been growing grapes and producing wine for hundreds of years. The renaissance of the area began in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the commercial production of wine began to expand so quickly that it now boasts over one hundred wineries. When we talk about Ensenada, Mexico we are including the City of Ensenada, the major winery/vineyard area of Valle De Guadalupe, and several grape growing areas just to the south. Ensenada is less than a two hour drive from San Diego in the Mexican State of Baja California. I would strongly suggest you take the advice of the travel show V is for Vino host Vince Anter and use a tour company, local tour guide or go with someone familiar with the area until you feel comfortable enough to visit by yourself. 

Ensenada wineries offer you the opportunity to experience a wide selection of wine that is not available anywhere else in the world. The vintners are still trying to identify which grapes are the best match for their terrior. In the vineyards around Ensenada you can find the white wine grapes: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the red wine grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Zinfandel. These red grapes all make big red wines because of the warm dry climate. Surprisingly, the one grape that is emerging as the region’s signature grape is Nebbbiolo. Yes, the Italian wine grape from Tuscany, Italy. The Nebbiolo that is made in Mexico is a completely different wine than is made from the same Nebbiolo grape in Italy. Since there are no commissions or governing bodies restricting winemakers there they are free to experiment with different production methods and make unusual blends that are exclusive to the region. Blends of Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo/Sangiovese, and Tempranillo/Syrah are common.

If you are interested in learning more about the food and wine culture of the Ensenada region I invite you to watch the wine and travel show V is for Vino Episode 2 Season 3 Ensenada Valle De Guadalupe Mexico. You can view all of the episodes from the first three seasons for free at, Amazon Prime, Roku, YouTube, Facebook Watch or Instagram. Here’s a link to the V is for Vino Ensenada episode. Host/Producer Vince Anter gives you an insider’s look into the How. What, and Where when planning a trip to Mexico’s premier wine region. Salud!

Australian & South African Winemakers Need Your Help

Winemakers in Australia and South Africa are facing a crisis. Australia is embroiled in a trade dispute with China in which China has halted the purchase of Australian barley, most beef, seafood, coal, and yes,wine. By early December 2020 Australian wineries had lost 1.2 billion in sales. South Africa has banned all alcohol sales as it battles a resurgence of Covid-19. You can help by buying a bottle or two of Australian and South African wine when you visit your wine shop. This is a perfect opportunity to revisit an old favorite from these countries or explore something new, either way it’s a win/win situation.



The Sun Also Rises

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017

When you think of wine grapes grown in Rioja, Spain you naturally think of Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the predominant grape by far in acreage planted in Rioja, Garnacha plays a crucial supporting role in most of the wonderful Tempranillo-Garnacha Rioja blends coming out of that wine region. This enjoyable red grape is called Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone presented a candid view of Rioja on his television show “Field Trip with Curtis Stone” which airs on the PBS Create TV channel. Stone visits artisanal producers of food and wine around the world to get inspiration for new dishes at his Beverly Hills restaurant “Maude”. During his visit to Rioja, he was invited to supper at the home of a winemaker where he is treated to wine from the host’s 100-year-old Garnacha vineyard. Check your local listings for this insightful glimpse into some of the most storied food and wine regions on Earth.

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha 2017 received a 90 pts rating from James Suckling and has also been well reviewed by many other notable wine critics. This is a great introductory Rioja with subtle oak notes, good acidity, and structure at a value price. On the palate, it is smooth and soft with dynamic fruit flavors. Don’t overlook this varietal just because of all the luscious Tempranillo- Garnacha blends that Rioja offers. Please be open to exploring wine from Rioja because you will be pleasantly surprised by what you will find in your glass. 

Here’s a fun fact if you are curious about the exact location where this wine is made checkout the longitude and latitude coordinates on the top of the label.

Longitude & Latitude Coordinates

Link to Field Trip with Curtis Stone below 


Invitation to my The Vintner Project Article

I am happy to announce that I am the newest contributor to The

Photo courtesy The Vintner Project

Vintner Project. The Vintner Project is an effort to make the sometimes confusing world of wine more approachable to consumers globally by offering a personal look at wineries, their wine, and the people that make them unique. It is a diversified collection of voices and points of view that bring all the wine regions and winemakers stories together so readers can explore and learn about segments of the winemaking community that might not be covered by the mainstream media.

Founded in 2018 by Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow, The Vintner Project has developed into a dynamic cutting edge media outlet

The Vintner Project founders Nelson Gerena and Kiril Kirilow Photo courtesy

for news and insightful content for wine lovers worldwide.

Check out my article about the intriguing Austrian red wine grape Zweigelt and the versatile wine it makes. See why Zweigelt is often called the “Ultimate picnic wine”. Click here to go to my profile and my article








We Will Rise

Fero Vineyards Lewisburg, Pennsylvania Photo Courtesy of Fero Vineyards & Winery

I wake up every morning only to realize that it isn’t a reoccurring bad dream I keep having but a new day and the new reality of a world suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic, I struggle to believe that the images and commentary from around the world are actually taking place and isn’t the plot from a futuristic sci-fi novel. I take comfort in knowing while most of the country is safe at home under a “Stay at home” order Nature is moving forward at its own pace unaffected by the current state of human affairs. That won’t last long because crops will need to be planted and vineyards will need to be tended. Those jobs will take labor and labor will be hard to find now that the flow of migrant workers has been severely restricted to mitigate the spread of the virus.The biggest question yet to be answered is if the virus will peak and recede soon enough to allow work to start or will it linger causing a catastrophic interruption of all food and material commerce. That is a question that no one can answer while we’re in the midst of this unprecedented disaster. My best advice would be to explore some of those bottles you have been saving for a special occasion and enjoy them now because when will you be experiencing a more memorable event that this? Stay Strong, Stay Safe and Stay Home

Smoke & Mirrors

Robert Mondavi “invented” Fumé Blanc because he wanted to

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

distinguish the high-quality Sauvignon Blanc he was making in the French-style from the other California Sauvignon Blanc that was widely viewed as ordinary “run of the mill” sweet wines. Mondavi realized that changing the name wouldn’t be enough to change people’s idea of California Sauvignon Blanc so he decided to age it in oak barrels. His bold move to rename his dry-fermented barrel-aged wine Fumé Blanc quickly paid off as demand for this “new” wine grew in California and across the United States. Mondavi’s decision not to trademark the name was a stroke of brilliance on his part because more people could use the name and by doing so increase its name recognition and acceptance worldwide. The name Fumé Blanc is commonly associated with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc made in the United States since the late1960’s. Robert Mondavi never intended to imply that Fumé Blanc was a specific style or method of making wine but only a name for his wine. There is nothing that dictates Fumé Blanc must be oak-aged. You can find Fumé Blanc that is not aged in oak and that is perfectly acceptable because under current U.S. law the terms “Sauvignon Blanc” and “Fumé Blanc” are synonymous. 

If you are curious I suggest you try Fumé Blanc from the winery

Robert Mondavi Winery Fume Blanc

that started it all, the Robert Mondavi Winery. 2017 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley from Robert Mondavi Winery has aromas of peach, citrus and of course, smoke followed by crisp acidity and flavors of pear, citrus, and vanilla/buttery oak. 

The wine world is full of interesting stories like this and others where you may find yourself asking is it “Lemberger” or “Blaufränkisch”? Don’t even get me started with the marketing genius behind the “Syrah” or “Shiraz” campaign.LOL My advice is to ignore the marketing hype and drink what you like no matter what is printed on the label.  

Wine Me Dine Me

The Bogle family has farmed in the Clarksburg region of California’s Sacramento River Delta for six generations dating back to the late 1800s. Bogle has over 1800 acres of estate-grown grapes and sources grapes from some of the best-growing regions throughout the state of California. Their wines are often described as “Value wines” or “Everyday wines” but don’t be fooled because they are widely available and have a price point in the low teens if not lower. These wines are well made considering the size of Bogle’s production. Bogle Chardonnay is barrel fermented on the lees and hand-stirred once a month while the reds are aged in small oak barrels. These methods are rare in wineries the size of Bogle. If you are looking for quality wine at an affordable price that you can pair with your weeknight dinner and is always a reliable choice when you’re “out on the town” take a close look at the menu of Bogle wines. A good place to start is with Bogle Merlot. This is a very drinkable Merlot with notes of oak and slightly rounded edges because of its lower acidity and tannins, dry but not overly dry. Enjoyable flavor.