Vol 3 No 13…an American tragedy…

(It has been over a month since the last post…mea culpa…partly this was due to the hurricanes and the destruction they brought that put TB in a funk. Will try to be more prompt and get back to the ‘every other week’ pace. TB)

TB doesn’t want to overemphasize the disaster in Napa and Sonoma counties, but it is a big deal, perhaps second only to Houston in damage, much of which cannot be measured.

First, having lived in the Bay Area for 29 years before moving to Minnesota seven years ago, I have visited scores of wineries and gotten to know many in the wine industry. My book project on the passion these people have for what they do, brings to light their hard work…and let’s not romanticize it: it’s farming (don’t take TB’s word for it, Joe Heitz was the one who said it to TB thirty years ago)!

Many of them came from the Midwest and were farmers, others, as my friend Lane Tanner puts it: “were bitten by the bug and when that happens you’re done.”

As much damage was done to the vines, wineries, and their homes, the growth in population, fueled by both the tourist industry where many are employed, and a place where retirees see an Eden to spend their twilight years was a key factor in the loss of homes and lives, especially in Sonoma County in and around Santa Rosa.

There is much confusion due to the massive size of these fires. For instance, they refer to the one with the huge perimeter that has destroyed much of Santa Rosa as the ‘Tubbs Fire”…huh? Aren’t they talking about the wrong fire? Actually, no. The Tubbs fire stretches from Tubbs Lane just to the north of Calistoga, over the Napa range along the Petrified Forest Highway and then down to Santa Rosa. That fire is bigger in area than all other fires in the state, which includes the Orange County fire combined!

I am grateful that none of the properties owned by friends were affected, but then, it isn’t over yet. Nearly 30 are known dead, and over 60 still missing (owing to the destruction of landmark hotels in Santa Rosa and since those were tourists, likely most, if not all scattered but there are still those who were trapped in their homes.

The last fire in the Santa Rosa area was in 1964, and note that there were no fatalities…zero! So you can see the impact of growth. Of course the high winds, with gusts to 70 mph were a major cause of dissemination. Firefighters say that embers were blown ahead of the fire for one to three miles…making it impossible to control or predict where it would strike.

Consider California coming off a 500 year drought! Then the rains of early this year caused the valleys and hillsides (I drove from Orange County to Seattle in mid-February), to be the most beautiful I have ever seen them…and now this.

While it was green and beautiful, it came at the expense of mudslides, especially in the Santa Cruz area where you had to zigzag on surface streets to get from US 101 to Santa Cruz since the main (and only) highway connecting the two was inundated in a mudslide that took more than a month to recover from. Also, there are some great vineyards and wineries stretching from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. North of there, in the flat between the coastal range and the Carrizo plain to the east, the vineyards are flat and looked like a swamp. While this concerned me, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon noted that before budbreak it isn’t problematic. Still, I can’t help but think the wines from the area north of Paso to Greenfield, which is solid vineyards, would not be producing very good wine. For 2017,wines you are going to have to be very careful, and might want to pay attention to ratings before you buy (can’t believe I just wrote that!). Besides the rains, many areas suffered early frosts, then came the record-breaking heat, most notably in Napa Valley.

Twelve days above 100 degrees with no cooling at night, as Napa Valley traps in the heat, normally a good thing, while to the west and atop Howell Mountain there was some relief. Look for wines from there this vintage. Smoke taint is certainly a risk but over 90% of the grapes had been picked…the holdouts being some of the big cabs and zins, so you will have to be careful with these. In addition, to the record number of days, the highest temperature recorded was 115 degrees! Not good for wine…especially whites, pinot noir and merlot which are cooler climate grapes.

The combination of rain making the valley lush, then frosts, then the searing heat which dried out all that new greenery as well as the accumulated dead brush from the drought, was a prescription for disaster.

Here is another thing I bet you didn’t think of: with a lot of grapes in fermentation, they need to be tended to daily. Judd Finkelstein, whose father was a widely respected winemaker at Whitehall Lane, and owner of Judd’s Hill Winery, just off the Silverado Trail to the west of the Atlas Peak burn, had no damage but his winemaker had to be escorted in to tend to the fermenting wine, called my attention to this in an email to friends of the winery. How much wine that is in inaccessible areas will be lost? A pity.

While California took the brunt of it, Oregon and Washington were also impacted with fires. Note that all these fires are occurring at a time that fire crews are usually disbanding. This was particularly true in Washington where the largest burn was caused by a teenager setting off fireworks in the forest! It is likely that some of the California fires were due to human negligence, however the high winds toppled trees causing power lines to collapse setting off several fires.

Hopefully, while you are sipping your wine you will think of the wine people and also of those who lived nearby and are now homeless.

Lastly, a political statement, but one that shouldn’t be: there can be no doubt about climate change. First, we had 95% or more of the scientific community signing off on it, with most (all?) of the dissenters being shills for the energy industry and others. This is not from me but a friend with the National Academy of Sciences and of Engineering. Nothing new here…he told me this a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Trump and Co., including Secretary of State Tillerson (who, by the way was made a member of the National Academy of Engineering about five years ago for his work on fossil fuels), who while CEO of EXXON denounced climate change along with the rest of his company, despite funding many scientific studies which proved just the opposite. When challenged on this the company released all internal communications (what the hell were they thinking?), and the proof was shown that while they were denouncing it, the very studies they funded showed it to be real.

TB doesn’t know whether you believe in climate change, but if you don’t, and with the leadership (sic) of Trump, we do nothing, what will you tell your grandchildren when they bear the consequences of our inaction? Good luck on that one! I would like to add the climate change in Europe where Burgundy and Bordeaux had a huge disaster of a harvest. One winemaker in St. Estephe has predicted that in ten years there will be no more merlot!

A friend told me he was going to the wine country next week! I said, “still?” He said he was and going to both Napa and Sonoma. I tried to talk him out of it, and may have, saying they don’t need tourists there now. I added that IF he is still going he should focus on the Dry Creek and the Alexander Valley, both just out of Healdsburg and north of the fires, and further north the Anderson Valley, all of which produce some great wines.

Condolences to those who have lost their homes, or have friends or relatives that have had their lives torn apart by this catastrophe…also to the hurricane victims who continue to suffer.

Trader Bill

(c) traderbillonwine.com

 

 

 

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Vol 3 No 12…there is no global warming, got it? …and no climate change…sheesh!

Pardon, TB’s tongue-in-cheek slug for this blog, but he has had it with the naysayers. This was prompted by Hurricane Harvey but it goes deeper than that…much deeper.

First, the scientists who noted the rapid rise (not to the naked eye) in global temperatures, saw a problem: never in recorded history had the temperatures risen that rapidly and 2016 was the hottest year ever – globally! Then came the naysayers…mainly pseudo-scientists and as my good friend who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

Years ago I asked him about climate change and he said that the only scientists that didn’t believe it was occurring were shills for the energy industry…the same ones who said smoking wasn’t bad for your health. I believe we wouldn’t have so many who disagree if it hadn’t been Al Gore who created the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

So TB is always asking winemakers if it is occurring and not one…zero, zip, zilch…has refuted it. Now remember, these guys, like all farmers, keep records of daily temperatures, highs, lows, frosts, freezes, heat waves, rain…you name it…so when they say it is happening…trust me, it’s happening!

Now let’s go back to Katrina: made landfall August 29th, 2005 in New Orleans…almost exactly twelve years ago. Scientists noting the ice melting at the poles (note the recent break-off in Antarctica that is bigger than Manhattan!), predicted that rising sea temperatures…remember we began losing the ozone layer decades ago and that protected the earth from high temperatures…that rising water temp in the Caribbean would create more intense hurricanes…of course they were scoffed at by people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and joined by the conservatives of today who make the Reagan Republicans look like liberals. (Interesting that after Katrina the evangelicals were saying it was because God had brought this on them due to their morals…have you heard a single comment like this about Harvey? Perhaps God’s aim was a wee bit off…or was he punishing the big oil companies headquartered in Houston?…just askin’…)

In 2016, we were on a trip to Spain and Portugal followed by a wine cruise of southern and eastern Spain. I wanted to go to Madeira (which I highly recommend…an incredibly beautiful island), so while we were in Lisbon we took a day trip there. On the plane, out of boredom I was thumbing my way through EasyJet’s Traveller, inflight magazine (April 2016) and ran across this article: Can Bordeaux Survive the 21st Century? Obviously it caught my eye: “Last summer (2015) ,was the second hottest on record in France. If temperatures continue to rise, the nation’s most famous wine-producing region could be in serious trouble.” Aha, you say…Al Gore again…’fraid not, skeptics. The story was an interview with Arnaud Lasisz, assistant winemaker at Château Pape Clement, which dates back to 1252 and is a grands cru Bordeaux. The blend there is 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. 60% of the left bank vines – all of the original 1855 classification chateaus are located here – are Merlot…a grape that cannot tolerate intense heat.

“Within 20 or 30 years, Merlot will ripen in August (as opposed to late September or early October,” according to Dr. Kees van Leeuvwen, of the National School for Agricultural Sciences in Utrecht, “that will clearly compromise the quality of the wines, because they will lack freshness and have too much alcohol.”

So…what to do? In the nearby Médoc, they have planted 52 alternative varieties of vines to see how they cope with the higher temperatures. They are also abandoning tractors and replacing them with Breton plough horses at some of the chateaux in order to reduce the carbon footprint and within ten years will be biodynamic. Believe it or not, a three-quarter ton plough horse leaves less of a footprint than a tractor.

Now that TB has established the reason global warming is in this blog, let’s look at some of the effects and some of the bad players. First, Harvey occurred at a time where the sea temperature was six degrees above average – SIX! This is what scientists warned about and it is coming to pass. Some will argue that the 900 year drought in California followed by massive rains this year was just a fluke…or the increase in intensity and number of tornadoes…or the increases in flooding in low lying areas of the southeastern states. Let them…they are simply wrong. As stated earlier it is not in the interests of the petroleum companies to admit to global warming. Just this week a report was written that Exxon Mobil (you do recall the Exxon Valdez, right?), had been privately funding research while publicly denying climate change. Why? Because the cause of it is the rapid increase in man made carbon emissions from ….fossil fuels! In an act of Chutzpah, they took their denials to a new level: they challenged researchers to look at all their internal memorandums and the studies and see for themselves…bad move, because they were taken up on it and oh-oh…they lied…through their teeth for years. In May, the company agreed to activists to reconsider the effects of climate change on their assets…and a class-action lawsuit has been filed charging them with overvaluing their reserves in light of the problem. TB wonders if anyone told Rex Tillerson about this??? Naw…he knew nothing.

Looking around, sparkling wine grapes were harvested in early August in California, earliest on record, Burgundy had horrible hailstorms and weather, Italy has its worst drought on record and the smallest harvest in decades, Oregon and Washington are suffering from record high temperatures with effect on grapes uncertain.

Honk if you believe there is climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, and if you don’t, ask yourself this: what are you going to tell your grandchildren, when they ask why everything is dying?

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken…

TB

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