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TIMBER!!!

Friday, April 12, 2019

This week’s Blog is about the effect of climate change on our oak. There has been masses said and written about how climate change will/is affecting the growing of grapes – from research into new varieties, shifting AOC areas, allowing new varieties into AOC controlled areas and experimenting with emerging Mediterranean varieties here in Australia – BUT what about the oak forests? Like every other living thing, oak trees will be/are being affected by climate change. Think about it.

Imagine if your timescale from planting to harvest was around 100-150 years instead of 2-4 years as it is with grapes?  Holy carp Batman!

In France, USA and Hungary there is significant research happening in order to ascertain the impact of climate change and how they can best minimize it given their massive lead times. Upon ploughing through some of the reports, it seems that there are two major issues:

CO2: The increasing levels of CO2 appears to be spurring the trees to grow at a faster rate than previously and in some cases as high as twice the rate. This in turn leads to wood which might be weaker and less structurally sound. Also, this rate growth seems to lead the timber to have less “ellagitannins” (Yes, you can say that in public!), one of the tannins that plays a major role as an antioxidant, absorbing dissolved oxygen in the wine. Whilst the exact nature of the impact is not yet known, it will mean that the oak will interact differently with the wine in the future, so the wine will end up tasting slightly differently.

Less rainfall/more drought:  US research on their white oaks showed that the devastating drought of 2011-2012 lead to a significant loss of white oak trees in the areas affected. Added to this, research from the University of Kentucky showed that these white oak trees are not re-generating at the same speed as previously recorded.

So climate change is already having an impact on the oak industry, with much more and probably worse to come. This, at a time when both the whisky and wine industries, are all the time clamouring for more and more oak barrels.

In Hungary they are also having issues with harvesting the trees. They have to wait until the ground has frozen in winter before they harvest thus avoiding the muddy quagmires that are created by the autumn rains, and road repairs that end up costing more than what the oak is worth.

It just keeps on going! French tonnelleries say that the lower rainfall affects the seasoning of the staves, with less rain leading to “sappier” staves or leading to longer seasoning times, in order to avoid this sappiness. 

So given this challenge, we as an industry, need to maximize the efficiency of our oak usage so as to increase the likelihood that there will still be quality oak to be had in future generations. Luckily, massive strides have been made in recent times, to improve the efficiency of using up those trees. Starting with the much denigrated wood chips, then moving on to oak “beans” or cubes and onto staves/planks – which are so much more efficient than barrels, with all sides of the plank being in contact with the wine rather than just a single surface as in the barrel. We need to seriously look at our oak usage/regime not only from the conservation/supply side of things (before it becomes too late), but also from the cost side, as the price of oak is most likely to skyrocket over the next decade unless of course thousands of wineries stop making wine across the globe.

Give this some serious thought and come up with a plan for your part of this challenging future, which is viable and sustainable. I say, bring on the beans and planks for most wines!!

Cheers and enjoy sustainable quality wines!

THIS WEEK’S WINE REVIEW:

This week is all about the latest releases from McLaren Vale’s YANGARRA ESTATE VINEYARD ( Biodynamic/Organic). Whilst Halliday has raved about the 2017 OLD VINE GRENACHE and WBM has fawned over the 2018 NOIR (Grenache / Mourvedre / Shiraz / Cinsaut / Carignan / Counoise), I want to talk about all four of these new releases in the one hit.

I see a lot of great wines to review and it is exceptionally rare that I want to rave about ALL of the new releases by any one winery. Sure, there are often one or perhaps even two exceptional wines in the new release parcel I receive from a winery BUT never until now, four out of four exceptional wines!! This is a first for me.


Starting with the 2017 MOURVEDRE (I wish they would call it either Monastrell being its original Spanish name OR Mataro, the Aussie name for the variety – so much easier for consumers to remember and spell), this is one of the best Australian Monastrell I have tasted so far. Oh, so yummy! Perfectly balanced and silky smooth – AN ABSOLUTE RIPPER!!

Then there is the 2017 SHIRAZ which has big, blousy aromas of plums, red berries and a smidge of dried herbs. It has a gorgeous mouthful of ripe flavours, great balance with just the right amount of tannins and acid, with a lingering finish. This is not a Barossa style blockbuster Shiraz, it is sophisticated and svelte – A bloody gorgeous contemporary Shiraz!

The 2017 OLD VINE GRENACHE is a perfect advertisement for what Grenache can achieve when done right. It is not OTT, like the old fashioned ones were, nor picked too early so as to be thin, green and pissy, like quite a few “trendy” winemakers are now doing. This one is spot on the mark! From the very old vines planted in 1946, right through it has had mega TLC applied and it shows in the results. It is a bloody brilliant, world-class wine. No wonder Halliday raved about it.

Finally to my favourite, the 2018 NOIR, a very clever wine from the crossword on the front label that spells out the varieties involved in the blend, through to the thought and effort that must have gone in, to come up with such a smashing blend.


This is a cracking, bright, lively, juicy wine that teases and tickles the palate making it almost impossible to put the glass down. It is so fricking drinkable and as Anthony Madigan, editor of WBM said recently in TWTW: “The bottle’s empty before you know it. Too easy.”

By the way, they will need to redo the crossword when the just planted Muscardin and Picpoul Noir varieties come on line for this wine.

So there you have it! Four out of four new releases that would be in the high 90s IF I were to use that silly 100-point scoring system – which I don’t! Do your palate a favour and go to www.yangarra.com and check out these stunning wines, which really deserve your attention.

Cheers and have a great week enjoying superb wines!