The SW Summary: On atmospheric inversion layers, regenerative viticulture, unsold wine and uprooting in Bordeaux, and more

By Hanna Halmari
The impact of inversion layers in viticulture

In SevenFifty Daily Shana Clarke explores the impact of atmospheric inversion layers in viticulture. Under normal circumstances, air gets five to six degrees cooler with every 1000 feet of altitude. However, a temperature inversion is a layer in which air temperature increases with height. Such inversion layers can create unique conditions that contradict climatic norms.

Inversion layers can often be found in coastal and mountain regions. Clarke explains how many of the “most dramatic” inversion layers are formed from cold ocean waters. The ocean cools the surrounding air, lowering its density. This cooler, heavier air then remains under the warmer, lighter layer, thereby creating a temperature inversion. In mountain vineyards, inversions occur when cold air fills the valley floor, causing heat accumulated during the day to rise. This results in warmer night-time mountain temperatures whilst valley-level vineyards remain cool.

These inversions can have a significant impact on viticulture. Winemaker Sam Teakle at Captûre Wines in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA works on vineyards located at 2,500 feet and up. The bud break of the higher altitude vines is often three weeks behind the valley floor vines. However, the “vines catch up, maturity-wise,” thanks to the cooler days and warmer nights created by the inversion layer. The smaller diurnal shifts in the mountain areas means the higher altitude vines have “fewer days, but more hours in the day to achieve physiological ripeness.”

Coastal vineyards benefit from the moderating influence of the moist cold air mass of the inversion layer, as well as the fog it creates. Fogs blanket vineyards and block sunlight, thereby helping maintain consistently cool temperatures. Read more here.

Increased resilience through regenerative viticulture 

In the drinks business Patrick Schmitt discusses why so many major wine producers are embracing the concept of regenerative viticulture. Regenerative agriculture aims to increase the carbon stored in the ground through principles such as minimised soil disturbance, crop diversification and livestock integration. Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, trustee at the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation, an organisation created to promote regenerative approaches in wine, stresses the crucial need to restore agricultural soils. 

With no stringent rules or practices, a regenerative approach is applicable to any farming philosophy. “It is about trying as much as possible to create a complex, balanced, diverse ecosystem of life in the vineyard by working with natural forces,” says Justin. It’s an approach that goes beyond organic, as even certified organic vineyards can degrade soils through heavy copper use. 

Not only can a regenerative approach improve soil health, but it can also reduce input costs and increase the resilience of the vineyard. Numerous large-scale producers are embracing regenerative practices, including Jackson Family Wines, Moët Hennessy, Concha y Toro, and Torres. Mimi Casteel of Bethel Heights in Oregon points out how permanent ground cover in her vineyards and no tilling kept the soils wet and therefore cooler during a recent heatwave.

Jamie Goode, author of Regenerative Viticulture, emphasises the need for large-scale producers to transition to regenerative: “If this approach to farming is going to make big impact, then it’s not just something we want rich people to do on a small vineyard for wines selling for $100 a bottle – it’s also for big farms selling wine at €1 per litre.” Read the full article here.

Bordeaux in crisis: Unsold wines and uprooting

In Politico Giorgio Leali reports on the struggles of Bordeaux winemakers. A decline in red wine consumption, falling demand from China, and climate change have all affected the wine region, leading to an overproduction problem. Many winemakers are set to uproot their vines in return for compensation as part of a national program, with French authorities offering around €6,000 in compensation per hectare removed. As overall production is reduced through the program, “public funds will also be used to turn unsold wine into industrial alcohol.”

Exports to China, Bordeaux’s top export destination, have still not climbed back to pre-Covid levels and domestic sales are also on the decline as French consumers are drinking less wine. Many surveys predict that beer sales may surpass wine in French supermarkets for the first time this year. Climate change also plays a role in the Bordeaux crisis. Longer and hotter summers are driving consumers away from red wine, with many opting for lighter and more refreshing drinks. The typicity of Bordeaux wines are also at risk, as higher temperatures could “render traditional Bordeaux wines too alcoholic and tannic” and drive longtime consumers away

Whilst grand cru Bordeaux wines are still selling, the demand for entry-level red wines has fallen significantly. Stéphane Gabard, owner of a 40 hectares vineyard in Bordeaux, notes how top-shelf Bordeaux can at times be found on sale for €2 a bottle at supermarkets. Such prices are “a loss of value and a loss of image for all the winegrowers who try to promote the Bordeaux brand,” he laments.

Faced with rock-bottom prices, many winemakers are opting to uproot instead of continuing production. Gabard plans to uproot around 10 hectares. “We have problems selling all we produce, and prefer to reduce the volume of production, to bring it in line with what we are able to sell,” he says. Read the full article here.

“All the rules we learnt don’t work any more”

So says Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, chef de cave of Roederer, when asked about climate change. In Wine-Searcher Margaret Rand discusses how the Champagne house is adapting, highlighting its recent decision to end the production of non-vintage. Consistency is no longer key. Instead, Roederer will launch Collection, a multi-vintage wine, “with every iteration being different, according to the nature of the base year and the reserve wines used to balance.”

“We have enormous tools against climate change,” says Lecaillon, pointing to white grapes as an example. Chardonnay, which was 40% of the blend of Brut Premier, will be the main grape in Collection, due to its slower ripening time. Trial plantings of Petit Meslier, Arbane and Pinot Blanc – all typically difficult to ripen – are also underway. Blending remains a crucial tool, but as Lecaillon points out, “it’s a different vision of blending.” Consistency is no longer the aim: “Of course there will still be single-vineyard wines, but there is a resilience in multi-varietal, multi-terroir wines.” The focus is on “making the best possible wine every year.” Read more here.

SWR Logo

Sustainable Wine is the free online magazine of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR).

Join 70+ companies in collaborating to define sustainable wine. Click below for details.

Find out more

About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.