When Less May Still Mean More

 The arid vineyards of Cariñena, Spain (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

The arid vineyards of Cariñena, Spain (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

There is such a variety of wines available in most retail markets around the world that it’s easy for us consumers to forget that wine is an agricultural product that is subject to the same forces of nature as any other food. Vintage variation affects different wines and wine regions to varying degrees, but it has an impact on all of us consumers, from affecting prices and availability to the final quality of a wine. And sometimes, when less wine is produced we still see quality going up.

The International Organization of Vine and Wine (known by its acronym OIV) keeps tabs on global wine production and late last week announced that 2016 will post a 5 percent drop in global wine production. The 2016 harvest wrapped up last March in most of the Southern Hemisphere, and now that we are in October, it’s pretty well complete in the Northern Hemisphere, complete enough to give us a picture of the year’s likely production. Five percent may not seem like a large drop but it is enough to make 2016 one of the three worst years since the turn of the century - from the standpoint of wine volume, at least. 

The harvest losses are not evenly spread out - Portugal suffered a 20 percent decrease while Romania, a very small but emerging producer, posted a 37 percent gain.

Why such variability? Many observers cite global warming (politicians may debate whether it’s real or not, but I’ve never talked with a wine maker who doubts its existence). Additionally, Europe, usually the top wine producing region, had a bad drought over much of its area. South America had an impact from El Niño that cut yields and a couple of very important areas like Burgundy had bad hail and frost issues in the Spring.

 The chardonnay harvest in the Champagne village of Oger (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

The chardonnay harvest in the Champagne village of Oger (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

Every year features ups and downs for grape growers - it is the rare year that offers a great harvest worldwide. And, it’s worth keeping in mind that decreased yields aren’t the same as a decrease in quality. Champagne, for example, had some disastrous weather in Spring and Summer, but there are indications the quality of the vintage may be very good. As my friend Fabrice Rosset of Deutz Champagne told me, the wine will tell us in its own time. That time is usually early in thenew year, after the still wines are made and tasted before they undergo the long process of the second fermentation in the bottle that puts those marvelous bubbles in our glasses.

It’s likely that those areas that had decreased production but increased quality will come to market at a higher cost, but there are always new and less well-known wine regions to discover, regions willing to take a smaller profit margin to advance their recognition. I’ll keep you posted on the best wines of 2016 and other recent vintages as they start to turn up in the market.