Is Icewine’s future melting?


As with anything, a sudden change or break from the norm sparks global interest. So, when the news broke this past weekend that 2019 will forever be known as the first non-existent ice wine or Eiswein harvest in Germany’s viticulture history, all I could think of was how devastating this situation is on so many levels. I really enjoy Eiswein. The first time I tried it, I remember savoring every last, golden drop, not simply out of enjoyment but also because I knew how much effort went into creating this liquid marvel.

Let’s be honest, Eiswein is not something that everyone indulges in on a regular basis. It’s expensive and it’s sweet. I prefer to save it for a special occasion. However, what if we don’t even have the option of enjoying this amazing wine in future simply because humans are causing global warming? It’s the truth, whether we want to admit it or not. Now, we’re facing a true environmental apocalypse and we have only ourselves to blame.

So, what’s the impact of not having an ice wine harvest? Even though it accounts for only 0.1% of Germany’s total wine harvest, it’s still an indicator of things to come. If 2019 marks the year of the failed ice wine harvest…what will 2020 bring and 2021 and 2022…? Is this the beginning of the end of the vitis vinifera we currently know and love? As temperatures are increasing, this will dramatically change the growing season for wine grapes. Bud break will start earlier, thus leading to earlier harvests. More dramatic and unpredictable weather will make it more difficult to plan vineyard spray routines (hopefully organic or biodynamic), thus leading to increased disease and damage to grapes. If temperatures increase, then sugars in the grapes themselves will develop faster, which will lead to earlier harvests. As a result, the shorter time on the vines will prevent the grapes from developing full varietal characteristics, thus resulting in wines that are not very appealing.

Is my thinking all doom and gloom? Well, yes, to be quite frank. Current changes in weather patterns and seasonal temperatures are are clear indicators that the Earth is not as healthy as it once was. Smoke taint as a result of forest fires is not a desirable aroma in your wine. Lower acidity as a result of hotter days are going to impact the freshness of a wine and its ability to age. Will fermentations have to be cut short to prevent increased alcohol levels due to an abundance of sugar? Will we begin planting vineyards at higher altitudes on North facing slopes, thus clear cutting more forests and destroying more ecosystems in pursuit of our selfish desire to preserve our precious glass of vitis vinifera?

Where do we simply pause and say enough! We need to put the Earth’s needs first!

I think we still have quite a ways to go. This past weekend I attended the Decanter Spain and Portugal Fine Wine Encounter at the Landmark Hotel in London. I’m keen on learning about wine and getting the opportunity to speak directly with the representatives themselves and was eager to ask them one question…

How is your vineyard farmed?

Well, I soon realized that this is the taboo question. One representative even turned bright red. I was shocked! Some representatives tried to convince me that they’re using some organic principles, but I know that this is complete nonsense. You either farm organically or biodynamically and focus on the well being of the Earth, or you use pesticides and continue destroying nature. I thought that more vineyards would be farming organically and biodynamically, as this is the trend in Oregon’s wine industry where I worked. After a few tastings and not finding any organic wines, I was feeling pretty frustrated. Eventually, I found a producer who poured me a glass of Bodegas y Viñedos Casa Del Valle, Valdelagua’s 2019 wine from Castilla La Mancha made with 90% Syrah and 10% Monastrell grapes that were farmed organically!!!

That was the only organic wine I tasted during the entire event and there were 48 exhibitors present, each with approximately 5 or more wines to show. Finding only one organic bottle was really disappointing!

Here in lies the problem. We as consumers dictate the market. If we want to promote organic and biodynamic viticultural practices, then we need to purchase those wines! If more people join this bandwagon, then quite possibly we can encourage vineyards to clean up their act faster so that in 20 years time we will be able to savor a 2040 German Eiswein!