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POINT OF BREW -- Michael J. Lewis

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English Wine: A Rare Benefit of Global Warming.

Global warming and climate change are responsible for some odd things: expansion of wine making in England, for example.

My elder son Robert is a well-invested beer drinker. He has a lovely bar set up in his sports room, with a draft beer system that holds two pony kegs of different craft beers. The countertop bar handles advertise the choice available and the glassware is pristine, plentiful and shaped for ideal beer appreciation. Nothing could be improved. Robert is also a spirits drinker: he has a good appreciation of scotches and also gins although we differ profoundly on the choice of tonic for which (of course) only Schweppes will do.

Robert also maintains a rather fine wine cellar that comes into play at mealtimes.

But his main tipple is beer.

Hundred Hills glasses and snacks PicmonkeyImagine my surprise therefore when he turned up at our most recent family Friday afternoon Zoom-tails gathering with a glass of pink champagne. I thought maybe that he had lost it and that some serious family counseling might be in order. I therefore enquired about this oddity.

Turns out the origins of the story of the pink champagne date back to 2014 when our family enjoyed a week’s holiday together in a large house in the Cotswolds in the UK. That house incidentally was part of a complex of buildings that included a disused malt house and a working brewery that was powered by a waterfall. To reach this idyllic location we had to pass through parts of Oxfordshire where I have a cousin in Henley-upon-Thames, also, oddly enough, living in a charming old house converted from the stables of a former brewery (Brakespear) next door.

That visit also gave Robert the chance to call upon a friend from business school who, having made his fortune in something called Private Equity (whatever that is), now had to decide what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life.

The answer to that question turned out to be a winemaker --- and specifically a maker of sparkling wines in (of all places) southern England. And so we found ourselves tramping around a large acreage in rural England’s Stonor Valley being planted with wine grapes particularly those associated with the Champagne region of France and that style of wine. This is the Hundred Hills Winery. They have a splendid website.

We met and were charmed by the wine-maker Stephen Duckett and his wife Fiona and their hospitality, and were awed at the boldness of the venture and the latest equipment arriving on site. This was a clearly planned as an exquisite operation ready to make fine sparkling wines using traditional methods. In England!

That was nearly seven years ago. The wine is now being released and Robert had acquired a case of it, special delivery. He pronounced the wine excellent in every way and, except for the price of shipping, excellent value. It replaced his usual pint of beer at our Zoom-tail hour.

Global warming and climate change have had a similar effect in the United States brewing industry.

Barley acreage used to be common across the northern tier of our nation, in Montana, the Dakotas and Minnesota for example, but crops that formerly thrived in more southerly locations are now displacing barley. These invaders include wheat and soybeans and corn and, because these crops are more valuable than barley, farmers naturally prefer them.

This might be particularly true of those farmers who engage in the more risky enterprise of growing special barleys suitable for malting. If they miss malting grade they could be left with low profits selling lower-yielding barley varieties for feed grade prices.

As a result we do not now grow enough malting quality barley in the USA to fully support our own brewing industry. Thank goodness for Canada.

Growing grapes and wine making reached Britain in Roman times, mostly in the southerly regions of the country and persisted in those Elizabethan walled gardens that created suitable microclimates. However, because of such cool and wet weather, British wine has never amounted to much more than a peculiarity. Even these days, with a significant expansion of vineyard acreage in Britain, the volume of wine made is only some 1% or so of the total consumed.

Global warming has so changed the local weather that growing grapes on the chalky soils of the south of England is now an attractive farming option; it is significantly more profitable than e.g. wheat and so we can reasonably expect acreage to expand. The quality of the vintage is yet very variable compared to similar regions in France, for example, though continued warming may solve that problem.

I realize that local weather is determined by more than merely latitude, but it’s intriguing that Hundred Hills Winery, in a new wine district, is only about two degrees of latitude north of the Champagne district where they have made wines for a long time. That is the distance between Sacramento and Redding or about 150 miles. 

Nevertheless, the longer growing season and longer hours of daylight in these more northerly climes and the cooler weather causes the grapes to reach full phenolic ripeness with high acid content and modest sugar content. Wines made from them also have stronger aromas of the grape variety used which, taken together, have the potential to cause a good vintage for English sparkling wines to be a very good vintage indeed. 

And who know? With Brexit a wonderful business opportunity.

 

Michael J Lewis MUG Picmonkey

Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

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