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ICCWS: Cool climate wine gaining ground

Published:  01 June, 2016

Speaking at the Cool Climate Symposium (ICCWS) in Brighton last week, Oz Clarke said cool climate wines such as English and Welsh wines, could be the perfect antidote to the big, overripe wines.

And certainly, in the sales-speak of the wine business, the "cool climate wines" term is gaining gravitas.

"There is now an opportunity to place cool climate wines under one umbrella," says Davy Zyw, a wine buyer at Laithwaite's, a UK online drinks retailer.

A new survey of 1,000 of Laithwaite's customers shows cool climate wines were rated higher than other wines by "engaged customers". This finding presents the company with its own challenges as it contradicts the company's sales data; cool wines only account for 15% of the sales, Zyw says.

Laithwaite's says cool climates are sold at prices 25% higher than the average price of wines, which in Britain remains, according to Zyw under £6.

At the ICCWS, Kym Anderson, Professor of Economics at the University of Adelaide in Australia, however, recounted an example of the profit consequences of climate change: according to a study by Ashenfelter and Storchmann a degree increase in temperatures has increased gross earnings from Riesling by 30%.

Anderson says the world's warmer regions are increasingly emulating cool climate styles of a wine as way of obtaining higher prices.

He says cool climate wines are those made in locations that have with a maximum average temperature of 16 degrees celsius - one degree lower than the mean temperature of Bordeaux.

Some researchers say cool climate wines should be defined by acidity and Brix measurements of must in grapes.

Despite climate change, the number of cool climate grapes - about a fifth of the world's grapes in terms of prices and a seventh of grape bearing areas - have fallen because warm climate areas of viticulture have expanded.

Anderson says that although wine only represents 15% of global alcohol consumption compared to the figure of 40% in the 60s, there has been a consumer and commercial switch away from non-premium wines to popular premium and now to super premium wines, which cool wines could benefit from.

Zyw says that when placing cool climate wines on the market, it is not enough to say just cool climate wines, there is a need, in terms of sales, for excitement and a sense of place, hence the importance of identity.

Steve Charters from the Business School of Burgundy says Central Otago in New Zealand established itself successfully because of its territorial brand in which Pinot Noir producers accepted that a collective brand was more important than individual brands.

For cool climate wine producers with lower than average yields such as in the UK, there is however a need to adjust viticulture management techniques to temperature change to achieve better yields, to help ensure the production of vintages and their sales. Dr Hans Shultz, President of Geisenheim University, says there is evidence that temperature rise was only responsible for 18% of the 50% increase in grape yields reported in Germany since the two world wars.

In a clever piece of cool climate marketing, the best quality wines of the classification system of Austria now stand out with the red and white colours of Austria placed on the caps of wine bottles.

May we see emblems of Sussex on Sussex wines in the future?

In the age of globalisation and with emerging cool climate areas of viticulture, such as parts of China, Canada and Norway, where the most northerly vineyard is being planted, the term cool climate wines is for some a way of bypassing the false dichotomy of old and new world wines.

Asia markets expert, Debra Meiburg MW of Meiburg Wine Media Ltd, who is based in Hong Kong, says a hot climate is a great asset for the export of cool climate wines.

However, she says the challenge is how to make Asia fall in love with cool climate wines.

Southern china, with its fresh, delicate flavoured food culture, is where cool climate wines can sell, she reckons.

A rise in the listing of wine alcohol levels on restaurant menus around the world, favours cool climate wines says Christine Parkinson, wine buyer at premium Chinese food restaurant group Hakkasan.

"Cool climate wines go very well with our food - their price points are useful and they are a great source of variety, the only negative aspect is that they can be very challenging to describe."

A description of cold climate wines as "light, ultra refreshing and elegant wines," which usually have lower alcohol content and more acidity may not be enough.

In terms of placing wines on the market Canada, the next host of the 10th ICCWS in 2020, faces its own challenge over reaching a consensus regarding the approval of grape varieties.

Gillian Mainguy, manager of the marketing body, the Winery Association of Nova Scotia, Canada's emerging wine regions, describes the local situation as an "apartheid of grapes" - a political tussle between winemakers and sales teams over the planting of new grape varieties, disease resistant hybrids and rarer cold-hardy ones and the planting of international varieties which marketers people believe are easier to sell.

"We can make sparkling wine that's no problem, but for red wines we have an issue - we are more of a cold climate than a cool climate," says Jonathan Rodwell, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Devonian Coast Wineries Ltd in Nova Scotia.

Rodwell was intrigued by some of the rare cold-hardy varieties presented at the ICCWS by the Swiss botanist, grape genetics expert and wine writer, Jose Vouillamoz including Armenian Areni and the Russian Krasnostop Zolotovsky, the vines of which are buried in winter in order to survive.

"There is a rising demand for new varieties; if the authorities could relax the regulations on their importation, then the floodgates would open," says Rodwell.

In Germany, plantings of disease resistant hybrids are expected to double over the next few years. Despite a growing success locally, suppliers of hybrids complain of a lack of single market in Europe for hybrids that would facilitate trials of crossings in different climates and locations to analyse their capabilities.