Friday, November 1, 2013

Wine Shortage? Let’s Focus on Quality, Not Quantity


Languedoc, France, where "vine pull" has reduced acreage


It seems everyone is in a panic this week in response to Morgan Stanley Research’s report that a global shortage of wine was coming. “Data suggests there may be insufficient supply to meet demand in coming years, as current vintages are released,” says the report, according to various news sources.

With the bleak outlook for France’s 2013 harvest fresh in their minds, I was just picturing the hordes of wine aficionados running to the store to stock up their private cellars.

Many wine industry experts are dismissing this report, citing such facts as California’s record-breaking 2013 harvest and the stabilization of global wine consumption – it seems that while French citizenry’s yearly consumption has fallen sharply in the last decade, us thirsty Americans, and the Chinese, are picking up the slack.

You can throw statistics at the wine market and believe what you want … which is usually how these things work. You never really can predict how things will turn out, as weather and the economy can be so fickle.

I personally am choosing to believe that there has never been a better time to drink interesting, quality wines and there will always be wine for those who look for it.

Last week, in a French Wine Society (www.frenchwinesociety.org/) master class on the wines of southern France, I learned a bit more about what’s going on to contribute to the fears about a wine shortage.

Back in the late 1980s, a “Vine Pull Initiative” was introduced by the European Union specifically to reduce vine acreage in southern France and Italy, where a lot of table (and mediocre) wines were being produced. Subsidies were paid to winegrowers to “grub up,” or pull out, their vines. Economic pressures were severe enough by 2000 that many vineyard owners had a hard time making ends meet, as domestic demand decreased, and export prices fell.  Many vineyard owners – families who have grown in the same spots for centuries – opted to take the subsidy and in many cases replanted their acres with other crops, such as sunflowers, cereals, or olive trees.

But as old vines were pulled, in many cases they were replaced with better-quality grapes, which were much more suited to the geologically rich soils and climatic conditions prevalent there.

As a result, the Languedoc-Roussillon has become one of those areas of the world where quality wines are on the rise (reminding me of the Paso Robles and Santa Ynez communities in California). Championed by adventurous vintners with a strong sense of “terroir” – rooted in the soil, and nurtured by the sun and strong winds – their wines are modern yet also grounded in the deep history and sense of community that is prevalent in the area. In fact, a majority of vineyard owners process their grapes at coops, which allow them to share the cost and labor of wine production and marketing, furthering the social bonds. And, the region boasts the highest number of certified organic wine producers in France.

I tasted 52 wines different wines over two days from the Languedoc-Roussillon, ranging in price from $8 to $30, some of which were organic or biodynamic. I particularly liked the Chateau de Lancyre Rosé, the Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc, and the Domaine la Tour Vielle Rimage (the latter is sold at the wine House, www.winehoue.com, in West Los Angeles for about $20). Not all 52 them knocked my socks off, but I was impressed by the overall quality and was captivated by the stories behind each wine. It was like being in the south of France for those two days. 

Unfortunately, most wine stores don’t stock many wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon so shop around and browse online for deals. You might find a gem.

Until next time, à votre santé !

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