Features Grapes

Published on February 7, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Here’s some bad news: The world is facing a shortage of wine

Cheers spoke to Lanchester Wines’ head of sales Mark Roberts, about what wine lovers can expect from the 2017 harvest

When pouring a glass of your favourite wine, it can be easy to forget that the grapes it’s made from are an agricultural crop. As with any living element, these crops need the right growing environment to thrive – too hot and they die, too cold and they die, too wet and they die… you get the picture.

Fires, floods, frosts and devastating heatwaves. It sounds like the stuff of biblical tales, but unfortunately these are the factors which have affected 2018 wine harvests across the globe.

Grapes in France were damaged by unseasonal spring frosts and then heavy hail – the grapes become bruised and unusable. This is an historic low, 16% lower than the five-year average and worse than 1991.

In Italy, these devastating spring frosts struck again and were combined with isolated hailstorms and a heatwave known as ‘Lucifer’ resulting in one of the country’s smallest wine harvests for 60 years in 2017, down by 25% on last year.

Spanish harvests are down 20% from 2016 thanks to the combination of frost and drought. Frosts in Rioja caused volumes to be down by between 25 – 40%.

The German harvest is expected to be 18% down on the previous year after April frosts damaged crops.

California experienced the worst wildfires in decades decimating vines across the Sonoma wine region while a Napa heat wave hit 47°C seriously damaging grapes.

South African yields are likely to plummet by up to 50% this year due to drought on the Western Cape. Most of the industry’s large irrigation dams are only 30 to 40% full meaning wine grape producers’ water resources were cut by up to 60% and they could not fully meet their vines’ water demands.

Earthquakes in New Zealand (November 16) resulted in millions of litres of wine lost and estimates that up to a fifth of storage vats were damaged.

The list goes on. Combined, these unfavourable conditions saw the 2017 vintage at the lowest level of production since 1961, down 16% on 2016, resulting in an estimated 3 billion bottles less wine available to buy or source.

And, when a commodity is in demand, the price increases. This unfortunately means the price of the glass of wine in your hand will increase – but this isn’t the fault of your bar manager, nor is this the fault of the wine importer (like us), or even the winemaker. It’s just a case of circumstance beyond anyone’s control.

And, it’s not just wine. At the start of the year, two of the UK’s biggest brewers (AB InBev and Molson Coors) announced they were putting prices up 2.3% and 2.4% respectively.

The winners
But, there are some winners in this tale of woe, namely Eastern Europe. Countries such as Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria may not be front of mind when it comes to wine producing, but in fact they have a rich heritage of viticulture.

For example, the history of Moldova’s wine dates back to 3000 BC with the first vines found 700BC. As part of the Russian Empire, Moldova’s wine making flourished when the country supplied wine to the Russian Imperial family and indeed most of Europe during the phylloxera epidemic.

We work with wineries from Moldova’s Central zone known as the ‘Codru’ region where 60% of the country’s vineyards are found. The forests, hills and rolling countryside typical of this region protect the vineyards from winter frosts and dry summer winds.

There is also a famous microclimate zone in this region – the Romanesti – which produces the best white and sparkling wines.

Tips – Try something new
Its unfortunately inevitable that the price of your favourite tipple is going to rise, but the smart drinker will see this as a great opportunity to try something new. Whether that’s a different style of wine or merely switching to a new wine region, there are plenty of options.

Over the last three years, Moldovan Pinot Grigio has become one of our best sellers – particularly across the North East! We took the strategic approach to change our supplier which meant not only did we maintain the same price of wine, but we found the wine was a better quality. Great result all round!

We’ve also changed our Malbec from the traditional Argentinian wineries to new Chilean partners – same great wine, same great price. And we have an excellent non-Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Trying new wines is fun. Wine should be fun. There are no rules to how you drink it, where you drink it or what you should enjoy – so jump in with two feet and take a chance on something different.

Each of the wines mentioned in this article are available at pubs and bars across the North East via Lanchester Wines. Ask your bar staff for more details. 


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Alastair Gilmour



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