This issue heads to press at the end of a decade of startling change. It will reach you at the beginning of a new decade, one guaranteed to exceed the dynamism of the last. In the 2010s, the change we all may remember was the shifting climate, whether it drove us from our homes in hurricanes or wild fires, submerged our cities’ subways or chased our fish to another part of the ocean, or simply to a memory of the fish that once thrived.
The wine community anticipates the vagaries of climate with each passing vintage. Those shifts might create existential issues for an individual grower, with vines devastated by hail or frost, but rarely in the recent past have they created existential challenges for an entire region—or opportunities for vines where they never grew before. One such place is the far-western reaches of the Sta. Rita Hills, where Patrick J. Comiskey reports on new wines from a climate once too marginal to be commercially viable for syrah. Those new opportunities arise even as growers in regions we consider classical, from Bordeaux to Napa Valley, are faced with new planting and marketing challenges.
Michelle Bouffard, a journalist in Quebec, organized her second conference on Tasting Climate Change this past November, gathering researchers from around the world to consider the challenges presented, the viticultural solutions on the horizon, options to sustain contemporary vineyards and opportunities that climate trends have encouraged. It was among the most thought-provoking wine conferences I’ve attended, and I share one theme on viticulture in the lead to our news section. We have also shared a video of Pascaline Lepeltier MS, MOF and her talk on sustainability in a healthful restaurant, which Bouffard provided for our website.
While growers seek new, creative adaptations to climate trends, there is also an efflorescence of vines and styles from the past. We present two special reports in this issue: Stephanie Johnson considers the return of a great volcanic white wine—Soave—and reviews some of the best new releases, while Tara Q. Thomas reports on Rancio Sec, a historic category effectively killed by 20th-century Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée laws, now undergoing a renaissance.
You may well ask, is that renaissance driven by cultural or climatic change? It’s a question that extends to other wines, once fortified by British merchants shipping wine during Europe’s Little Ice Age, now reimagined without added alcohol. There’s the return of unfortified Port (labeled as Douro table wine), which began in earnest in the 1990s, as well as contemporary explorations of unfortified wines in Jerez and Marsala. It’s fascinating to consider how contemporary viticulture and climate may be drivers for the return of these wines to their unfortified roots.