Wine Ink column: The changing of the seasons
October 17, 2018
It is still early October and my mountain lair in the Rockies is already covered in snow. I know it won't last, but I feel, somewhat simultaneously, a giddiness at this first frosting of the winter season to come, and a sense of melancholy for the summer season that has just passed.
Such is life on earth.
While we are turning from green to white (at least at 8,000 feet), and with the wine regions in the Northern Hemisphere winding up the harvest of the 2018 vintage, in the Southern Hemisphere the changes are just the opposite. In places like Stellenbosch in South Africa, the Barossa in Australia and Casablanca in Chile, the 2019 vintage is in its infancy. The spring green is just beginning and the vines are coming out of their dormancy as the workers are pruning and prepping their vineyards for the growing season.
That is the thing about wine: It never goes out of season. Thanks to the tilting of the earth and the balance of the planet, someplace south mirrors someplace north at the exact opposite time every year — kind of like it was planned.
I have written in this column on the influence of latitude on wines, that if you pick a latitude between 30 and 50 degrees north of the equator and travel around the world, you'll find the majority of this hemisphere's greatest wine regions. And for the most part, each is in the final days of the harvest season, if they have not already finished. The late-hanging, late-harvest varietals are the last picked, and on the snowy day in which I write this, just about everything that will be labeled as 2018 is in the barn, as they say.
But down south, in that same sweet spot, that same belt of beauty, if you will, between 30 and 50 degrees south of the equator, things are just beginning.
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In the 1980s or so, there was a group of winemakers who would travel from north to south and then south to north every year making wines in different regions. They were called "The Flying Winemakers" and the deal was that they could get in two vintages of experience in any given calendar year. At the time, particularly in the early days of the boom in the wine industries of the Southern Hemisphere, this doubling of experience provided a boost in knowledge and quality for the wines of the world.
Today, the wine world is both bigger, but in a different sense, smaller as well. As consolidation has taken place, there are many winemakers, who without the benefit of a cool moniker like The Flying Winemakers, find themselves spending as much time in airplanes traversing the equator as they do in vineyards. Yes, as the business of wine has become global, the world itself seems to have gotten smaller.
So what does this all mean to you as a wine consumer? The world. That is to say that as you enter your wine shop to look for a case to hold or a bottle to drink with dinner, you have the opportunity to buy fine wines from a plethora of places, from a variety of different grapes and from winemakers who have turned notions into passions into profits.
A good wine shop, even a middling wine shop, will carry bottles from both sides of the equator these days. Want a fresh sauvignon blanc from the 2018 vintage? There will be some arriving from New Zealand very soon. Yes, even before the end of the 2018 harvest here, there will be bottles on the shelves of the Kiwi wines harvested in Marlborough, New Zealand, in February and March of this year. So you know, the vintage, the birth year of a wine, is the date in which it was harvested. Not the release date.
Today your options as a consumer are, well, global. You can drink wines from wherever you want. And the quality of those wines, even at the lower price points, is better than ever before. Thanks somewhat in part to the experiences that have been shared by vintners working around the world, in both hemispheres, and conveying to each other the lessons they have learned.
So even on this snowy day in the Rockies in October, I can imagine a spring, even a summer place in the Southern Hemisphere, where the sun is shining, the heat is on the rise and grapes are beginning to cluster on the vines.
As Louis Armstrong sang, "What a wonderful world."
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.