It was impressive to watch last night as 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl dived into one of wine’s thorniest issues: the impact of climate change on grape growing.
Doubly impressive when you consider that the overwhelming majority of commercial winemakers are deeply reluctant to raise awareness of the climatic issues they face now with every vintage. To talk about the severe weather events of the current or a past vintage, the thought process goes, would be to threaten the harvest’s commercial viability. And it’s not an off-the-mark attitude: by the time vintage notes make it to the layperson consumer, who knows and probably cares little about the nuance of vintage or terroir, a stigmatized vintage can radically diminish the retail value of a given wine in the mind of the uninformed buyer.
I highly recommend checking out the broadcast, which — it’s important to note in my view — had the following subtitle: “Drawing truth to power.” (Wow!)
I was eager to watch the show last night because I had been contacted by the producers during the Christmas break: they wanted to use a photo of frost damage that they had found here on the blog.
Dario Vezzoli, the author of the photo and son of Franciacorta grower Giuseppe Vezzoli, swiftly agree to let them use it (thank you again, Dario!).
But I also told them that the person they needed to speak to was Alberto Cordero, legacy grower at the Cordero di Montezemolo winery in La Morra, Barolo.
Where so many producers have been extremely tip-lipped about the effect of climate change in Langa, Alberto has spoken openly about the challenges his estate faced with the April frost in 2017. He also graciously agreed to let the show use his photos. (Alberto’s wines are imported to the U.S. by Ethica Wines, one of my clients; see their post on the show here.)
As it so happens, we opened Alberto’s 2017 Barolo Monfalletto during our (ongoing) Christmas break. Besides the 1998 Giacosa white label Barolo Rocche Falletto that a friend brought to our holiday party this year, the Monfalletto was one of the best wines we tasted this year. It was surprisingly approachable, with great freshness and drinkability, elegant and nuanced with wonderful balance between the acidity, alcohol, and tannin. We — Tracie, me, and another couple — loved it.
The fact that Alberto and his family decided to release their top wine from the now infamous 2017 vintage reflects their confidence that they were able to make great wine from the 2017 harvest — maybe not as much wine but great nonetheless, as the bottle in question showed.
It brings to mind an adage often attributed to the great Montalcino winemaker Piero Talenti (I’ve never been able to verify if and/or where he said or wrote it): there are no “bad” vintages; there are simply vintages when we make less wine.
As Alberto pointed out in his newsletter in February of this year, the frost caused the most damage in lower-lying spots where the freeze really took hold. Top vineyards, like his family’s Monfalletto, were high enough to be spared.
For Christmas Eve, Tracie and I opened a bottle of the 2017 Produttori del Barbaresco, a classic “blended” Barbaresco, sourced from multiple vineyards in the historic cooperative’s family of parcels.
This wine, one of my all-time favorites, also showed beautifully. My only lament would be that the fruit was very restrained when we first opened it. We drank it over three nights (one of awesome things about top Nebbiolo) and by last night, it had come into glorious focus (paired with pork loin tacos, black beans, and 60 Minutes!).
It was another example of how 2017 will be remembered for both its challenges and its great wines.
I know the 60 Minutes show will be endlessly parsed in coming days. Although I found it to be well balanced, it could have also addressed issues like copper, the wine industry’s true “dirty little secret.” It also could have taken a closer look at the many excellent wines that are being released from 2017 and will be released from 2021.
There were other issues — mostly lacunae — as well. But I think it’s fantastic that the mainstream media is beginning to make “climate change and wine” part of the cultural conversation. Maybe some of the oil barons here in Houston will start paying attention when they realize that their precious wines are under threat.