Wine History Research - please help...

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Wine History Research - please help...

Postby David Rumsey » Fri Jul 14, 2006 3:06 pm

Hello -
I'm new to this forum but I think this is the place that I could get a little nudge toward some much needed wine history info.

I am currently doing some research on a project that is compiling the most important moments in the history of the weather. Not just huge disasters but also ways that weather has forced man to innovate and thus influenced our culture. Since complex weather combinations are what usually determines a particular vintage's quality - I am investigating if there are any instances in the anecdotal history of wine where a particularly strong year (in any region, though American might be best) had an ifluenced or inspired a chain of events that were greater than the wine itself. For instance is was there some "break out" vintage for Napa Valley that put the whole region on the global wine map. Or any was there some anomalous year in weather that produced a vintage so fine that it's value and desirability have inspired advances in wine making.

These are just ideas - I'm open to any fun story re: famous vintages or current trends that you think are important or even just some extraordinarily great "year" that you think made a difference.

You can respond here with any thoughts or check out my profile and drop me something more detailed.

I really appreciate any help you can give.
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jul 14, 2006 3:54 pm

One offbeat area are so-called "Comet Wines". As Brewer's Dictionary has it:

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.

Comet Wine.

A term of praise to signify wine of superior quality. A notion prevails that the grapes in comet years are better in flavour than in other years, either because the weather is warmer and ripens them better, or because the comets themselves exercise some chemical influence on them. Thus, wine of the years 1811, 1826, 1839, 1845, 1852, 1858, 1861, etc., have a repute. 1
“The old gentleman yet nurses some few bottles of the famous comet year (i.e. 1811), emphatically called comet wine.”—The Times.


Comet 1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) re-invigorated the thought -- 1995 was a very good vintage in certain areas. 1995 was the year of discovery, and the comet was visible for over 18 months -- perhaps affecting 1996 and 1997 vintages as well.

I've seen an interesting study comparing the dates of great vintages based on Broadbent's book of tasting notes and a list of prominent comets. If you have any interest, I'll dig out my copy.

One issue with the comet theory is exactly when the comet has its effect -- if any -- during the growing season, before the growing season or during the fermentation process. Wikipedia has a list of generally recognized Great Comets at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Comet

Regards, Bob
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Jul 14, 2006 4:00 pm

David Rumsey wrote:I really appreciate any help you can give.


David, one obvious direction of inquiry would be the 1982 vintage in Bordeaux, France, which was a long, warm summer that fostered ripe grapes that made big, California-style wines, then unusual for the region. It was that vintage that started the critic Robert M. Parker Jr. on his trajectory, as he loved the wines and wasn't shy about saying so, while his then-better-known contemporaries were more wary because the wines weren't typical of the region. It turned out that the American wine market loved the wines, and Parker's reputation was made. I expect Parker's much publicized influence on the wine market and wine making is well-enough known nowadays that his name is known outside the world of wine geeks.

Some might argue that the 2003 vintage in Europe, an even more torrid summer that produced almost bizarre wines, may ultimately mark the start of Parker's downhill slope. As he approaches retirement age and his tastes become increasingly controversial, his glowing ratings of many of the 2003s may eventually show up as the point where he became visibly out of step with a growing segment of the market.

Either way, though, 1982 and 2003 in France are two vintages in which exceptional weather made its mark.
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Thomas » Fri Jul 14, 2006 4:24 pm

David,

There is a theory that the Romans came to wine by way of a massive climate shift just at the time of the establishment of their republic, which warmed northern Italy.

I don't believe it is completely true that the weather created the Roman wine interest, but it is likely that such a change in the weather would have helped to stimulate or increase their interest, especially after having to pay dearly for Greek wines.
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Jul 14, 2006 4:48 pm

Further to your point, Robin, on how exceptional 2003 was: French records of grape-harvest dates in Burgundy were used to reconstruct spring-summer temperatures from 1370 to 2003 using a process-based phenology model developed for the Pinot Noir grape. Our results reveal that temperatures as high as those reached in the 1990s have occurred several times in Burgundy since 1370. However, the summer of 2003 appears to have been extraordinary, with temperatures that were probably higher than in any other year since 1370.

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/pubs/chu ... e2004.html

Another suggestion: glance at the history of wine at the UPenn site; it may give you some ideas: http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/exhibit ... intro.html

Finally, Robin recently posted an excellent review of "The Journal of Wine Economics" at http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/vil ... =economics

Orley Ashenfelter who is deeply involved in the publication has done a great deal of research in the area -- his work on the great Bordeaux vintage of 1945 (and elsewhere in Europe) is particularly interesting.
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby François Audouze » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:19 pm

A man who has studied the climate on centuries is named Emmanuel Leroy-Ladurie. By typing his name on Google, you could find some interesting studies. He has exploited the history of crops in Burgundy for 700 years.

He has explained the French revolution in 1789 by the climate in the two or three previous years which had destroyed a great percentage of the corn produced. So people were starving, and in that case, they blame the ones who govern.

There are precious data as Bob mentions which could help you.

I have drunk a wine of 1811, the year of the Comet.
As my knowledge on 1810 and 1812 is rather short, I am not sure that I can confirm the Comet effect :oops:
Old wines are younger than what is generally considered
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby David Rumsey » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:31 pm

Bob and everybody,
Thank you for taking an interest in this - I'm following the links and examining your ideas and they're all good options.

One of my colleagues unearthed something that Bob Ross' links mention that I really like : George Taber's Judgement of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine.

It's got some drama (and comedy) as a story and it's a good singular moment which is sort of the vibe of our project. Now we're trying o find some analysis of the Napa weather/climate conditions of the winning California wines that somehow contributed to their victories.

Anybody have some thoughts about that?
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Dave Erickson » Fri Jul 14, 2006 6:43 pm

Just one more anecdote, which has to do with Barolo and Barbaresco, those famous wines of the Piemonte in Italy. Beginning in 1994, the region produced a string of excellent vintages, right up to 2001, I believe. Whatever else this phenomenon did, it jacked up the price of Barolo from a fine wine at about $30 to a fine wine at $100-plus. Quality came down with a thump in 2002, but the prices are still stratospheric.
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Re: Wine History Research - please help...

Postby Alan Uchrinscko » Sat Jul 15, 2006 8:07 am

I would say as interesting as the Tasting is, it was a tasting not a vintage. It wasn't weather characteristics in of themselves that made it special. I think that 1982 Bordeaux or 2003 France/Europe are better. Less dramatic in some ways, but more important in terms of the relationship between wine and weather.

You could look at the 1998 Oregon Pinot Noir Vintage, wine scores, press and corresponding price increases in that vintage and the vintages that followed as another alternative.
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