Wine,Wine Making,Wine Writer,Winemaker

Who’s more responsible for higher alochol wines: Mother Nature, Wine Critics, or Winemakers?

Mother Nature Argument

Anyone who doesn’t believe in global warming yet surely has his or her head buried in the sand. Blame it on the natural way of the world and/or human intervention… it’s happening. I saw a comparative image this past week, and I thought, “Well, I wonder if my cousin will still say that it doesn’t exist?” like she did a few years ago. What I never realized until today is that this has been going on since the beginning of the industrial revolution. This image won’t be completely understood, unless you watch this really well produced, graphical video of the earth’s oceanic and land mass changes from 1880 to the present. World of Change Global Temperatures


“The world is getting warmer. Whether the cause is human activity or natural variability—and the preponderance of evidence says it’s likely humans—thermometer readings all around the world have risen steadily since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”

What this tells me, as the demand for having “stuff” continues (because nobody wants to stop having “stuff”) is that there’s no real end in sight, unless humanity all of a sudden got its collective act together.

So, can winemakers use a more Mother Nature approach and continue to make balanced wines? I’m beginning to hear more and more winemakers say that they’re now doing some picking by acid levels, rather than brix levels. That might be one solution.

Wine Critics and Winemakers

When I began to really enjoy wine, which was once I moved to California, the wines of the early 1990s were primarily 13.5 percent alcohol. Having my first “real” job being in the wine business, I quickly learned that as soon as a wine hit 13.5 percent alcohol, winemakers quit with that level… Then I learned a little secret. Winemakers are allowed to fudge it a bit.

One commenter on blog recently gave me a great link that lays out rules and regulations. Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.

So, if an alcohol really hit 14 percent, they could still put 13.5 percent on the label. One of the main reason winemakers didn’t want to hit that 14 percent was because that’s where the tax on the wine was going to go up. So, for economic purposes, wine’s alcohol was restrained.

Once a few fruit bombs got some great scores, and they were red wines with alcohols that exceeded the 13 percent rule, could other winemakers have also actually followed suit, chasing the potential dream? There is an argument for that that exists.

Over the years, ever so slowly, alcohol levels have been creeping up. Recently having a 14.7 percent alcohol Napa Valley Viognier put me right over the edge. Viognier, when the alcohol is in the 13 percent range, has deliciously floral aromas and flavors. This one was just over-the-top “hot,” with nothing of the varietal character left to enjoy. I should have ordered a shot of tequila and just been done with it, is how I’ve come to view that one.

With high wine scores being given to wines with higher percents of alcohols, are there some winemakers only pandering to achieving high scores and leaving finesse and elegance behind, and embracing higher alcohol in he process to get a score that will sell the wine off the shelves, guaranteeing them job security?

What do you think?

Who’s going to have the final say?

Will winemakers who are more concerned with artistic license continue to find ways to keep their wines in balance and deliver delicate wines that pair well with foods, are wine critics going to rule what we are enjoying with hot wines, or is it purely global warming and we’re all invited?

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20 Responses to “Who’s more responsible for higher alochol wines: Mother Nature, Wine Critics, or Winemakers?”

  1. gdfo says:

    Balance. Balance. Balance.

    In the end, it is the winemaker who makes the choices that determine the style of the wine that goes into the bottle and goes on sale.

    As I remember the general taste profile preference of most USA wine drinkers is slightly on the sweeter and fruitier side than the older style-old world wines. That being the case, that also means riper fruit and higher alcohol.

    I am not opposed to wines that have higher alcohol that also have the balance to go with it. I just might not drink them or drink less of them.

  2. gb says:

    Agreed, balance is key to any wine, this bringing intergration of all components. The profile or how the wine is made lends more to a styalistic choice. This also is dependent on mother nature and the winemaker.

    Critics are human, like all tasters, our palates are all different but an experienced tasters palate is just that, Experienced.

    To know wine is to experience wine, over and over. All wines from around the world, all styles, all levels of many componenets.

    Intergrated components in a balanced wine of any style will just taste good.

    Experienced palates will just be able to define why…

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Good points.

  4. Bob Webster says:

    I do not know who is responsible for higher alcohol wines, but I can categorically refute the claim that ‘the preponderance of evidence says it’s likely humans.”

    Even the IPCC has backed off most of its claims, particularly after a recent thorough review determined that many of the papers used were NOT peer reviewed as had been thought.

    Papers were taken directly from environmental activists without any attempt to verify information that appears to simply have been entirely made up!

    But far more convincing is a realistic look at the variable nature of climate and the known historical record (certainly NOT the fiction that produced the discredited and infamous “hockey stick”). Global temperatures have been slowly rising for several hundred years, at a rate of approximately 1° C per century. Now, isn’t that odd … that humans have at most been producing large amounts of CO2 for 50-60 years, yet global average temperatures have been trending higher for several centuries! There is no evidence that the long term rate of increase has materially changed over the past 60 years. In fact, the trend of global temperature shows no evidence of warming for the past 15 years (since 1997)!

    Indeed, one of the coldest climate episodes over the past 600 million years began with a global climate temperature plunge of 10° C as atmospheric CO2 was RISING from 4000 ppm to 4500 ppm. When that “snowball earth” period ended about 20 million years later, global temperatures soared 10° C as atmospheric CO2 was FALLING from 4500 ppm to 3000 ppm (a drop of four times the current total atmospheric CO2!).

    Finally, it is worth noting that the greenhouse effect theory is just that … a THEORY! Historical evidence suggests the theory has some major flaws (note evidence above). It has yet to be proven or even demonstrated that CO2 from human activity has a discernible impact on climate. That is the missing elephant in the IPCC zoo.

    Claims of human causation are not scientifically-based. Until they are, winemakers can rest assured that the alcohol content of their product is not at all related to how many people drive SUVs.

    Bob Webster
    Editor, Publisher

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Bob.

  6. Stuart says:

    An esteemed Barossa wine maker told me that he thought that higher alcohol levels were caused by more efficient yeast strains rather than by global warming.

    If a winemaker wants high or, for that matter, low(er) alcohol then he or she can choose a suitable yeast strain.

    PS “alochol”?

  7. David Graves says:

    To Bob Webster:
    Your post is so full of hooey I don’t know where to start. But I will attempt to correct a few of the mis-statements or outright falsehoods you are repeating, for the benefit of other readers:
    In at least 10 peer-reviewed studies since the original “hockey stick” paper appeared in 1998, independent scientists have all eseentially replicated the observation of recent warming. McIntyre and McKitrick have been shown to be incorrect in their assertion to the contrary.
    The papers in the IPCC report that you mention were 2 out of thousands used in the report, and the IPCC’s conclusions do not depend upon them. The authors of section ii, where they appeared have acknowledged their error in including them.
    The recent risies in temperature have occurred when the “forcings” (factors that drive temperature up or down, like the earth’s orbital path, volcanic eruptions and solar intensity) should have ben making the cliate cooler, not warmer–except for the rise of greenhouse gasses.
    I have no idea motives you may have for your beliefs, but they do not stand up to the evidence.
    I don’t believe higher alcohol levels in win are driven by climate change–but that has nothing to do with the evidence for climate change.

  8. Bob Webster says:

    To David Graves:

    I can dump a truckload of “peer-reviewed” studies in your lap that demonstrate that Mann’s “hockey stick” is rife with fundamental errors. No doubt, your “peer reviewed” sources are similar to those the IPCC was using that turned out to be less than advertised. Indeed, the IPCC took Mann’s work without any review and made it the centerpiece of their third report.

    At the behest of the US Congress, , Dr. Edward Wegman arguably the world’s leading statistician, headed a panel of top statisticians to review Mann’s work. When the Wegman panel corrected Mann’s (elementary) statistical mistakes, the “hockey stick” vanished. The Wegman panel repudiated Mann’s work.

    But that isn’t all the Wegman panel discovered. The noticed the same names appearing in the references to Mann’s paper. In reviewing those references, the panel performed a “social network analysis” and discovered several intensely coupled, tightly knit groups of scientists. These groups are known to statisticians as “cliques.” That is, each member of the clique “has one or more coauthored relationships with every other member of the group …” And, “in Dr. Mann’s case, there is exhibited a strong tendency to work with different cliques of closely connected coauthors. . . . It is precisely in a small, specialized discipline that the likelihood of turning up sympathetic referees is highest”

    Further, Mann’s methodology relied on tree ring data as a proxy for temperature when it is well known that tree ring data is NOT a reliable proxy for temperature. Indeed, it is better suited to measure precipitation.

    Finally, the CO2-is-warming-global-climate theory predicts several conditions that must result if the theory is valid. First, that there will be a tropical mid-troposphere (8km-12km altitude) CO2 warming signature. Second, that warming will be most noticed in the polar regions well before it is significant at lower latitudes. Both these requirements are refuted for lack of observation.

    Normally, the failure of a theory to withstand the test of observation would doom that theory, but not, evidently when it concerns the “humans-are-causing-global-warming” clique.

    One final thing, David. In my reply to you I did not have to resort to name-calling nor do I feel it necessary to question your motives or education. I’m wondering why you felt it necessary to resort to such invective in yours.

  9. […] Who’s more responsible for higher alcohol wines; Mother Nature, Wine Critics, or Winemakers? […]

  10. David Graves says:

    Name-calling would imply I made an ad-hominem (look it up) attack on you. I did not. I merely (and correctly) referred to your assertions as ‘hooey’. My Merriam-Webster lookup uses ‘nonsense’ as a synonym for ‘hooey’. And you have dug the hole deeper with your latest post:
    First, please cite me a few of your “truckload” of peer-reviewed studies.
    Do you know that Edward Wegman is a plagiarist? His university has found him to be, and I refer readers to for an eye-opening exploration of Wegman and his co-authors intellectual dishonesty. Copying from Wikipedia in a scholarly paper without attribution? Come on.
    Do you know that McIntyre and McKitrick cherry-picked their ‘red noise” to falsely impugn the Mann Bradley and Hughes 1998 paper? Don’t take my word for it–check out again and enter the key words “Ritson red noise”
    Do you know that temperature reconstructions used by Mann and co-authors in their paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2008 rely on marine sediments, speleotherms (caves), ice cores, coral and lacustrine (lake sediments) records, in addition to tree rings. Their work shows warming with or without the tree-ring data. And other independent analysis by other scientists confirms warming; the work of Gavin Schmidt and Caspar Amman comes to mind. And bear in mind, these are not “attribution studies”–they are about what happened and is happening, not why.
    Do you know that the work you apparently rely on for your evidence on mid-tropical tropospheric temperatures (I assume by Douglass et al. in the International Journal of Climate) has been called into questions on both the reliability of the data and the statistical analysis? Oh, BTW, the stratosphere is cooling, just as the warming models predict. (Look at the summary by Huber and Knutti in Geophysical Research Letters in 2011.)
    And as for the prediction of warming at the poles, check out the latest ice cover data form the National Snow and Ice Data Center, for example.
    So, if anybody still cares, I look forward to further discussion.

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m care, finding this intriguing…

  12. David Graves says:

    Howdy Bob:
    “arguably the World’s Leading Statistician”?
    Wow, how did I miss that? If plagiarism is a qualifier, he is way ahead of the pack from the get-go.
    And to amplify a little, I believe that one should not write anything in a blog post that one would not say in polite company. In re-reading my original post, you will see no comment at all about anyone’s education, and I did not speculate as to your motives–I simply asked what they might be. Those are two very different things.

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    UPDATE: Headline…

    U.N. Scientists: Climate Change Behind Recent Freak Weather
    ICPP members make the case for climate legislation to lawmakers, but have little luck winning over GOP skeptics.


  14. Bob Webster says:


    Attacking the messenger and not the message is the tactic of one who cannot win it on facts. Your attempt to besmirch the reputation of Dr. Wegman is reprehensible.

    You refer to an incident that is best summarized by this quote from a USAToday article:

    “‘Neither Dr. Wegman nor Dr. Said has ever engaged in plagiarism,’ says their attorney, Milton Johns, by e-mail. In a March 16 e-mail to the [CSDA] journal, Wegman blamed a student who ‘had basically copied and pasted’ from others’ work into the 2006 congressional report, and said the text was lifted without acknowledgment and used in the journal study. ‘We would never knowingly publish plagiarized material’ wrote Wegman, a former CSDA journal editor.”

    I believe we are taking up comment space that is intended for a different subject. My message was to shed some light on the fallacy of the NASA quotation contained in the original article.

    Therefore, this will be my final post at this site on this topic, so you will have the last word. But I believe readers of this site are astute enough to understand the difference between assumptions and accusations and truth supported by observation (a key component of the scientific method).

    To summarize, once again:

    1. You have provided no evidence to refute the findings of the Wegman committee (preferring to attack Wegman instead).

    2. You have provided no evidence to refute the historic evidence of massive global cooling at a time when atmospheric CO2 rose 500 ppm to 4500 ppm and the subsequent warming when CO2 dropped from 4500 ppm to 3000 ppm (kinda blows a few holes in that theory).

    3. You have not explained why the mandatory CO2-is-warming-the-climate theory’s tropical mid-tropospheric (8km – 12km) warming signal is completely missing.

    4. You have not explained why polar regions are NOT experiencing the rapid warmth predicted by the CO2-is-warming-the-climate theory (in fact, the vast bulk of the Antarctic continues its 5-6 decade cooling and most of Greenland’s ice mantle is gaining thickness – it is only around the edges affected by ocean currents where both polar regions have lost relatively small amounts of ice).

    These are irrefutable facts based on observations. Real science bases its theory-checking process on experimentation and observation. The humans-are-warming-the-planet theory bases its veracity on known flaws in computer climate simulation models.

    Problem with models is that you need to understand the process before you can model it. Climate change is still not well understood and I believe most scientists will agree that climate is far too complex a process to model even if we fully understood it.

    To those who wonder, “well, then what IS causing the warming we see?” consider that there has been no positive trend in global average temperature for the past 14 years (in stark contrast to IPCC and NASA projections). The answer is most likely changes in solar activity (not just radiance, which is only one solar measure that impacts Earth’s climate) coupled with shifts in atmospheric and ocean major circulation patterns.

    It’s been fun, but I really have better things to do than continue this discussion of a topic that is truly off subject.

    My thanks to Jo Diaz for having the patience of Job and to readers who recognize this discussion as off topic.

    My best to you all.

    Bob Webster
    Vero Beach, FL

  15. I feel that a wine should not be manipulated to change what it is supposed to be for any reason! Alcohol levels, sugar levels are all altered at times to please consumers, critics, etc. So give me a balanced wine with a wonderful nose that can be paired with food or sipped on its own anyday. And yes it is HOT where I am. Global warming is real!

  16. David Graves says:

    I will go through your list as you wrote it:
    1) I repeat, Wegman used the “red noise” from McIntyre and McKitrick without testing its validity. Contrary to what M&M state, the statistical analysis does not produce a “hockey stick” on its own–unless you cheery-pick. And part of the report was plagiarized *from one of the co-authors of the original “hockey stick” paper*, Ray Bradley. And exactly what did you expect his defense attorney to say?
    2) Look at what Raymond Pierrehumbert of the U. of Chicago wrote on the topic.
    3) Just to make it absolutely clear, in case my earlier comment needs some elaboration: I think you were referring to the work of Douglass et al. as I stated. Look at the work of P.W. Thorne et al. in the journal Geological Research Letters (v. 34, 2007) and you will see–conclusive proof of bad data and bad statistical analysis. There is no such thing as “missing tropical mid-tropospheric warming”.
    4) The GRACE satellite data (using precise gravimetry) show that Greenland is losing ice mass. Consistently every summer. And the Arctic Sea ice cover is shrinking, and may reach its lowest extent since the satellite data became available in 1979.
    So much for “irrefutable facts”. I have no idea what temperature record you are citing, but I will cite the recent re-analysis by the BEST group led by Richard Muller. Once a skeptic, he’s now a convert–based on hard data.
    Changes in solar output cannot explain recent warming–because its output of energy has not rise during that period.
    I will miss your admirable persistence, Bob. Thanks for weighing in. I don’t recall seeing a wine comment from you, though. Let me repeat though, that I think too-ripe grapes make less good wine than properly ripe grapes.

  17. John Mashey says:

    I offer a few reality-based wine+climate comments:

    1) Those who reject climate science often say things like “Romans grew grapes in England, so there!”

    Richard Selley is a geologist at Imperial College (British ~M.I.T.) whose long time hobby has been wine and archaelogy thereof, as well as advising vintners on location choices.

    His delightful book is The Winelands of Britain, an unexpected topic. The first edition showed the ebb and flow of British vineyards as temperatures changed. That’s a little out of date, as there are actually a few in North Yorkshire already.

    A new map (in 2nd ed) shows expected 2080 UK growing seasons and varieties. Note the raisin areas, too hot for the others.

    He also suggested that by 2100 or so, the North Shore of Loch Ness in Scotland will be a fine location:
    ‘Luxury cruises, similar to those of the present-day Rhine and Mosel, will sail along the Lochs and the linking Caledonia Canal between Inverness to Oban. Refreshed tourists will report more sightings of the Loch Ness monster than ever before.’

    2) We ski often at Big White, not far from the vineyards of Lake Okanagan in British Columbia. That says:
    ‘The British Columbia wine industry was reborn in the late 1980s when many cool-climate, hybrid grape varieties were uprooted and replaced with vinifera Sunset from an Okanagan Vineyardwine grapes which now thrive in selected microclimates along Lakes Okanagan, Skaha and Osoyoos and as far north as just above the 50th latitude.’

    As climate has warmed, grape varieties have moved North along the lake valley. When I first heard the phrase “Canadian wines” decades ago, I laughed, and it isn’t Napa/Sonoma, but there are now some decent wines. It also “has” a clone of Nessie called Ogopogo.

    Anyone who likes wine and is either a skier (winter) or a golfer (summer, the place is covered with courses) might find this a worthy trip. Fly to Seattle or Vancouver, then take a small plane to Kelowna, BC, near the lake.

    Grape-growing is hardly a perfect temperature proxy, but is indicative, especially in the long North-South Okanagan lake valley, without big urban developments of UK that sometimes overlaid good sites.

    Listen to David G on wine+climate. I’ve heard him talk on that at Stanford, and I’m told he is the only speaker to have supplied his own wine for the reception.

  18. Rob says:


    I’m not sure Professor Wegman needs any help besmirching his reputation. He has done a wonderful job in flushing his career down the toilet all by himself.

  19. J Bowers says:

    Tacitus, Agricola, Ch.12 (on Britain, c. 98AD):

    “…With the exception of the olive and vine, and plants which usually grow in warmer climates, the soil will yield, and even abundantly, all ordinary produce. It ripens indeed slowly, but is of rapid growth, the cause in each case being the same, namely, the excessive moisture of the soil and of the atmosphere.”

    The Roman Warm Period doesn’t appear to have been particularly consistent.

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