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Another skeptical mind: Revered wine science expert writes skeptical book to rave reviews

The message just can’t be stopped.

Wine Terrior and Climate Change

What makes a leader of a field, a leader? They have a brain, and not always, but sometimes, they can reason. So it’s not surprising that some leaders see through the fog. Here’s another example of how the truth gets out. It’s a specialist field, and newspaper stories are all doom and gloom (eg. Climate change threat to Australia’s top wines! ) but one of its most esteemed leaders is saying emphatically: not so.

“The effects of climate change have been dramatically over-estimated. Future global climate change caused by human activity will be much less than feared and be largely benign for viticulture”. “The 21st Century will be wine’s golden age”.

In viticulture, tiny changes in levels of part-per-trillion molecules produce prizewinners (or not). See Croser’s review to appreciate just how much. They don’t just talk in degrees but the number of days involved.

“…the quantum and quality of the tertiary aroma and flavour compounds synthesised is profoundly influenced by atmospheric temperature.    John Gladstones identifies the optimal mean temperature of the last 30 days of ripening for the synthesis of flavour and pigment in red varieties as 18-22ºC and for the best attributes of delicate white and sparkling wines the mean can be as low as 12-15ºC”

Here is one of their own greats staking his reputation on the skeptical side. About a third of the book is about climate change, and John Gladstones writes prize winning books of almost biblical fame in the vineyard industry. According to one winery blogger, Gladstones’ 1992 book — the highly acclaimed Viticulture and Environment –became THE essential resource book, above almost all others. Gladstones is a leading agricultural scientist, winning prizes for his work on breeding, agronomy, and botany.  The famous Margaret River wine growing region (here in WA) was set up because Gladstones recommended it.

His new book  Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press) is garnering excellent reviews, and here’s the thing: his message on climate change is well researched, clear, and unapologetic — man-made effects have been exaggerated, and the effects of extra CO2 are largely beneficial. He’s 79, and not going to waste time pandering to silly fashions.

And so the message spreads to a wider crowd.

Gladstones’ eminent role in the profession means for that specific audience, and for the array of dedicated wine buffs who will read it too, being skeptical now has cachet, approval, and a well written specific document to reference.

The book, and Gladstones himself, is earning raves:

‘Just when I thought I had it all sorted after 18 years of travelling with Viticulture and Environment and giving a copy to all of my friends, the grand old renaissance man of viticulture has produced Wine, Terroir and Climate Change. Not only do I have to buy a whole new set of his books to give away, I have to rethink my long term viticultural strategy of defence against climate change in the much more comfortable logic he presents of the resilience of terroir. John Gladstones’s intricately researched understanding of climate mechanisms and history, geology, soil and biology has created a welcome antidote to climate hysteria.’ – Brian Croser

 ‘For anyone interested in the future interaction between climate, climate change and viticulture, this book simply has to be read. Dr John Gladstones’s painstaking research is the foundation for his equally carefully constructed conclusions that robustly challenge mainstream opinions. James Halliday


One reviewer, Phillip White , is evidently more convinced by the IPCC forecasts and doesn’t like Gladstones thesis, but such is Gladstones’ standing,  White admits he’ll have to read it and reread it anyway

“I’ve always regarded Gladstones as a genius, if a happily troubled one. He’s a grand godfather of modern Australian viticultural science, whose previous bible, Viticulture and Environment has been my constant reference companion for the last two decades. Gladstones’ new work needs to be read many, many times to be digested and understood as thoroughly as it deserves. I shall no doubt be doing this, especially as an errant plunge ahead into the second half, Climate Change, reveals that over the last century, or century and a half, Gladstones believes that “of about 0.6ºC recorded temperature rise, half can be ascribed to variations in solar irradiance and magnetic field, and the rest probably to anthropogenic [human] causes. But much of the latter can be shown to derive from mistakes and biases in the thermometer record … ”

“Great brain porridge here, if a little Plimerish at first sniff. “

White promised to write more on our friend and his hero Gladstones, but I have yet to find it on his voluminous, reasonably entertaining blog. Hmmm. Did he tackle those hard chapters?

For the wine-science buffs, Croser’s review of the book is excellent, and among other things you get the details on just how important plain old temperature is — apparently low diurnal variation could be a winner, so clouds might be handy?

A central argument of the book is that regional/site differences in heat summation and temperature equability largely define site suitability…

John Gladstones’s argument for the importance of the temperature equability (low daily temperature range) of a site, feeds into the aroma and flavour story. The low day temperatures at moderate humidity favour the direct synthesis of these aroma and flavour compounds and the accumulation of sugars as starch during the day. At night the surplus assimilate is translocated to the berries as sugar the substrate for aroma, flavour and phenol formation during the warm nights. The warm nights of temperature equable sites potentially allow 24 hour synthesis of aroma, flavour and phenols essential to wine quality (page 26).

Flavour formed in the berry skins at night has the least possibility of evaporative loss and the maximum possibility of being conjugated with sugar and transported to the interior of the berry where it is protected against degradation and evaporation (page47).

Winestate has just issued a feature on Gladstones’ book — treating the climate part essentially as you would expect for a journalist — back in the days when the term was not a bad name. In other words, without fanfare or wild sensationalism, they just report the news — climate change is not much of a problem, could turn out to be good, read the book eh?

Blogspotting: Reviewer Brian Croser wrote another post which mentioned a lecture by Andy Pitman, discussed past temperature range in wine-growing regions of Australia, and got a reply in comments not just from Pitman himself, but also from Brian Schmidt (the recent Nobel Prize winner of astronomy) who — as it happens — has a vineyard himself near Canberra. They get into some pretty detailed analysis of how you count up the warm days and cool days per month in each region. Averages are not enough if you are discussing the growth of cab-savs and shiraz.

Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press)

H/t Geoff Derrick — Thanks!

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