Jasper Morris MW: global warming has moved Burgundy’s top sites uphill

Global warming has gradually pushed the top sites in Burgundy uphill, Jasper Morris MW, the inimitable expert on Burgundy, observes, as the UN shares a sweeping report that warns that by 2040 the earth’s temperature could rise by as much as 2 Celsius degrees.

Jasper Morris, who has retired from Berry Bros & Rudd last year, is serving as a senior consult at Christie’s wine department

The master of wine made the comments while in Hong Kong on Monday hosting a preview of the upcoming Hospices de Beaune wines that will be auctioned this November.

Speaking of how global warming has affected vineyards and winemaking, Morris admitted that vignerons now need to manage vineyard work more prudently and carefully to change the parameters.

Asked by dbHK if in 20 years time, due to climate change, Pinot Noir might not be suitable for Burgundy, Morris replied, “it’s something we have to be aware of and think about. What I have been seeing is that the quality has been going up the hillside a bit from what it used to be – the key vineyards just on the foothills on the slope. That was the sweet spot, and now it’s 50 metres higher on the hills. So that’s quite interesting.”

Yet, contrary to what an Australian winemaker might have suggested previously – planting Syrah instead of Pinot Noir in Burgundy, Morris explained, “I don’t yet feel Pinot is in danger. It could happen. Worst we could worry about is where this glass of wine comes from. There are a lot more problems to worry about.

“We don’t know. Syrah might not be that suited for Burgundy soil. Maybe create a new grape?” he ventured, hinting that there are relevant researches looking into possible grapes that will be more suited to adapted terroir due to climate change.

Speaking of the 2018 wines from the Hospices de Beaune that have just got out from fermenting vats to barrels, Morris likens the vintage to the more robust 2015 vintage for Burgundy reds.

“If you want to draw parallel to another year – and they are never exact – but we might have something like 2015,” he commented.

Speaking of the winemaker at Hospice de Beaune, Ludivine Griveau – the first woman appointed to the position in 2014 – he continued, “2015 was her first great vintage, the ’16 vintage was a really difficult vintage and she made good wine, ’17 is a big crop … and for 2018, she has a chance to be consistent and make a great vintage.”

The vintage, however, as he admitted was not always easy. Heavy rains in May and June, prompted questions about working organically. Luckily, the rain stopped in mid June. What followed was a worrisome dry and hot summer until harvest that gave rise to fears of a “Californian style” vintage as Morris recalls.

“After the hot summer, we were worried if we might have one of the these hot Californian-style vintages, which is not typical for Burgundy, and that doesn’t seem to have happened,” he explained, adding that so far from the wines he had observed more red than black fruit and with “promising” balance and good acidity.

The Hospices de Beaune wines are going to be auctioned in November in association with Christie’s. Demand for the wines has been growing over the past five years, particularly from Asia, and now buyers from the region make up roughly 35% of all buyers, Edouard Boccon-Gibod, managing director of Christie’s France, revealed to dbHK at the preview.

Prices for the wines at the auction have been going up over the last two years, and 2018 is expected to rise slightly, Morris said.

“There’s good volume for the 2018 vintage, but there’s a buzz for the vintage and certain prices for the vintage will go up a bit,” he analysed. The price for the 2015 vintage at the Hospices de Beaune were “incredibly high” as he put it, and it came down for 2016 but went up in 2017 again.

“For 2018, we want to get as much money as we can [for the charity] but on the other hand we don’t want to send the message that Burgundy is going up again,” he conceded.

2 Responses to “Jasper Morris MW: global warming has moved Burgundy’s top sites uphill”

  1. Alex Hunt MW says:

    My great admiration for Jasper notwithstanding, I recoil at the phrase “hot Californian-style vintages”. So much that is untrue is implied by that description: that California is characteristically and uniformly hot (when some regions’ growing seasons are cooler than Burgundy on average); that hot-vintage burgundy tastes like Californian wine (it doesn’t); that California’s weather is deleterious to the quality of Pinot Noir (it isn’t); that California, above all other regions, is the one which should spring to mind when describing a hot vintage (why?).

    Given the contrasting distributions of temperature between California’s maritime and Burgundy’s continental climates, not to mention the size and climatic heterogeneity of the former, comparisons are fairly meaningless. Yet unfortunate turns of phrase like this help perpetuate the myth that the ‘New World’ is a hot place unsuited to making wines of finesse. Jasper himself, as a lifelong promoter of fine Californian wine, surely wouldn’t subscribe to this view; I beseech all commentators to choose alternative analogies that can characterise hot vintages in certain regions without denigrating the wines of others.

    • Keith Hammond says:

      I couldn’t agree more with Alex’s comment. To help illustrate how badly this myth that California is one singular climate (it’s 62% of the size of the entire country of France) or that it is too warm for Pinot Noir needs to be dispelled, I’ve pulled data from my weather station in one of my vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Between the months of March and October this year, the peak temperature in my pinot vineyard was 89.2F (31.7C) and average temperature throughout that period was 59.2F (15.1C), hardly what one would consider “Hot”. I traveled to Burgundy in late May this year and I never felt like I adjusted to the heat, it was very warm and late into the night.

      I had one vigneron tell me (in a rather admitting fashion), that when he decides to pick is based entirely on when heavy rains start. In other words, he tries to get every bit of sunshine on the vines until he’s forced to pick, I imagine this is the same for many vigneron there. I would imagine that with more warm sunny days in the growing season in Burgundy we would see the wines start to show something that California wines almost always do: consistency of quality across vintages.

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