Climate Change Forces French Vineyards to Alter the Way They Make Wine
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Climate Change Forces French Vineyards to Alter the Way They Make Wine

Growers change grape varieties and reshape the landscape to protect some of the world’s most valuable vineyards from warmer temperatures

By NICK KOSTOV
Mon, Sep 26, 2022 8:38amGrey Clock 4 min

BORDEAUX, France—The wildfire began on an usually dry summer day in a forest bordering the Liber Pater vineyard. Winemaker Loïc Pasquet saw the flames rise and spread toward his precious vines, which produce Bordeaux that sells for $30,000 a bottle.

Hours before evacuating Mr. Pasquet and his staff destroyed the grass around the vineyard to prevent it from catching fire and dug trenches to block the blaze’s path. He also sprayed local trees with water drawn from the vineyard’s ponds. The vineyard was spared.

The emergency measures are just some of the steps winegrowers are taking to survive in a region that is home to some of the world’s finest wines and sharpest temperature increases. Many growers are harvesting weeks before grapes traditionally ripen; others are investing in land located in cooler climates. Some are transforming the landscape of wine country itself, planting more trees to ensure better water retention, and less erosion and runoff after heavy rain.

The situation has become so dire that winemakers in Bordeaux and other regions have begun to change practices that have been in place for generations. Winemaking is tightly regulated in France with rules governing everything from the location of specific appellation to its grape content.

This year vineyards around Bordeaux were allowed to irrigate their vines, a practice that is usually forbidden. The French organization that governs wine appellations also recently approved six more grape varieties to be added to the grapes currently allowed for the production of Bordeaux wines. The new additions include four reds—Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional—and two whites, Alvarinho and Liliorila. All were chosen for their ability to thrive in warmer, drier conditions.

“It was crazy,” said Georgie Hindle, a wine expert who covers the Bordeaux region at wine publication Decanter. “No one knows if this decision will change the profile of a classic claret.”

In February, United Nations climate scientists published a report stating that surface temperatures in the Mediterranean region—which includes Southern France—have already risen 1.5 degrees since the preindustrial era. That is higher than the average increase of 1.1 degrees for the entire planet, according to the U.N., exposing the region to higher risk of heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events.

Wine grapes are highly sensitive to changes in the climate. Sunshine warms and ripens the grapes, producing sugar that converts to alcohol. Too much sun risks burning the grapes. It also heightens the alcohol levels, leaving the wine unbalanced and giving its fruity notes the taste of jam.

Wine connoisseurs say the best wines are produced at the northern limit of where the grape is a viable crop, giving the fruit time to mature and for complex flavours to develop. A handful of small growers have begun investing in land in areas that were once regarded as too blustery for vineyards, including Brittany and Normandy along France’s Atlantic coast. But established châteaux say relocating production to different regions is problematic. Regulations require growers to label their bottles according to the appellations or areas where they are produced. That means authentic Bordeaux wines cannot be produced outside the swath of terroir, or specific soil, that surrounds rivers that feed the Gironde estuary in Southwestern France.

“We’re talking here about making fine wine,” says Mr. Pasquet. “You can make wine anywhere in the world—but a number of precise details go into making fine wine.”

This year unusually warm spells in some places in March caused early budding of the vines, leaving them vulnerable to a wave of late frost in April. Growers installed massive candles throughout their vineyards to warm their fruit and used helicopters to disperse stagnant air.

Then came the summer drought, which forced much of France to undertake water restrictions as rivers up and down the country ran dry.

On average, grape harvests now happen up to three weeks earlier than they did 30 years ago, according to winemakers’ unions. This year winegrowers in the prized Languedoc-Roussillon area started the harvest period at the end of July while in parts of Corsica it began in early August—both several weeks early.

“We started in August. That’s never happened before,” said Pierre-Olivier Clouet, technical director of Château Cheval Blanc in the Bordeaux area.

Cheval Blanc has responded by moving into agroforestry, planting hundreds of trees among the vines—a technique borrowed from the history books. Mr. Clouet said the trees provide shade, improve soil quality and allow the vines to suck up more water. A flock of sheep now roams among the vines, fertilising the soil, while a new artificial lake on the property adds moisture.

In the region of Isère, winegrower Nicolas Gonin said his decision to uproot the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines planted decades ago and replace them with local varieties was vindicated this year. “It is better to increase the number of grapes that you grow,” he said. “They have different characteristics, and when one has a tough year, the others can do well.”

Many of the changes are still experimental. Some growers are modifying the density of their plots to require less water while others are collecting rainwater during the winter to boost their irrigation systems. Planting vines at a different angle, some say, can reduce their exposure to punishing sunlight. Many growers are also planting vine roots that are more resistant to drought and delay the maturity of the fruit.

In cooler times, growers used to cut the leaves of their vines so they would get the maximum amount of sun and more alcohol content. Now the leaves go untouched to better protect the grapes, preserving the fruit’s acidity. One grower said he uses machines that draw alcohol out of his wine so that it isn’t too strong.

Some winemakers, including in Champagne, in the North of France, say it has still been an excellent year. Younger vines have struggled, but the older plants with long roots have performed well, producing small grapes with thick skins that contribute flavour and colour to the wines as well as staving off diseases such as mildew.

“For now the impact of global warming, we feel it—but it’s not yet a negative impact,” said Brigitte Bâtonnet, of Champagne producers’ group CIVC.



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Is ‘Rizz’ the Secret to Getting Ahead at Work?

Whether you call it charisma, charm or magnetism, some people seem like naturals. Good news: It can be learned.

By Rachel Feintzeig
Mon, Jul 22, 2024 4 min

Great leaders have it. Gen Z has a new word for it. Can the rest of us learn it?

Charisma—or rizz , as current teenage slang has anointed it—can feel like an ephemeral gift some are just born with. The chosen among us network and chitchat, exuding warmth as they effortlessly hold court. Then there’s everyone else, agonising over exclamation points in email drafts and internally replaying that joke they made in the meeting, wondering if it hit.

“Well, this is awkward,” Mike Rizzo, the head of a community for marketing operations professionals, says of rizz being crowned 2023 word of the year by the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s so close to his last name, but so far from how he sees himself. He sometimes gets sweaty palms before hosting webinars.

Who could blame us for obsessing over charisma, or lack thereof? It can lubricate social interactions, win us friends, and score promotions . It’s also possible to cultivate, assures Charles Duhigg, the author of a book about people he dubs super communicators.

At its heart, charisma isn’t about some grand performance. It’s a state we elicit in other people, Duhigg says. It’s about fostering connection and making our conversation partners feel they’re the charming—or interesting or funny—ones.

The key is to ask deeper, though not prying, questions that invite meaningful and revealing responses, Duhigg says. And match the other person’s vibes. Maybe they want to talk about emotions, the joy they felt watching their kid graduate from high school last weekend. Or maybe they’re just after straight-up logistics and want you to quickly tell them exactly how the team is going to turn around that presentation by tomorrow.

You might be hired into a company for your skill set, Duhigg says, but your ability to communicate and earn people’s trust propels you up the ladder: “That is leadership.”

Approachable and relatable

In reporting this column, I was surprised to hear many executives and professionals I find breezily confident and pleasantly chatty confess it wasn’t something that came naturally. They had to work on it.

Dave MacLennan , who served as chief executive of agricultural giant Cargill for nearly a decade, started by leaning into a nickname: DMac, first bestowed upon him in a C-suite meeting where half the executives were named Dave.

He liked the informality of it. The further he ascended up the corporate hierarchy, the more he strove to be approachable and relatable.

Employees “need a reason to follow you,” he says. “One of the reasons they’re going to follow you is that they feel they know you.”

He makes a point to remember the details and dates of people’s lives, such as colleagues’ birthdays. After making his acquaintance, in a meeting years ago at The Wall Street Journal’s offices, I was shocked to receive an email from his address months later. Subject line: You , a heading so compelling I still recall it. He went on to say he remembered I was due with my first child any day now and just wanted to say good luck.

“So many people say, ‘Oh, I don’t have a good memory for that,’” he says. Prioritise remembering, making notes on your phone if you need, he says.

Now a board member and an executive coach, MacLennan sent hundreds of handwritten notes during his tenure. He’d reach out to midlevel managers who’d just gotten a promotion, or engineers who showed him around meat-processing plants. He’d pen words of thanks or congratulations. And he’d address the envelopes himself.

“Your handwriting is a very personal thing about you,” he says. “Think about it. Twenty seconds. It makes such an impact.”

Everyone’s important

Doling out your charm selectively will backfire, says Carla Harris , a Morgan Stanley executive. She chats up the woman cleaning the office, the receptionist at her doctor’s, the guy waiting alongside her for the elevator.

“Don’t be confused,” she tells young bankers. Executive assistants are often the most powerful people in the building, and you never know how someone can help—or hurt—you down the line.

Harris once spent a year mentoring a junior worker in another department, not expecting anything in return. One day, Harris randomly mentioned she faced an uphill battle in meeting with a new client. Oh!, the 24-year-old said. Turns out, the client was her friend. She made the call right there, setting up Harris for a work win.

In the office, stop staring at your phone, Harris advises, and notice the people around you. Ask for their names. Push yourself to start a conversation with three random people every day.

Charisma for introverts

You can’t will yourself to be a bubbly extrovert, but you can find your own brand of charisma, says Vanessa Van Edwards, a communications trainer and author of a book about charismatic communication.

For introverted clients, she recommends using nonverbal cues. A slow triple nod shows people you’re listening. Placing your hands in the steeple position, together and facing up, denotes that you’re calm and present.

Try coming up with one question you’re known for. Not a canned, hokey ice-breaker, but something casual and simple that reflects your actual interests. One of her clients, a bookish executive struggling with uncomfortable, halting starts to his meetings, began kicking things off by asking “Reading anything good?”

Embracing your stumbles

Charisma starts with confidence. It’s not that captivating people don’t occasionally mispronounce a word or spill their coffee, says Henna Pryor, who wrote a book about embracing awkwardness at work. They just have a faster comeback rate than the rest of us. They call out the stumble instead of trying to hide it, make a small joke, and move on.

Being perfectly polished all the time is not only exhausting, it’s impossible. We know this, which is why appearing flawless can come off as fake. We like people who seem human, Pryor says.

Our most admired colleagues are often the ones who are good at their jobs and can laugh at themselves too, who occasionally trip or flub just like us.

“It creates this little moment of warmth,” she says, “that we actually find almost like a relief.”

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