April 27, 2018

Medieval Wine Grapes in Polar Bear Country

Timothy Birdnow

Here is a blogpost at No Tricks Zone about wine grapes in northern countries during the Middle Ages. Seems that wine was grown in regions now inhabited by polar bears and with permafrost - north of the 55* latitude. They were growing wine grapes in North England, in Norway, in Russia.

From the article:
Lamb, 1959
"There was a secondary optimum of climate between 400 and 1200 A.D., the peak probably being 800-1000 A.D. This was on the whole a dry, warm period and apparently remarkably stormfree in the Atlantic and in the North Sea. It was the time of lowland settlement in the Saxon lands and of considerable flowering of Celtic and Northumbrian cultures. Missions from the Celtic Church in Ireland were sent as far as Africa and Iceland. It was also the time of great Viking voyages and the settlement of Iceland and Greenland. The early Norse burials in Greenland were deep in ground which is now permanently frozen. There were several visits to America (probably many timbergetting voyages between Greenland and Labrador) and there is evidence which suggests that at least one Viking ship got through the North-West Passage and ultimately reached the Gulf of California (cf. Ives 1953).”

"In Domesday Book (1085) 38 vineyards were recorded in England besides those of the king. The wine was considered almost equal with the French wine both in quantity and quality as far north as Gloucestershire and the Ledbury area of Herefordshire where the soil is said to resemble that of the Rhine and Moselle wine districts. The London basin, the Medway valley and the Isle of Ely were also favoured districts.

The northernmost vineyards were near York [northern England] but the most favoured country was from Northants and the Fenland southwards. This implies summer temperatures perhaps 1 to 2°C higher than today, general freedom from May frosts (particularly suggested by the exposure to the north of several low-lying vineyard sites, e.g. at Tewkesbury, in the Fens and at Teynham, Kent) and mostly good Septembers.”

Wine Produced In East Prussia, Lithuania, South Norway
"At one time (1128-1437) wine had been produced in East Prussia.”
"Grapes grew even at Tilsit (55°N) in Lithuania [Russia]…”
"…and in south Norway…”

End exxcerpts.

Years ago I read a blogpost by Gavvin Schmidt (I think it was Schmidt) of NASA at the climate alarmist site RealClimate. He mocked people who pointed out that wine was grow dnuring the Middle Ages in a dishonest fashion; he pointed out that they are now growing wine grapes in England and in Germany and that proves they always had them. It was either a most dishonest claim or an ignorant one. Here's why:

Current wine production in the U.K. is built on the hearty grape varietals developed by researchers through arduous cross breeding and hybridization. The British wine industry uses French American hybrids extensively (varieties such as Seyval or Vidal) or uses the varieties like Muller Thurgau developed through cross breeding in Germany. These are not varieties that developed on their own or through random breeding. They are engineered in many ways, bred to be cold and frost resistant as well as tolerant of large amounts of rain. They tend to be fungal resistant. This was by design. Put Pinot Noir in an English vineyard and you will have a bunch of mold for your trouble if you get that far.

Modern vineyards have other tricks making it possible to grow wine grapes in marginal regions. There is frost protection technology (such as water sprayers which put ice on the vines, protecting them from the freeze). There are modern antifungals which keep the grapes from rotting. There are new, complex trellising systems. There are soil additives, even ways to heat vineyards when a cold snap comes. None of that was available to the grape grower in 900.

If Schmidt was honest he would have admitted as much. The British wine industry is new precisely because the ability to do this wasn't around until quite recently. It's why Minnesota has a wine industry now. Scientists have spent decades breeding grape varietals like Swenson Red or North Star which can ripen in the short summers and tolerate the high humidity and occasional frosts.

So if anyone tries to use this argument you now have what it takes to shoot them down. I grew grapes in my back yard here in Missouri for years and made my own wine. Not the best, to be sure, but then I was a lazy and inattentive vineyardist. I grew Cynthiana (a native red varietal also sometimes called Norton, or Virginia Seedling), Delaware, a pink skinned native varietal which yielded a great white wine but the birds always gobbled before I could get any, and Elvira, an American cross breed developed in Hermann Missouri and now largely relegated to a few vineyards in New York State. I liked the Elvira; it was a pale white wine which tasted of mustard, honeydew, and grapefruit. The birds never touched it, even though it was quite tasty off the vine. I suspect they thought it was unripe, as it was so pale in color. It grew like a weed and was produced fruit like something out of the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately I just got too busy to keep up with the vineyard, which came to look like a jungle, and so I pulled out the vines. I miss the wine, and the joy of winemaking, but not the gardening work. I have never had a liking for grubbing around in the soil on hot days.

But I sure did like drinking my own wine.

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