Are you curious about the deeper, less obvious impacts of climate change on wine? How is it different from the impact on our food? What are Israeli winemakers doing to bring back a whole ecosystem approach?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m interviewing Brian Freedman, wine and spirits educator and author of Crushed: How a Changing Climate Is Altering the Way We Drink.
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- What are Brian’s top tips for moving a large wine collection?
- How did Brian’s father help him learn to appreciate wine’s nuances?
- Which favourite childhood dish would Brian now pair with a Napa Cabernet?
- Which wine jump-started my wine journey?
- When did Brian realize he wanted to make wine his career?
- What embarrassing story did Brian’s daughter share with her class on the first day of preschool?
- How does Brian’s wife perceive favour differently from most people?
- What can you expect from Brian’s new book, Crushed: How a Changing Climate Is Altering the Way We Drink?
- How do you continue to make world-class wines in increasingly desert-like conditions?
- What are Israeli winemakers doing to bring back the whole ecosystem approach?
- Why did Brian want to write about the issue of climate change?
- I appreciated how Brian dug into the less obvious impact of climate change or global weirding on wine from freak spring frosts to a persistent wildfire season.
- He also helped us understand how those changes are different from what’s happening to our food system, especially when winemakers get just once chance each year to get it right.
- I was fascinated to learn how Israeli winemakers are bringing back a whole ecosystem approach.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
Wine is a lens through which to see history, language, geography, geology, and more. - Brian Freedman Click to tweet
Since the beginning, Israel has been a worldwide leader in agricultural technology. - Brian Freedman Click to tweet
It’s not just the fires and the floods. There are a thousand other ways that climate change is impacting the wine industry. - Brian Freedman Click to tweet
The more accurately wine expresses where it’s from, the more interesting it is. - Brian Freedman Click to tweet
About Brian Freedman
Brian Freedman is a wine, spirits, travel, and food writer, restaurant and beverage consultant, and wine and spirits educator. He regularly contributes to Food & Wine, Forbes.com, Whisky Advocate, and SevenFifty Daily, and has contributed to Travel + Leisure, The Bourbon Review, and more. He also hosted wine and spirit pairing segments on the CNN Airport Network. Freedman has traveled extensively throughout the world and the United States to experience the food, drink, and culture for his work. He lives outside of Philadelphia.
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Brian Freedman 0:00
The fires and the floods are the obvious ways of climate change. There’s 1000s other ones that are having an impact. This is really important stuff. When it comes to what we drink, I think that’s a little bit less obvious. Natural wine is certainly an aspect of this, although that’s not everything because you can certainly drink responsibly and not drink natural wine. And you can certainly drink natural wine and still have a big carbon footprint, right. I think the answer is to focus on what’s in our glass to support the producers that are doing the right thing, wine that is made with fewer chemical inputs that is grown in healthier land. It’s going to not just taste better but be a more accurate education of that patch of the planet where it was grown. This I thought was a topic that deserves a much deeper dive.
Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? Oh, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie Maclean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 202. Are you curious about the deeper, less obvious impacts of climate change on wine? How is it different from the impact it has on our food? And what are Israeli winemakers doing to bring back the whole ecosystem approach to winemaking? You’ll hear those tips and stories in my chat with Brian Friedman, who has just published his first book Crushed: How a Changing Climate is Altering the Way We Drink. Now on a personal note before we dive into the show with the continuing story of publishing my new wine memoir Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation and Drinking too Much. So memoir usually explores deeply personal issues and often mentions friends and family members. So it’s common practice to protect the privacy of those mentioned by changing names and sometimes physical characteristics. This is often mentioned in the author’s note at the beginning of the book. Changing these details doesn’t make the story untrue as truth in memoir is about larger issues, such as overcoming a life crisis or a health challenge. It’s the journey of how the author does this and the reflections along the way that matter most. That’s what readers are usually looking for because they want to place themselves in the shoes of the author. So in addition to changing names, I also asked friends and family members to read the manuscript and give me input. This was a little nerve wracking because you never know how those closest to you will react, not just to how they’re portrayed but also to the things that you haven’t shared with them previously. You know, those thoughts that run through your mind in the middle of the night. I’ve been fortunate that friends and family have been extremely supportive. Though several didn’t realize how affected I was by the traumatic incidents that I chronicle in both my personal and professional life in this memoir. I could not have finished it without their continuing encouragement. And I’ll share a review from Lenore Borgia. She’s a best selling author of fiction books from Fort Collins, Colorado. “As someone who doesn’t read a lot of memoirs, I didn’t have any expectations going in. But what I found was a brutally honest, laugh out loud, gut wrenching, and touching story about a woman’s struggle with divorce. Her relationship with alcohol and an online campaign set out to destroy her reputation and livelihood. I was right there with her in the dark moments when the rug was ripped out from under her. It’s an interesting and eye opening look into the wine industry. Natalie’s writing is smart and funny and you’ll find yourself lost in her story, eager to learn how she rose above the noise and persevered. Inspiring read five stars”. Thank you Lenore. I’ve posted a link to a blog post called Diary of a Book Launch in the show notes at NatalieMaclean.com/202. This is where I share more behind the scenes stories about the journey of taking this memoir from idea to publication. If you want a more intimate insider seat beside me on this journey, please let me know that you’d like to become a beta reader and get a sneak peek at this manuscript, email me at [email protected] NatalieMacLean.com. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 5:13
Just before I introduce Brian, let me say that three of you are going to win a personally signed copy from Brian of his fabulous new book, which we’re going to talk about today. All you have to do is email me at [email protected] And let me know you want to win, and I will choose three randomly. All right, back to our guest. Brian Freedman is a wine, spirits, travel, and food writer, a restaurant and beverage consultant, wine and spirits educator and event host and speaker. Very busy man. He is a contributing editor at Food and Wine Magazine digital contributes to SevenFiftyDaily and writes a wines of the week column on Forbes.com. He’s also published in Departures Online, Whiskey Advocate magazine, Wine Enthusiast, and the Bourbon Review among others. And he has also hosted wine and spirit pairing segments on the CNN airport network, which is really cool. So his first book, the one we’re talking about today, is Crushed: How a Changing Climate is Altering the Way We Drink. It’s just been published by Rowman and Littlefield. And Brian, you’re joining us now from your home just outside Philadelphia. Welcome.
Brian Freedman 6:24
Great to be here. Thank you so much.
Natalie MacLean 6:27
All right. So I love your backdrop. Apparently, you’ve just moved. And so tell us what the priority was when you’re setting up your new house.
Brian Freedman 6:37
So we bought this house in June, and you know, moving to kids, our COVID cliché rescue dog, Mary, and 1000s of bottles of wine. And the very first room that got set up is normally the kitchen or the living room. And of course the living room and the kids’ rooms were set up before we move. But my office because of these tastings and events that I do, I do them in person these days as well, but virtually of course for the last several years, and conversations like this. So the very first thing aside from you know the kids’ rooms that got set up was my office. So this is crazily enough not a Zoom background. This is actually my office. Real stuff.
Natalie MacLean 7:16
Oh my gosh. Well, you got to deal with the essentials first on a move, and wine is pretty high up there on the list. So you got to stay hydrated. Exactly, exactly. Emergency bottles and so on. But just while we’re on this topic, do you have any tips on moving wine collection of that size or even larger?
Brian Freedman 7:36
Yeah, I plan ahead. So up here in my office, we have the spirits. You know, we could do that up here because they’re not going to be as impacted by the direct sunlight or at least the ambient sunlight. I’m not as concerned about temperature and humidity being perfect. But we moved over 3000 bottles of wine from our previous house to our current one. And actually, Natalie, it’s funny because my wife is our realtor. And she said she would have been terrified about the questions I was asking when we were looking at houses if she didn’t know that I you know, tasted wine for a living. I was asking things like, well, how dark is the basement? Are there stone walls? You know, is there a separate entrance for it? Because when you’re moving 3000 bottles, but it’s vaguely terrifying, if you don’t know.
Natalie MacLean 8:19
Where can I bury the body?
Brian Freedman 8:23
Exactly. Exactly. So we worked with a professional company called Vine Vault, and they were great. You know, we wanted to make sure packing up 3000 plus bottles, getting them, even though we moved less than 10 minutes away. You know, they couldn’t get everything from there to here on the same day. So it was amazing. They plugged in their truck for two days when they were outside of our house, keeping the truck itself the storage area at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Wow. So they had a whole production line. The wines came. They box them. They came out of the house. I signed off on their phone to make sure everything was there. And then a couple of weeks later, once we were ready to receive them, they dropped them off in our dark, cold, vaguely damp basement. But it was a 55 the whole time so I could move the collection, the professional samples, and not worry about anything being damaged. So moving the wine cost about as much as moving the entire rest of the house and family. Oh my goodness. But it helps to pay the bills so it was justified. And if you’re a collector, it’s a really good investment. You don’t have to worry about the integrity of what you’re going to be drinking moving forward.
Natalie MacLean 9:31
Absolutely. That deserves an article in and of itself. But thank you for sharing those tips. So before we dive into your wine career, tell us about your first wine tasting experience. If I understand that was quite young, you were quite young.
Brian Freedman 9:47
Yes, I was quite young. So you know my family is not in the wine business. I was born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, not exactly known as one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions. Although a bit south of here, we do have some pretty good producers. But my father always collected wine. He has been collecting since before I was born. My mother has always been a great cook. So from the time I was six, I guess, that’s when they determined I was grown up enough, although I’m in my mid 40’s now and it’s questionable whether I’m grown up yet, but that’s another issue now. Every night, my father would come home from work and he would put down his bags. He was a Periodontist. So nothing to do with wine. And we would go into the kitchen, my mother would tell us what she was making for dinner that night. And then he would take me down to the basement where his wine cellar was. And he would explain why he was picking that bottle, not that bottle. And we would then sit on the couch in the living room and I would get whatever the smallest volume of liquid measurable is. I don’t know if it’s a micro metre or nano. Whatever it is, it was small. And I was expected to you know, sit there with him and smell and taste and you know, what are you smelling, Brian? Well, I’m smelling cherries, okay, red or black cherries? Black cherries. Wrong. You’re grounded? No. But you know, it was really teaching me to appreciate the nuance of the liquid in the glass. And there were always, you know, Wine Spectator, food and wine magazines. They were always sitting around. And I learned about it. And I learned early on, I had a really sharp sense of smell and a good palate. But more importantly, I was fascinated by the lens that wine offered and continues to offer. It’s a lens through which to see not just, you know, the world, but history, language, geology, geography. And I got hooked at six years old. Wow. And I’ve been tasting ever since then.
Natalie MacLean 11:39
Oh my goodness, you have an ironclad liver or something? Or maybe it’s just.
Brian Freedman 11:43
Yes. We joke around. We tell people that’s why I’m short because I’ve been drinking wine since I’m six. But I thank my parents, my mother’s cooking and my dad’s wine collecting and here you go.
Natalie MacLean 11:53
Did you have a favourite childhood dish that your mother made that today? You would pair it with a certain wine? anything come to mind?
Brian Freedman 12:00
Yeah. My personal Proust, the and Madeleine. Whenever I smell you know onions and garlic and tomatoes and olive oil. That was Friday night. My mom would make spaghetti and meatballs. And my father at the time primarily collected Napa Cab, bit of Left Bank Bordeaux and some Tuscany. So for me, you know, I smell those onions frying and the tomatoes going in. And immediately I start craving Napa Cab. Is it a classic pairing? I don’t know, maybe maybe not. For me, it’s a perfect pairing, both from a sensory perspective as well as from a memory one.
Natalie MacLean 12:37
Wow. That’s wonderful. And what a great introduction to wine. I think I totally ruined my son’s experience because he wanted to sip at three. He wanted to know what was in Mom’s glass. And I gave him like a really bone dry. It was actually Shiraz, but it was dry, was tannic, too. And he just thought it was total yuck. So he did want to try it. But I wasn’t gonna give him ice wine or something and think it was liquid candy. But anyway, I think your parents did it right in terms of also not making it taboo but giving you a great early education.
Brian Freedman 13:09
As your son come back as he has gotten
Natalie MacLean 13:12
He is now 23 and still doesn’t drink. I’m so guilty about that early experience. And I think is it because you see me always you know with a glass of wine? No, he’s just not interested. And I wasn’t either until my late 20s. I didn’t really get into wine. But anyway.
Brian Freedman 13:28
Was there one wine that did it for you? That was your inflection?
Natalie MacLean 13:31
Yes. Yes. Why to turn the interview around here. I’m getting back to you. Yeah, I saw that. A Brunello and Italian Brunello at a little Italian Bistro, around from our apartment when we first moved to Toronto. So it was the wine that said, oh, I need more of this. And I need to know how to describe it so I can get more of it. So anyway Brunello will do that. Yeah. And so would your pivotal wine have been something you’ve tasted as a child? Or was there something later in life? Where you said oh well I think I need to make this my career.
Brian Freedman 14:01
So I think because I grew up with it, it was always something that I loved early on. But you know, I guess I realized I wanted to make it my career before I realized that I could make it my career. Right. So there’s, especially with writing and then writing about wine, there’s a big gap between the perception of the lifestyle and the reality of what it takes to get to a lifestyle where you actually are really enjoying it. And you know, I always loved writing. I had my first oh boy I guess it was the summer after my freshman year as an undergrad at Penn State University. And I got an internship with the food section editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. So this would be the summer of ’96, I suppose. And I was going out with him with their restaurant critic on visits and that really showed me there wasn’t a lot of wine coverage happening at the time, at least that I was involved with. But that really brought the world of restaurants and writing about these things that we consume that we taste that we smell. And I loved that, you know, got back to school that Fall. And I convinced this local magazine at Penn State that I should have a beer and cigar and wine column. And I happened to leave out that I was not yet 21. So when they found out I was immediately fired, which made me sort of a hero among my roommates. And then I had my first piece in the Wine Spectator when I was a senior at Penn State. And I wrote it about this this wine club. My grandfather, after my grandmother passed, he found the love of his life, and they got married later in life, and they were travelling and you know, they would drink champagne every Friday night. They had a group of friend and I wrote about their tasting group. So I graduated college, yeah, one or two small by lines in Wine Spectator. And I said, I’m gonna move to New York and be a writer. So I moved to New York and I was certainly drinking a lot of wine. I was waiting tables. I was having a ball. But I wasn’t mature enough yet to buckle down and actually try to do the work that has to happen to make a career in this world. So I thought alright maybe this isn’t my time. And I enrolled at NYU got a master’s in secondary English education. And I came back to suburban Philadelphia and I taught high school English for three years from ’02 to ’05. And, you know, I have such huge respect for teachers. But I think to be great at it and to make a lifetime career out of it, you have to be passionate about that. And it was always in the back of my head that I want to write you know and I was teaching other people’s writing, but I wasn’t writing. And midway through my third year, my wife said to me to her eternal credit she said, do me a favour. I said, yeah, what, thinking she has a request for dinner. She said, you should quit at the end of the year. She said, you’re not happy. You know, we’re in our mid 20s. At this point, we don’t have kids. And if you’re going to do it, take that chance. This is when you should do it. I said, okay I will. But you realize that we’re going to have no money for a year and she said I know that I trust you. And I said, Okay, I lied. It’s no money for five years. And the attrition rate is like 99.9%. And she said it’s okay, we’ll figure it out. So I quit my job teaching at the end of the school year, and she quit her job at the time. She was managing a Pilates studio. So both of us quit our jobs. We had no safety nets. She was hosting at a restaurant. I was hosting at a wine bar restaurant here in the city. And yeah, it was terrifying. It was absolutely terrifying. I was writing stories for the local paper. Was 1000 word stories for 10 cents a word one a week. So 100 bucks a week figure 40 – 45 stories a year. It got to the point where like, you know, my parents would come over and my mother would like give us an envelope of cash, like you guys got to eat; this is ridiculous. Wow. So we just kept on plugging away. And it was a hard climb, Natalie, it was a hard climb. That’s real passion, holy smokes. It is and my wife has my eternal gratitude and admiration that she did that. It’s one of the reasons that your book is dedicated to her, and our daughters, and to my parents. You know, they were the ones who really had faith for a long time. It seemed like misplaced faith but eventually, you know, you claw your way and you start getting a break here and there and you build a career. And it’s once you do that, it’s the most amazing life you can imagine.
Natalie MacLean 18:37
That’s true. It evokes all the senses you know. You’re in your mind to write but then you’re tasting with your everything. All your senses. So what a great story.
Brian Freedman 18:46
You get to travel to and you meet the most amazing people, right. Nobody gets into wine because they have to. I mean maybe if you’re like the 30th generation of some noble family and you know Italy or something and you think man, I don’t want to be in the family business, maybe. But you know, I don’t know anybody who says I’m stuck in the wine business. What a horrible way to make a living. And that would be crazy to say that, right. I’m so tired of Brunello, right.
Natalie MacLean 19:15
Wow. Okay, so now you have a family. Tell me about your daughter’s first day of preschool.
Brian Freedman 19:24
So we have two daughters. Sophie is now 11. Olivia is now 8. But on Sophie’s first day oh boy it must have been preschool, this wonderful school. And I went to pick her up after her first day. And of course right now Natalie this is the equivalent of like white tie and tails for me, right. I mean, I’m normally in my finest sweatpants and distillery t-shirt. Yeah, my entire wardrobe is winery and distillery t-shirts, right. I mean. It’s how we live this days, keeping on brand. So like locked down pandemic was my Super Bowls. It’s like I got all the t-shirts in the world. I’m fine. So, you know it was our first day and of course I pull into the car line wearing I think it was a George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey t-shirt. Do you know Dickel?
Natalie MacLean 20:11
No, but it sounds like a really interesting brand.
Brian Freedman 20:16
It’s so old school brand. It’s wonderful. Yeah, they make some really interesting stuff. And they have a side project actually called Cascade Moon. Their master distiller of a woman named Nicole Austin is like this genius. So definitely look up Dickel. So I show up in my bright red George Dickel Tennessee whiskey t-shirt. And I’ve been tasting Cab that day. So my teeth are like purple, right? Spitting everything all of us have to spit. Yeah, living dead. I’m like an extra and Michael Jackson’s Thriller like one of the zombies. And there’s no masks at this point. This is years ago, there’s no pandemic. And I show up and I get to the front of the line. And they say to me, you know, Mr. Friedman, yeah, they go, can we talk? Oh boy, here we go. And I know and I’m like I look like that guy. It turns out they were going around the circle that first day, what did you do over the summer? What do your parents do for a living? Its suburban Philadelphia? So the kids, you know, we went to the Jersey Shore or maybe we went to Disney World, one or two kids went to Europe whatever it might be. And then, you know, what are your parents do? Mommy does this or you know, whatever. They get to Sophie. Say, Well, what are your parents who says, well, mommy sells houses. She’s a realtor. Great. And what is your daddy do? My daddy sits around all day drinking wine and whiskey. And they were concerned to begin with and then I roll in to pick her up in my outfit with the purple zombie teeth. So once I explained what was going on we got roped into doing margaritas for all the parent teacher events for the rest of the year.
Natalie MacLean 21:48
That’s a happy ending.
Brian Freedman 21:51
It was a very happy ending for everybody.
Natalie MacLean 21:53
Well, so Child Services was not called. So that’s good.
Brian Freedman 21:56
Almost no, but we avoided that we avoided that was meant that for the margaritas there was no like high fructose corn syrup mixes happening. And in fact when we were like squeezing the limes for the first parent teacher event, I had both girls helping getting the lime juice in there. So it was a family affair.
Natalie MacLean 22:16
Lovely. Again, you’re bringing back memories for me as well. But I remember when my son was about four years old and we’re in the liquor store. And he’s says in quite the loud, he doesn’t have an indoor voice yet. Why are we always go to the booze store, Mom? Okay, yeah, don’t call Child Services. It’s okay. Mom writes. Because it pays the bills. Exactly. Exactly. No, no. Tell me about your wife, your inspirational wife ,how she tastes or perceives flavour differently from a lot of people.
Brian Freedman 22:46
Yeah, it’s wild. So she has a condition. You’re born with it. Its called synesthesia. Are you familiar with synesthesia?
Natalie MacLean 22:53
Just that they it’s not the right word confusing conflating one sense with another?
Brian Freedman 22:59
Yeah. It’s the crossing of the wiring, essentially, in the brain. You know, she grew up in a home where wine was not a focal point. So her exposure to wine really came once we started dating. We’ve been married by the way for 114 years. It’s a very long term relationship. It just flew by. Flew by. I’ve had a lot of work done. I’m 164.
Natalie MacLean 23:22
You’re great. You’re well preserved. You’re probably pickled.
Brian Freedman 23:25
That’s what I tell people. I’m totally pickled from the inside out. I love it. I love it. So when we started dating you know wine, even as an undergrad where you’re supposed to be drinking, like you know, cheap beer and sad plastic litre bottles of who knows what kind of spirit it is. And it’s all heads, all tails, very little heart and those spirits, right? It’s a hangover waiting to happen. So she it turns out was having these very visceral experiences when she was tasting wine. And she has been involved in studies, it turns out, she has synesthesia. And what that means is that the proverbial wiring of the sense perception of the brain gets crossed. So she can hear colours, and she can taste shapes. So what that means is that she has this predator natural sense of recall when she’s tasting wine. I mean, she can sort of be like that’s you know blue with purple polka dots. That’s clearly the 2004 Chateau Latour Barton. Oh, wow. How do you know that? Because that’s the only one that has it. So it’s fascinating to taste with her. And you know because it’s such a part of our lives, it becomes sort of bad for my self esteem because her recall is so much better than mine. She’s got those associations. It is a major stress in our marriage, Natalie. Yeah. She’s much better. It’s really interesting and it’s been interesting to see her progression over the years and over the decades, how she’s really honed in on her ability to taste to smell. We tasted a bone dry Lambrusco last week for a piece that I was working on for Food and Wine Digital and you know I took my tasting notes, and then you know she comes over to the desk and she smells and tastes and she goes, oh my God that’s roasted beets. I thought that’s what I was looking for. And she nailed it in 10 seconds. It’s amazing. Very talented, taster.
Natalie MacLean 25:19
Interesting. So she still gets flavours like if she’s eating, drinking. She’s still getting like, whatever. Violets are salty, or like the mix of flavours and tastes in addition to the colours.
Brian Freedman 25:31
She tastes like the rest of us just in like technicolour and then some.
Natalie MacLean 25:35
Oh, wow, wow. What an interesting phenomenon. What a interesting brain.
Brian Freedman 25:39
I married well, clearly for what I do for a living.
Natalie MacLean 25:43
Yeah. Yeah. That would be really interesting to taste with her. So let us jump ahead here because we’ve had such a great conversation that I’ve lost the script, which is awesome. That’s okay. You’re a great conversationalist but you’ve thrown me off completely, which is perfect. So let’s get to your book. So your new book Crushed: How a Changing Climate is Altering the Way We Drink. GHive us the elevator pitch. What’s this book about?
Brian Freedman 26:09
Alright, so climate change is affecting, obviously, our entire world. We have right now I’m sure by the time we get off, the hurricane that is about to hit Florida may very well be a Category Five. Climate change. There’s you know early harvests happening. There’s wildfires. There’s frost events. There’s freak freezes. You know, it’s affecting everything, right. I mean this past summer, it hit 40 degrees Celsius in London. Yeah, that’s crazy, right. But that’s North Atlantic, it shouldn’t be 40 Celsius. So it’s affecting everything. And there have been hundreds and hundreds of books written about how climate change is affecting our food system. But there hasn’t been that much written from a book length perspective about how climate change is affecting this amazing liquid in our glass, whether it’s wines, whether it’s spirits, that’s also been written for consumers, right. I mean you and I read trade publications all the time with fascinating studies and charts and graphs about how climate and diurnal shift and everything is changing. But my question is look beverage alcohol is set worldwide in the next couple of years to become an almost three quarters of a trillion dollar business. Okay, that’s a lot of money. That’s an incomprehensibly large number of jobs at all levels of it, whether it’s production, shipping, wholesale, retail, sommeliers whatever it might be. Climate change is having a big impact on that. So I wanted to explore how it is affecting wines little bit of spirits in a way that makes it accessible and relevant to consumers, right. I mean you and I both know consumers, they’re not as interested. We can talk for hours about you know our entire I’m gonna use the word our organoleptic perception of the nature of the liquid in the glass, right.
Natalie MacLean 28:05
Okay define that just in case we don’t know. I can’t even say it. Organoleptic.
Brian Freedman 28:09
It’s the sense it’s really it’s a conversation end right there, right. Yeah, you get like you know a wine snob there and you say this organoleptic leaves something to be desired, you win.
Natalie MacLean 28:20
So does this conversation.
Brian Freedman 28:22
Right, there you go. It’s your perception of aroma and flavour of the wine, right. So we can talk about well I’m perceiving, you know, it was a hot year, lots of new American oak or whatever it might be. But let’s bring this to a level where consumers are understanding what’s happening here. So I focused on eight regions around the world. And in those regions, I tell the stories of producers who are dealing with specific incidences where climate change is having an effect. I mean one of my chapters is on Kutch. Jamie Kutch makes some of the most amazing Pinot Noir is in California. Everyone says they make Burgundian Pinot Noir. He makes Burgundian Pinot Noir that is just so accurately through the lens of his vineyard sites throughout the Sonoma Coast. And I tell the story of this one vintage where he and his family are rushing back from vacation to get back to the winery because the smoke is so thick in the winery from the wildfires that it was hard to see from one side to another. I do another chapter on Israeli wine, right. Like so this we’re going to be tasting later the Shiloh. You know Israel, they’ve been making wine for 1000s upon 1000s of years. But what do you do in a warming world when half of the country is already desert. How do you deal with it? How do you continue to make fabulous world class wine? So I focus on producers there.
Natalie MacLean 29:52
Oh, wow. And what was his answer? I’m curious. You’ve posed the question there. What were his insights? How do you deal with desert like conditions creeping up?
Brian Freedman 30:01
So Israel is a fascinating place when it comes to well everything. But when it comes to agriculture and agricultural technology, and I go into this. You know after the founding of the State of Israel right in the late 1940s, it’s sort of the government realized, well we have to become as self sufficient as possible. In the beginning, right, we have to really make sure that we take full advantage of this land and grow what we can produce what we can. So Israel has since the beginning been a worldwide leader in agricultural technology, like drip irrigation, as we know it today does not exist without Israel. So Israel, they’re leveraging agricultural technology. Their best producers are now leveraging this idea of really bringing back the whole ecosystem approach, right. I mean it used to be remember those picture postcards from wine regions around the world, where it was perfectly straight rows of vines marching off into the horizon, and nothing between them. And everyone thought wow that’s beautiful. That’s not beautiful, that nature denuded of what nature actually is. So I focus on this one agronomist named Michal Akerman at Tabor. And she’s been a leader in the industry of bringing back this whole ecosystem. So they’re working on that. The other answer when you know half the country is a desert temperatures are climbing. What do you do? You look for altitude because higher altitude now you’re getting bigger diurnal swing, that difference that all important difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows. Daytime highs allow the grapes to produce sugar, nighttime lows allow them to maintain acidity. So this confluence of understanding the natural environment on such a granular level and leveraging agricultural technology of the country has always been a leader in and there’s this whole movement towards finding like in so many of the best places around the world for wine finding, maybe this hillside is going to be slightly better for Petit Verdot. Whereas this hillside is going to be slightly better for Grenache Blanc or Carignan whatever it might be. So that’s the answer. You have to be willing to pivot and pivot intelligently. Yeah.
Natalie MacLean 32:19
Oh, and so many factors coming together. And just if anyone’s unfamiliar with drip irrigation says control the irrigation of the vines not to overdo it because the grapes get bloated with water, but to do it enough so that the vines don’t die from dehydration, but still work hard to get their roots down into the many layers. And how are they bringing back the ecosystem? Are they trying with like wild grasses between the vineyards or microbes? Or how are they reinvigorating those denuded, maybe previously denuded vineyards?
Brian Freedman 32:50
So this is actually a great question. So Tabor they have an owl on their label. And you know when we were there, walking around the vineyard, and of course, it’s I mean you know the growth between the rows of vines, and there’s wild grasses, there’s all kinds of nitrogen fixing plants, and really trying to bring back the inherent nature of that land. And then you looked at the soil and it was just crawling with all these wonderful insects. Some are familiar, some were unfamiliar. And they said to me, how, what’s with the owl on there, right. And she laughed and she brought up her phone or one of her colleagues brought up his phone and brought up a picture was a black and white like night vision security camera image of an owl with looked like blood coming down from its little owl beak. Yeah. And like those eyes staring at you like an owl Hannibal Lecter. And I thought, all I wanted to know is why there’s an owl on label. What’s going on here. And they said, that’s why the owl is there. It’s okay, I still don’t get it. They said once the owls came back that meant that they had completed that circular, healthy natural ecosystem. It meant that there was a healthy balance of prey and predator. It meant that there’s insects that will get eaten by you know the smaller animals, which will get eaten by the owls and everything had become its entire ecosystem. So for Tabor even their label is a testament to how they’ve been able to bring back this whole ecosystem. And the wines are profoundly wonderful at all price points. It’s fascinating.
Natalie MacLean 34:32
Oh it’s awesome. Wow. So what drew you to this story? I mean, I can see why. You know, this was a book that didn’t exist, especially for consumers. But do you have a personal connection with the whole climate change issue, among other issues you could have chosen in the world of wine?
Brian Freedman 34:49
I mean look, Natalie, one of the big perks of this line of work that we’re in is that we get to travel. And when we travel we tend not to be stuck in conference rooms, you know. We tend to be in the most beautiful places in the world. We’re in vineyards you know. We have the almost ridiculous luxury of being able to say, oh no another big wonderful meal again, I’m so full. It’s ridiculous to say. So you know before the pandemic, at least now, certainly travelling a lot again, I was out of the country, a week out of every month or so right. And the conversation whether it was in South Africa, Sonoma, Argentina, France, Israel, doesn’t matter where the conversation at these dinners at these tastings, invariably at some point would come to climate change. And when you talk to the grape growers, and the winemakers or the distillers, there are entire aspects of climate change that are affecting how they do their job, how everybody along the line does their job, that was changing it or shifting it in not just the obvious ways that we see, right, but the fires and the floods are the obvious ways. But there’s 1000 other ones, right, that are having an impact on it. And it was coming up more and more. And I thought this is important. This is really important stuff. And also, let’s be honest, all of us as consumers we all make choices, right? And the farm to table food movement, it did a wonderful job of bringing it to everybody’s attention that maybe it’s a good idea when you go to a restaurant that you should be ordering things that are more seasonal. A) they’re going to taste better, right. I mean here in Philadelphia on the East Coast we had amazing tomatoes this summer. Our local tomatoes were wonderful. I will not be ordering a tomato in February a) because it’s going to depress me. But b) because what’s the carbon footprint of that tomato? Where did that come from, right? Yes, so the cost of that tomato in both dollars and cents and in environmental costs is huge. So that the farm to table movement did a great job with that. But when it comes to what we drink I think that’s a little bit less obvious. Natural wine is certainly an aspect of this, although that’s not everything because you can certainly drink responsibly and not drink natural wine. Sure. And you can certainly drink natural wine and still have a big carbon footprint, right? If you’re shipping it in from who knows where. So there is no panacea. But I think what the answer is is to focus on what’s in our glass to support the producers that are doing the right thing. Sure. And frankly you know I tend to think wine that is made with fewer chemical inputs that is grown in healthier land, it’s frankly just going to not just taste better but be a more accurate education of that patch of the planet where it was grown. There’s a reason that we all say you know we don’t just look at the wine list and there’s one Cab, one Pinot, one Riesling, one Merlot because it tastes different depending upon where it’s grown, what vineyard, what region, what appellation. So the more accurately that wine expresses where it’s from, the more interesting it ostensibly is. And the best way for you to accurately express where it’s from is if it’s grown and produced in a way that allows it to do that. So this I thought was a topic that was coming up more and more frequently. And I thought this deserves a much deeper dive.
Natalie MacLean 38:33
It does. Yes, it does. It’s great that you’ve written this because it is important. It’s not just educational. It’s also important for our planet. For the people who work on these wine farms I mean there’s so many spin off implications of people being more aware of the products they buy and what they’re supporting voting with their dollars so to speak.
Natalie MacLean 38:58
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Brian. Here my takeaways. Number one, I appreciated how Brian dug into the less obvious impact of climate change or global weirding on wine from freak spring frost, a persistent ongoing wildfire season. Two, he also helped us understand how those changes are different from what’s happening to our food system, especially when winemakers get just one chance a year to get it right. And three, I was fascinated to learn how Israeli winemakers are bringing back a whole ecosystem approach to making wine. In the show notes, you’ll find my email contact, the full transcript of my conversation with Brian, links to his book and website, the wines we tasted, and where you can find the live stream video version of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube Live every Wednesday at 7pm. You’ll also find a link to my free Ultimate Guide to Food and Wine Pairing. That’s all in the show notes at NatalieMacLean.com/202. Email me if you have a sip, question, or would like to become a beta reader of my new memoir at [email protected] NatalieMaclean.com. You won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Brian. In the meantime, if you missed episode 17 go back and take a listen. I chat about organic and biodynamic winemaking, with rockstar winemaker Thomas Bachelder. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Unknown Speaker 40:29
Organics and biodynamics are the same from an organic viticulture point of view and from winemaking point of view. It’s non intervention. You can use mine minerals like sulphur and copper, put them into water and spray and they help protect. Any rainfall they get washed. Right now whether you’re in organics or biodynamics, the copper is a metal. It’s a heavy metal and you can eventually get toxicity in your soil. So even with organics and biodynamics we’re watching copper like a hawk. We have virgin soils over here compared to Burgundy. So I learned from the Burgundians. They actually look at the load they’re putting on a vineyard every year and they tried to skip treatments. Imagine that you’re organic, using organic materials and you’re trying to skip treatments. It’s like not taking your full antibiotic dose when you’ve been sick, but we do that to try to always use the least interventional land we can.
Natalie MacLean 41:33
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the wines, tips, and stories we discussed. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps a wine from Israel that you haven’t tried before.
Natalie MacLean 41:58
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.