Blind Muscat recently came across an amazing piece of unintended causation, definitely worth sharing: about how a 19th century volcanic eruption in Southeast Asia changed the way the Brits thought about Christmas. Maybe the rest of you knew this, but not me -- and I found enlightenment in a wine book.
I tripped across this info while reading New Zealand viticulture researcher David Jackson's excellent little book, called simply Climate, a concise overview of cool winegrowing climates in particular work and how they shape viticulture and wine style. The book includes a brief treatment on global warming and its implications, which begins with the following rather arresting historical reflection on the last Ice Age, ending 12,000 years ago: "Had viticulture been practiced, 'cool-climate' wines would have been grown in southern Spain and northern Africa and warm-climate wines may have been produced in what is now the Sahara Desert."
Helps open your mind to the possible future of places like the Napa Valley and the Yukon, doesn't it?
The volcano/Christmas part actually comes in two separate factoids Jackson mentions. First, in a bullet list of historical eras with warmer and cooler weather, he notes that the very cold 1820s were the period in which "the idea that Christmas should be white took hold in Britain." A couple pages later, he suggests that chilly decade was likely the result of atmospheric crud stemming from the massive explosion of Mt. Tambora, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, the largest volcanic event in historic time.
Now for the record, Jackson locates this volcano in the Philippines, a sort of predecessor to Mount Pinatubo, which did a small version of the same thing to the world's atmosphere in 1991. How a prominent New Zealand scientist could get his archipelagos mixed up is anybody's guess--but the broader point stands.
When the holidays come around this year, remember that there's a hidden link between this tropical outburst and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." May be even a better example than the grapes-in-the-Sahara-during-the-Ice-Age notion of what may lie down our own terrestrial, cultural and vinous road.