2019-02-08 / Travel

Winederlust

Climate Change and Wine: It’s a Thing
By Erlinda A. Doherty


Erlinda A. Doherty Erlinda A. Doherty There may be a few holdouts, but the vast majority of the public has come to terms with the reality of climate change. And wine lovers in particular should care about the effects of increasing temperatures and water deficits as these factors will certainly affect wine production... and prices. Viticulture— like all agriculture— is highly dependent upon climatic conditions during growing reason and warmer or extreme weather will be of major concern. Let’s gain some insight on how climate change stands to impact our favorite beverage.

It Has Affected Harvest Practices

Warmer weather means earlier ripening of grapes, causing winemakers to alter harvest practices. Harvesting must begin earlier in order to prevent over-ripening which can lead to overly sweet wines—an undesirable quality for many wines. While some vintage variation is normal, Europe has already experienced a documented shift in harvesting. Wine regions in France such as Bordeaux and the Rhone are picking grapes two and four weeks earlier respectively than 30 years ago.

And while many regions have been able to adapt to these increases in temperature—and may even welcome some of the higher temperatures— beyond a certain point it becomes damaging. Moreover, other aspects of climate change are certainly destructive. Extreme weather, wild fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, soil erosion from heavy rainfall, flooding, and vineyard diseases have all resulted in less predictability in harvesting, putting grape yields at risk.

It Will Affect the Wine Map

Major wine regions are located between the 35th and 50th parallels, but as temperatures increase we will see these bands shift and reformulate. Europe and California will be the most susceptible to climate change, as experts predict the reduction of wine production in specific areas. Long-held associations between varietals, terroir, and appellations such as Pinot Noir with Burgundy or Cabernet with Napa will have to be re-evaluated. The prestige of these legacy wines could be impacted and wine drinkers will have to become accustomed to new flavor profiles.

While some world-renowned regions may become unsuitable for grapes, there are others that stand to benefit from climate change. Areas that had been too cold or marginal for grape growing such as England, Tasmania, Scandinavia, Canada, and China are already experiencing investments in viticulture and increased wine production. For example, quality sparkling wine is consistently produced in England and Canada, and Pinot Noir production from Tasmania has received accolades.

It Will Affect Prices

With all the variability climate change will bring, one certainty will be its effect on prices. As it becomes increasingly difficult to make wines in the Old World due to very small yields, wines will become even less affordable. Specific irrigation techniques, heat mitigation practices, and other inputs will be required. These factors will drive up costs of already pricey wines. On the contrary, areas that benefit from increasing temperatures will be positioned to produce more affordable wines. Areas such as Canada, China, and Russia will invest in technology and infrastructure and increase production, which will in turn give wine drinkers new wines to enjoy at approachable price points.

Things are definitely getting hot in here— at least wine- wise! Let’s learn about some buzzy wines or revisit legacy favorites— before they’re gone! Visit my website at www.thevinicola.com or contact me at erlinda@thevinicola.com to learn about wine or to plan your next private tasting event.

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