Global Warming & Wine

by winenews on Oct.23, 2009, under Articles

When you talk to grape growers and winemakers today, they will tell you climate is a major factor in how good a vintage will be.  Researchers have found that vintages have improved as temperatures rose over the last 50 years, especially in areas with cooler climates. Vineyards in cooler climates, such as   Oregon   ,   Washington   and   British Columbia   , could continue to benefit from global warming. These findings could prove troublesome for vineyards in traditionally warmer regions.

Odds are we are going to continue to see a warming environment, and there will be some challenges the industry will have to meet one way or another.  Researchers have found that most vintages improved as vineyards’ temperatures rose an average of 1.3 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years.  The effects were strongest in cool climate regions, such as the Mosel and Rhine valleys of Germany , suggesting warmer temperatures offer the greatest advantage to cold-climate grape-growing regions.

Cooler climates, such as Oregon , Washington and British Columbia , could continue to benefit from global warming.  But regions with warmer climates, such as Italy ‘s famed Chianti region, could see grapes ripen too quickly under ever warmer temperatures. Grapes that ripen too quickly on the vine generally have higher sugar content, which produces more alcoholic wine with less acidity and balance.  Rising temperatures may force growers to manage vines differently to produce similar wine styles, or to plant different varieties better suited to the changing climate.  The news could be unsettling for an industry that prides itself on regional identity and reputation.

A predicted rise of another 2 degrees Celsius over the next half century could have more mixed results.  Rising temperatures are already leading to changes in the industry.  Whether those changes will be permanent remains to be seen, but everyone agrees in most scientific circles that change is occurring.  What that change is, is still up in the air.  If it really is catastrophic and not just a blip, vintners will definitely change how they plant and where they plant.

In some areas, the change could already have been very detrimental.  The extreme heat wave in Europe this summer, which some experts blamed on global warming, offers an example.  Southern Italy and Greece are hard-pressed to produce any good wine this year.  But in southern England, it may be their best vintage since prior to the little Ice Age.

There is however a lot more at stake here than wine.  If global warming is a reality, the ensuing climate disruption is going to affect every aspect of our lives — our ecosystems, our economies, and our livelihoods. Global warming may become a worldwide catastrophe, but at least the wine should be better.

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