Today, I wanted to delve into the impact of climate change on the wine industry. After seeing hundreds of articles on the topic, I got a little overwhelmed. So, I’m going to share some of the highlights.
What Wine Enthusiast Has to Say About Climate Change
Their article from May 2023 has a great title: “Climate Change Is Rapidly Altering Wine As We Know It.” Here are some of their discoveries:
- Temperatures have climbed so much, harvests now begin an average of 13 days earlier than they did prior to 1988.
- Certain cool-weather areas like North Germany have benefited tremendously from this change. Likewise, Bordeaux, Burgundy and portions of Italy “have yielded more delicious and consistent results.”
- BUT… Multiple heat waves cause the vines to struggle. “If the growing season becomes too hot, fruit will push through its life cycle too quickly and characteristics like tannings and anthocyanins, the compounds responsible for giving grape skins their color, won’t develop properly. Muted acid and increased alcohol levels are also possible and often undesirable.”
- “Too much rain approaching or during harvest can lead to watery grapes and a weak vintage.”
- “Severe floods are also possible and could leave swaths of vineyards in Portugal, New Zealand, California and other regions completely underwater.”
The New York Times’s Take
The New York Times highlights five areas of note, three of which I’ll share here.
- The wine map is expanding. Warming climates are allowing places like England, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which used to be unsuitable for grape growing, to produce wonderful wines.
- Winemakers are seeking higher ground. Producers are now planting vineyards at altitudes once considered inhospitable to growing wine grapes.
- Regions are looking at different grapes. Napa Valley, known for its amazing Cabernet Sauvignon, knows that it might not be able to continue producing this grape that is so important to the region. Likewise, Bordeaux is facing the same situation. On the red side, they’re looking at four grapes: “touriga nacional, a leading grape of port; marselan, a cross between cabernet sauvignon and grenache; castets, an almost forgotten variety that is resistant to certain diseases; and arinarnoa, a cross between cabernet and tannat that is late- ripening, which may protect against spring frosts.” “The three whites [being considered] include albariño, the main white grape of northwestern Spain, which may be a good alternative to sauvignon blanc; petit manseng, from southwestern France, which, like sémillon, can make both dry and sweet wines; and liliorila, a little-known cross between chardonnay and the obscure baroque that is highly aromatic.”
The World of Fine Wines’s Two Cents
The World of Fine Wine talks about these impacts of climate change:
- Higher alcohol levels
- Lower acidity levels
- Less refined tannins
They also talk about the impact of milder winters. “Because winters are significantly milder, vines are often coming out of dormancy far earlier than they used to, making them more vulnerable to frost. France, in particular, has had a pattern of mild winters, followed by sudden cold snaps in early spring, which kill off vulnerable young growth… The most severe example was 2021. After an exceptionally mild winter, more than 90 percent of France was hit with sub-zero temperatures for several days in early April. The country’s total wine harvest was the lowest since the Second World War, 30 percent smaller than usual—ruinous for hundreds of growers.”
The more I read, the sadder I got. Let’s hope for some miraculous improvements to climate change that will slow down the changes being experienced by the wine industry.