Climate change (what we used to call global warming) is beginning to have a drastic effect on the world of wine. The last time I wrote about this, several years ago, it was more of a threat (“If the trend continues…”) than a reality. Slowly but gradually, the very existence of our best wine regions is under attack from higher temperatures.
This is not a political statement. Grapevines are neither liberal nor conservative, none of them have ever heard of Al Gore, and they are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. They don’t care why it’s getting warmer, but they like it— initially, it causes them to flourish and increase production. One of the ironies of climate change is that, in the short term, it has produced a string of excellent vintages around the world. Regions that traditionally struggled to produce ripe grapes, such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, have achieved record levels of ripeness in recent years.
The trend is now reversing. Harvest is coming earlier in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and alcohol levels are rising. If the pattern continues, many experts fear that growing Pinot Noir in the Cotes de Nuits won’t be a viable option in fifty years. Germany has also benefited from a series of good vintages, but levels of rainfall are drastically on the rise, and vines in the Mosel are suffering from vine diseases usually found further south. Vintners in Chile and Argentina are moving their operations higher into the Andes Mountains, to take advantage of cooler growing seasons. Southern England, an area only capable of producing sparkling wines twenty years ago, is suddenly becoming known for full-bodied reds. I recently read an article by Jancis Robinson MW in which she gives favorable reviews to numerous wines from Holland, a country better known until recently for making beer and Gin.
People who believe that climate change is natural and cyclical point to the Medieval Warm Period, which occurred between 1000-1200 A.D., as a previous era of elevated temperatures (followed, interestingly, by a cold epoch known as the Little Ice Age). Whether climate change is natural or man-made, let’s hope that someone figures out a solution soon.