How Global Warming will Change Wine Regions
The Earth’s climate is shifting and winegrowers are paying close attention. Generally, the globe as a whole is warming. The warming of polar Arctic and Antarctic regions has caused more dramatic seasonal polar ice melts and results in the Earth absorbing more heat, since the shrinking white ice reflects less sunlight and heat back into space.
In conjunction with atmospheric warming, more dramatic weather effects are counter-balancing temperature changes. Hurricanes and tornados are simple and terrifying examples of natural heat redistribution. Changes in rainfall are another result that agriculturalists and winegrowers need to remain aware of. Whether these global climate changes are to last a dozen year or hundreds of years is of less importance to the world’s wine growers than the more productive question of how to deal with it.
It’s important that the wine industry confront climate change head-on because grapes, soil and the wine flavors they help create are directly affected by climate. Some key changes worldwide may be:
- Sugar builds-up faster in warmer temperatures, meaning that vineyards may need to harvest sooner.
- Soil quality, a crucial part of a wine’s terroir, can be dramatically weakened in higher temperatures because the nutrients from organic material decompose faster.
- Soil erosion occurs faster under heavier, windier rainfall and weather events.
The suitability of a region for growing wine is not solely dependent on temperature and precipitation. Soil quality, transportation options, access to water, and political considerations will determine how vineyards will adapt. These factors should be considered when reading scientific studies, which vary in using these factors when determining the long-term suitability of regions.
Regions Under Fire
Think of Chianti, Barolo, and Rioja: these wines come from relatively small, specific regions and are the most vulnerable. Chianti is a region in central Tuscany on the north-western coast of Italy that by 2050 will likely be too hot to sustain Sangiovese grapes. In Spain, Rioja wines are threatened by weakened tempranillo vineyards, since this grape thrives in cooler climates.
Celebrated wine regions like Napa, Burgundy, and Bordeaux will undergo similar changes. Bordeaux, known as the “King of Wines” from the eponymous French wine region, is dependent on the maritime influence on several key grapes used in Bordeaux wine, namely Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for whites. However, increased weather events on the eastern coast of France, like droughts and storms, combined with higher summer temperatures are threatening the entire region.
The Bordeaux region knows the ravages of disease all too well. In the late 1800s, nearly two decades of Bordeaux wine were lost because of Phylloxera infestations, prompting growers to create new vineyards in other parts of the French empire. Today, growers are increasingly focused on pest control. Unsuitable weather makes vines more susceptible to disease. Warmer weather allows pests and disease to spread more rapidly. With global warming, you may see some of the similar havoc as during the Phylloxera infestation that forever reshaped the European wine industry.
Options for Adaptation
Wine producers are taking several different tacks to deal with the challenges that come with climate change. Some vintners, like those in the Chianti Growers Association, suggest that different irrigation practices will maintain the soil’s suitability for years to come. Winegrowers associations in South Africa, where water is far more scarce, are pushing the government to focus on protection from foreign plant species, like eucalyptus, that use more water than native species.
California’s Napa wine region, which accounts for 90% of America’s wine production, is under particular threat from climate change, as California is expected to become more arid in the next 40 years. Some changes have already been seen, with increased maritime fog and higher nighttime temperatures. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance has educated more than 10,000 wine grape growers with workshops that introduce new farming methods like dry farming, a technique used mostly in the Great Plains regions of the US to farm without irrigation.
Wine producers have a final, dramatic option, as well: move. As temperatures rise in France, Italy and the Napa Valley, it’s likely that some growers will simply move their grapes and wine-making operations further north, where temperatures that were typically too low to grow grapes will rise as well.
The expense of growing in climatically challenged regions will be passed onto consumers but the overall sentiment among winemakers is that the global wine industry will adapt in a variety of ways to ensure that the multi-billion-dollar market remains healthy and, perhaps, more sustainable.
About the Author
Matthew Sonnenshein is the writer for AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar, making sure their blog is busy with insight wine & chocolate information. With two Manhattan locations, AYZA is the NYC wine bar that takes the pairing of fine wine and gourmet chocolate to a new level, while also boasting a stellar chocolate martini.
Matthew Sonnenshein wrote another exclusive guest post for Vino in Love about Asian Food & Wine which will be published in the upcoming weeks. I hope you found this post as much interesting as I do. Looking forward to your comments about this important subject. Below you find a peak of Matthew’s second guest post for Vino in Love.
Wine doesn’t have a long history with Asian food, so wine lovers have only recently discovered how to pair the two. With the nearly-pure-alcohol baijiu, akin to our white lightning, in China and the variety of sake in Japan, Asia as a whole has not traditionally made wine a staple of its dining culture as wine growing is a recent phenomena. That is changing fast. With increasing demand coming from Western influence, and the acres of land in Asia becoming more suitable for grape growing because of climate change, wine is quickly becoming an exciting part of Asian meals. Asian cuisine generally has many flavors and ingredients, often served across several dishes across a single meal. To ensure that the flavors are enjoyed, it’s best to approach Asian food wine pairings with a sense of balance. Though there are some dishes, like stir-fry, that benefit from heavier wines, it’s best to stick with white wines for Asian cuisine..