Wine is getting warmer

Published on January 15, 2020

Vines for wine production have traditionally been grown between 30 and 50 degrees north and south of the equator.  Have a look at a globe and you will see that all the major wine producing areas are in these bands – Europe, California, Australia, Argentina/Chile, South Africa are all there.  Note the UK is north of the 50 degrees line.  Within these bands, vines have historically produced the best grapes.  With climate change, this is changing.

Average temperatures in wine regions have been rising steadily, resulting in harvest dates (when grapes are at optimal ripeness) to be around 4 weeks earlier than they were 30 years ago.  Traditionally in Bordeaux the harvest started in late September/early October, now they are in August.  What does this mean for these regions?  Well in areas like Burgundy and Champagne in France, Barolo in Italy, the Mosel and Rhine Valleys of Germany, where great vintages were once rare, warmer growing seasons have made it far easier to produce consistently exceptional wines.  So in these areas, climate change has, to date, been good for wine producers and wine drinkers!

Rising temperatures also mean that grapes can be ripened in areas nearer the poles.  Places, like southern England, that were historically unsuited for producing fine wine, have been given the opportunity to join the global wine world.  The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Patagonia (Argentina/Chile) and Tasmania (Australia) have also been major beneficiaries.

Summers are not just hotter, they also tend to be drier with harsher sunlight, leading to droughts and sunburnt grapes at vineyards in Australia, South Africa, California and Chile.  In these areas, most recently in Australia, resulting wildfires as wiping out vineyards and causing smoke taint in wine grown from grapes close to the fires.  These areas are the losers in the climate change era.

More disruptions are coming fast. The accelerating effects of climate change are forcing the wine industry to adapt.  These are some of the main things forward-thinking wine producers are considering:

  1. Growing grapes in cooler places – In pursuit of the best sites, wine producers are moving north in the Northern Hemisphere, and south in the Southern.
  2. Seeking higher ground – Producers are now planting vineyards at altitudes once considered inhospitable to growing wine grapes.
  3. Reducing the strength of the sun – to prevent overripening, growers are reorienting vine rows in vineyards or moving whole vineyards to protect grapes from the afternoon sun, when the heat and light are at their most intense.
  4. Growing different grape varieties – growers are leaving behind the grapes that have long been associated with their regions, and selecting ones more suited to a warmer climate.
  5. Planning for extreme weather events – producers are taking steps to prepare for drought, hail, fires, floods and other extreme weather events that seem to be occurring much more regularly with a changing climate.

So as a wine drinker, the wine map could change completely so watch out for wines from unfamiliar places in the not too distant future.  We could be drinking Pinot Noir from Essex, every bit as good as the 2016 De Loach Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California, currently on the Winecroft club winelist.  And what will we be drinking from California, hopefully not smoke tainted, flabby wines from overripe, sunburnt fruit!

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