Whether it is a fruity Napa merlot or an oaky and acidic Chablis chardonnay, any wine lover will tell you that each variety of grape and the region in which it is grown gives each wine a unique character. With global warming altering the world’s climate and weather patterns, enthusiasts may have to start reworking their palates. Climatologists at the French research institute INRA predict that global temperature will rise 1 to 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century, making extreme weather events more common and opening up new regions for viticulture. Under these conditions, existing winemakers across the globe will be unable to continue to create the exact same styles from their grapes as they have in the past.
Vintners have always had to contend with the elements to produce their wine, but now they face a whole new challenge from the threat of global warming. An international committee for the Agriculture and Forestry Climate Change Program (ACCAF) run by France’s research institute INRA has been laboring to formulate strategies to cope with climate change. While not a staple crop, the wine grapes provide an insight into how food production will eventually be affected. Water scarcity, frosts, disease, and flooding could all influence the productivity and chemical composition of the grapes.
The researchers have found that places that were known for their cool climates that had trouble ripening fruit have become more suitable to for growing in the last half a century. Drought and scorching temperatures in some traditional production areas are threatening harvest, while other countries such as Tasmania, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, England, Germany and Chile may start to benefit from a change in weather patterns.
Many new vineyard developments in Northern Europe will be seen as risky due to unpredictable weather and where one good cold snap could wipe out an entire crop. Land known to craft a particular type of wine could start to see changes in flavor, turning light and crisp whites into fat and floral versions, and medium-bodied reads into heavy knockouts. Northern France has already observed changes in climate affect the balance of sugar and acidity in their grapes and the Languedoc region of the Mediterranean has noticed hot weather increase the body and alcohol of their wines.
“Can any region continue to grow the exact same varieties and make the exact same style of wines? If what we know today is correct, that is highly unlikely,” says Gregory Jones, professor of oenology at Southern Oregon University.
With wine, consumer acceptance will go a long way to determining the success of each region. Growers will have to adapt to their terrain and alter planting methods, and possibly swap the types of grapes altogether. Plants allowed under Europe’s strict appellation laws may have to be amended, allowing indigenous varieties from hot climates such as Portugal, Sicily Greece and Spain to be cultivated. Some are optimistic that as the genetics of these types of warm-weather grapes are decoded, they could be used for breeding. Portugal has 100 to 150 native varieties alone that could be explored. So, while the traditional wine establishment might be facing a shake-up, it is sure that human beings will find a way to still produce a good glass of vino.