Global Warming & Wine
First it was hurricanes’ growing fury that brought home the effects of global warming. Now it’s wine.
There’s good news and bad coming from climatologists like Gregory Jones at Southern Oregon University, who tracks the effects of climate change on vineyards around the world. On the down side are projections for warmer zones: America’s premium wine production, for instance, could shrink by a whopping 81% by century’s end, thanks to hotter minimum temperatures and heat spikes of +95ºF, which cause stressed grapevines to stop photosynthesis. Similarly in the Old World, adding 2–3ºC (4.2–6.3ºF) could endanger the viability of some native vines, making Rioja too hot for tempranillo, Chianti for sangiovese, and Côte-Rôtie for syrah.
Two degrees seems a pittance. “That’s a challenge in the whole climate-change sector,” Jones acknowledges. “When you say, ‘Temperatures are going to warm by one or two degrees,’ the problem is that number. People are like, ‘Well, that doesn’t seem like enough to matter.’” But 1ºC propelled medieval Europe into its hot Little Optimum age (900–1300 AD), when vineyards stretched as far north as England and the Baltic Sea.
Recent warming has already pushed cooler wine zones like Piedmont, Burgundy, and Germany into optimal temperature ranges for grape-growing. And that’s the good news. “We’re enjoying a Golden Age,” says Aldo Vacca, director of the Produttori del Barbaresco. Piedmont’s average growing-season temperature climbed 1ºC in the 1990s, which meant longer summers and riper grapes. Moreover, nebbiolo now thrives in vineyards that were once too cool. “There’s been a 25% increase in acreage in both Barolo and Barbaresco in the last seven years,” Vacca notes, “thanks to this new climate.”
The Golden Age might be fleeting. According to Jones, the Barolo zone could be another 1.4ºC hotter by 2049—an orange alert for finicky nebbiolo. Bottom line? Now’s the time to snatch up Barolo and other terroir-driven wines. But you knew that already.
Published in the Fall 2008 pilot issue of Cellar Fine Wines (AmEx).