Climate Change And Wine: Should We Be Preparing For A “Grape-ocalypse”?

It’s no secret that our planet is warming at an alarming rate. Most studies on global warming focus on dangerous environmental changes, like drought and flooding, that threaten human communities (and rightly so). There is plenty of frightening information out there on what we can expect from climate change over the next few decades and centuries.

But such a wide-ranging event as global climate change has ramifications across all manner of environments, crops and industries. You’ve surely given a lot of thought to the obvious effects of global warming, like natural disasters; however, there are many less obvious changes we may need to face.

One of these may be shifts in the way we make and consume wine, as rising temperatures affect the taste of grapes and dictate changes in the harvesting process. Some are even warning of a “grape-ocalypse”, according to UK environmental organization Big Green.

How Will Climate Change Affect Wine Making?

As the climate changes, the inherent qualities of soil, vines and grapes evolve. Longer-term temperature shifts can damage the sugar levels in wine grapes, as well as tamper with their characteristic flavors. This could potentially lead to our favorite wines tasting distinctly different, says Big Green’s Mark Hall, who also warns that “given a few decades, [they] might even disappear altogether to be replaced by completely new wines”.

Climate change can also lead to more extreme seasonal patterns across both summer and winter, making it difficult to protect vines from harsh winter frosts, as well as to choose the optimal time for harvest. The Australian wine industry, based in an already-dry region, has already begun implementing strategies for managing climate change, including water-saving practices and decreased use of agri-chemicals.

In more extreme circumstances, we may even stand to lose large swathes of wine-producing land, as Conservation International’s 2013 study into effects of climate change on southern and central European winemaking areas forewarns. As the earth warms up, European producers may have to move further and further north.

Climate Change And Wine Making: Is It All Bad News?

Of course, it’s hard to know exactly how climate change will impact wine-growing and making. But Hall is quick to reject the term “grape-ocalypse,” suggesting the industry could even stand to benefit from some of the predicted changes.

For one, it could lead to larger yields from increasingly temperate regions and render certain areas more conducive to crop growing – though production levels could decline in more traditional wine regions. We may begin to see bold new flavors and styles appearing in wines from new producers. And as one Bordeaux producer has pointed out, wines may become stronger not only in taste, but in alcohol content, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on where you sit.

The outcome is as yet unknown. It may be too early to start stockpiling your favorite labels. But winemakers and wine lovers may need to brace themselves for change, in one form or another.

Are you a winemaker or oenophile? Please share your thoughts on this issue in the comments below.

By Gemma King

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Gemma King

Coffee Connoisseur Columnist
Gemma King is an Australian francophile living between Paris, Melbourne and Richmond Virginia. A PhD student in French cinema at Melbourne Uni and the Sorbonne, she's also an eternal nomad, a film buff, a French lecturer, a coffee reviewer, an English teacher and a travel writer. As la muséophile, she spends her Sundays exploring and reviewing the lesser-known museums of Paris at www.lesmuseesdeparis.com.

1 Comment

  1. It would be a shame to lose any wine making regions to climate change. I heard that coffee and chocolate are 2 other crops that could be strongly effected.

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