What if in the future, you couldn’t recognize your favorite wine—not because your ability to taste naturally diminishes over time, but because climate change had altered or stripped away the character of a variety you know and love?
Climate change is real, say viticulturists studying its effects on wine regions. They wonder if the wine styles currently emblematic of a region may be unrecognizable 50 years from now.
“The 50-degree latitude has been the northern limit for viticulture for a long time, [but] the…map is changing,” said Gregory Jones, a professor of Environmental Science and Policy and research climatologist at Southern Oregon University, speaking at the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium in Brighton, England.
Here are three ways wine producers are coping:
1 Canopy Management
Utilizing more leaf-shading to protect the grapes from sun is one option. But our increasingly unpredictable weather means these needs change annually. This past August, Champagne growers stripped leaves because rising humidity had increased disease pressure. However, fruit then got sunburned during a mini-heat wave, according to Thibaut le Mailloux of the Comité Champagne, the trade association representing producers and growers.
2 Different Grape Varieties
Researchers in traditional regions like Bordeaux are already exploring cultivars better adapted to varying climate conditions and diseases. Two French agriculture-research institutions are studying Plot 52, a parcel planted with 52 different grape varieties, including some from Portugal, Greece and Italy. The goal is to identify varieties better suited to hotter climates. “A possible long-term adaptation is to plant later-ripening varieties,” wrote Professor Cornelis van Leeuwen of Bordeaux Sciences Agro, in answer to an email query. “Changing varieties is a really long-term adaptation for after 2050.”
3 Site Selection
Grape growers may need to plant their vineyards at higher latitudes or higher elevations to capture cooler climate conditions. In Germany’s Mosel Valley, Johannes Selbach of Weingut Selbach-Oster has done just that. Selbach has moved his plantings higher on the region’s hillsides, closer to the crest where the wind provides a cooling effect. “We are also recultivating abandoned vineyards in the little side valleys and ravines where there is shade,” he said.