Wine gets better with climate change in some regions — but not for long
Turns out there's a silver lining to climate change: better wine from some areas of the world.
Hotter and drier summers in historically cooler wine-growing regions — like Bordeaux and Champagne, France — help grapes ripen faster, which translates to earlier harvests, USA Today reported Thursday. The advantage of early harvests: Grapes don't get swollen with rainwater during the fall, and thus they have more intense and less diluted flavors, the paper noted.
"If you like the styles of wine that come from these regions, then I'd say there is a benefit [to climate change]," Andrew Rich, beverage director at Woods Hill Table and a former wine importer for Rhineland Collection, said in a phone interview.
But wine growers (and wine lovers) may not see a benefit from climate change for long.
"[Vineyards in cooler regions that are currently warming] may have extreme years where it freezes," Rich said. "We might go from a time where we're making wine every year and then a frost just decimates a vintage because of extreme weather patterns."
Climate change is forcing winemakers to adapt quickly within a single vintage — a season, in layman's terms — Rich said. For example, drought can stress out grapevines. To ensure grapes are getting the water and energy they need, growers need to manage the canopy, or vine leaves and shoots, that cover the vines. Some growers are even irrigating their vines, he said.
Vexing times for vino
If a producer is in a hot region like Southern Spain, South Africa or Southern Italy, Rich said, "You need to have a canopy that protects the grapes so they don't get sunburnt" with hotter temperatures. Aloe can't soothe these sunburns; the grapes will shrivel up to raisins and be unusable.
Rising sea levels could also be catastrophic for vineyards near the coast, Rich noted. Though Sonoma county is 20 miles inland from the coast, that region is at risk for forest fires because of California's drought. "It's awful if we lose a vineyard," Rich said.
A study published in 2013 noted that rising global temperatures may force some vineyards to relocate to higher altitudes, which would effectively change the entire global wine economy.
Lee Hannah, a co-author of the study, told NPR that it all depends on location. Growers in California are dealing with higher temperatures and drought, while growers in Europe have had to confront either one or the other.
Higher temperatures, higher prices?
Wine lovers should brace themselves for potential sticker shock at the wine shop. Rich noted that climate change is already influencing wine prices. For example, sought after wines from Burgundy, France, had a tough vintage that drove up prices because the vineyard produced fewer usable grapes and therefore, bottles of wine.
"During a hard vintage, they had to make less wine to make quality wine," he said, noting consumers might actually pay more for a bad vintage than a regular vintage. If a producer has one bad vintage, consumers might be paying for it years down the road, too, as the producer tries to recoup the lost costs.
"It will be up to the next generation of farmers to adapt to the land," Rich said, explaining he hopes farmers take care of the soil so it may be prosperous for our lifetimes and lifetimes afterwards.
Wine isn't the only beloved food that's been put in the climate crosshairs. Coffee and some of America's favorite ice cream flavors could be at stake, too. Best to drown one's sorrows in a big glass of red... while we still can.