Grape-ocalypse Now: Climate change could alter the taste of wine

Threat or opportunity for producers?

Changes in the Earth’s climate will bring about changes in the taste and production of wines with some calling it a ‘grape-ocalypse’ as traditional growing areas are lost, it’s been predicted.

Whether global warming is man-made or a natural phenomenon or a combination of the two, vine growers are already reporting that they’re having to adapt to changes in the climate to ensure quality and timely harvests, a UK-based company says.

logoHowever, it’s not all bad news for producers: The company has also found that global warming is also contributing to larger yields, with wine production opening up in geographic areas that were not considered particularly profitable before.

“The bottom line is that the wine connoisseur will have to get used to the idea that their favourite label is going to taste different,” says spokesperson Mark Hall. “And given a few decades, it might even disappear altogether to be replaced by completely new wines.”

It’s already known that prolonged higher temperatures have a negative effect on aroma and production of sugar in grapes. With climate change bringing a wider variation of temperatures, harsher and more unpredictable winter frosts lasting later into the spring also bring huge implications during the budding season.

“We’ve spoken to one medium-size California producer who tells us that his wines from 2013 and 2014 are already vastly different from those of previous years,” says Hall. “He acknowledges climate change’s part in this, telling us that it made it nigh on impossible to choose the right time for harvest.”

“He went on to tell us the 2014 production was particularly difficult due to the long, dry summer, and his end product is significantly different, but surprisingly high quality.” says this is a problem that is challenging wine producers right across Europe and North America, as hotter summers and harsher winters bring changes across tradition wine-producing areas.

In fact, one of the most devastating predictions came in 2013’s Conservation International study, which predicts that many traditional areas across southern and central Europe could be lost within 35 years, as the “belt” of prime wine-growing moves northward.

“It’s not going to be what some people are calling a ‘grape-ocalypse'”, says Hall, “Existing wine-makers are rapidly getting used to the fact that their product is going to change over the years, while whole new areas will open up that will bring new tastes onto the market.”

In fact, some regions are seeing global warming-led climate change as an opportunity rather than a threat. There are reports that more savvy producers are purchasing land further north as an insurance policy for the coming years; while those in Bordeaux have seized changes with both hands, calling the improved ripening in their region a “good problem” to have.

Bordeaux wines now contain more alcohol than they did thirty years ago, and that’s a change producers in other regions are noticing as well. As one Australian wine pundit put it, wines are “bolder-tasting… and pack a boozier wallop”. Stronger wines may not be an entirely good thing, as customers consume less to avoid getting drunk, it’s been remarked.
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“Whatever the future brings, it’s clear that global wine production is in for big changes in the coming years,” says ‘s Mark Hall.

“We need to get used to the fact that favourite names could disappear while new classics may emerge.”