The end of weather as we know it is on the horizon and we’re all slowly going to drown or starve or move to Mars. Or maybe not.
As scientifically based as this topic should be, there are varying, diametrically opposed viewpoints on our purported demise. Most appear to be science-based, others ideologically-based.
Regardless of one’s viewpoint, documented changes are underfoot in the wine industry.
In the vineyard, climate is one of the most influential factors affecting grape production, characteristics and quality. The early Romans understood this and planting patterns did not materially change in the ensuing millennia. Cabernet Sauvignon fares best in warmer climates; this is where you will generally find them planted. Pinot Noir thrives in cooler climates; look to the Burgundy region of France for the best expressions.
If there are major changes in these conditions, the characteristics of the end product – the glass of wine you and I consume – will likely change, upsetting centuries of local traditions and economics.
Much is riding on the potential long-term effects of climate change. But how does one determine the veracity of climate change claims?
There are two primary means: scientific study and anecdotal experiences.
Scientific studies have shown that the planet is warming. Not analogous to a slow, constantly rising curve on a chart or graph, but more so in protracted periods of high and low swings, a saw-tooth graph whose extreme points reach new highs with each changing pattern.
One study predicts that by 2050 nearly one-quarter of areas in major wine-producing regions will no longer be suitable for grape-growing, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Anecdotal experience provides first-hand evidence. Vineyard owners around the globe have been reporting the need to harvest their crops earlier than ever in their lifetimes. Not every year, but a trend is clear. And not in significant numbers of days or weeks, but rather a few days or a week each year.
Another study analyzed centuries-old vineyard records kept by winemaking monks in France. The very detailed records showed stable harvest dates from the 14th century onward. Over the most recent quarter century, however, harvest dates have been trending earlier, in increasing frequency.
Enterprising British winemakers analyzed warming patterns several years ago, decided to take advantage of this new phenomenon and successfully planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines. Today, British sparkling wines produced from these grapes are receiving worldwide accolades.
What does the future hold for the wine industry and the agriculture industry in general?
Overall, we must not lose sight of what has enabled man to overcome past calamities and natural disasters throughout history: resistance and ingenuity.
Battling climate change in the vineyards will test man’s ingenuity and adaptability. Short of succumbing, man’s determination will seek survival options. Here are several:
Different grape varietals may be planted that thrive in a locale’s changed climate. But what of the supplanted grapes? Will wines formerly produced in cooler climates head toward extinction? Man’s ingenuity and innate entrepreneurship will likely capitalize on unintended consequences.
As man invents and develops advanced technology, the threat of climate change will become a top priority in this field. This is already evident in the science of genomics. Scientists working at the University of California-Davis are embarking on a major new endeavor – to define the genetic makeup of individual grape varietals to unlock the attributes of genes associated with climate resistance, flavor, aroma and hardiness. First up: Cabernet Sauvignon’s 19 chromosomes. The ultimate goal is to enhance DNA traits to better adapt to changes in future growing conditions.
A pioneering winemaker in California, Randall Grahm, has made a personal commitment to preserve, and improve, future grapevines that are true expressions of place and terroir – and will contribute to offsetting the climate change effects of drought and higher temperatures.
Some might say if we can’t rely on the accuracy of a meteorologist’s short-term prognostications, why should we rely on the long-term accuracy of a climatologist? In the face of long-term evidence and the potential consequences, do we have a choice?
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.