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"Which cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires The young, makes Weariness forget his toil, And Fear her danger; opens a new world When this, the present, palls.

Lord ByronAnglo-Scottish poet and Romanticist, 1788-1824.


Global Warming and Wine 

Winery Insight Featured Article - July 2006 by Timothy O. Rice


The day had to come. 


I have paid some attention to global warming news over the last 15 or 20 years.  I knew about melting ice-caps and rising ocean levels.  I had seen stories on various catastrophes that might arise.  I had heard about the ozone layer and assorted other problems.  Somehow I had never put all the pieces together and realized how serious this situation will be.


Global warming is already beginning to affect the wine industry.


There are probably dedicated scientists, vineyard managers and winemakers who have been pondering that for some time.  But I was oblivious to the danger, and so I was surprised this month when I looked around and saw article after article had been written on this recently.  I began to get nervous.


The articles talked of the California wine industry being threatened, of grave threats to the US wine industry, of shrinking vineyards and problems in Spain.  I began to worry. 


One said now was the time to cellar wine; I began to worry more. 


California "cannot save itself" I read, and began to think of hurrying to the wine superstore.  But as I got past the headlines, I saw that the disaster was not here yet.  Instead it loomed in the distance, some unknown time in the future, drawing inexorably nearer as the days of the Twenty-First Century passed.


I drew a breath and settled in to find out what I had somehow missed.


It turned out that two developments were the reason for the hoopla.  One was the First World Meeting on Global Warming and Wine, held in Barcelona, Spain at the end of March.  Clearly wine people were concerned enough to begin studying the problem, and it had reached the ears of the world's media.  Another was a report from the National Academy of Sciences that warned some 80% of the United States wine-growing regions might be eliminated by the end of the century..


Why Spain, I thought?  It turned out that Spain was already seeing some effects in lower altitudes and southern areas from the increased temperatures.  Growing seasons were lengthening, but higher temperatures were having adverse effects on the grapes.  Vineyards were experimenting with shading vines and other techniques.  Possible new pests and diseases that might thrive in warmer climes were discussed.  Scientists and vintners were discussing migrating the vineyards out of lower altitudes and hot climates into higher elevations as the temperatures and climate changed.  The Pyrenees were discussed as a new growth area, while the fate of warm-climate regions such as Chianti, Napa-Sonoma, Australia's Hunter Valley and parts of Chile seemed in doubt.


The National Academy of Sciences report was more of the same.  The real culprit seemed to be days with extreme temperatures (above 95 degrees).  The hardiest, most-tolerant winegrape vines seemed to be able to handle up to 14 days of extreme temperature in their season.  The NAS report was speculating that some of the current regions might experience above 30 days of extreme temperature in the growing season by the end of the century.  The report also noted hot the climates were becoming more variable and unpredictable.


Bad news.  I might not be living in 2099, but the report seemed to be saying that these effects would simply be growing with time and might cause greater swings in the good vintage/bad vintage years, or great variability in areas that now seem consistent from year to year -- areas like Napa, Sonoma and other California viticultural areas.


In the US as in Spain, they saw vineyards moving to what are now cooler climes and higher altitudes.  Oregon and Washington, which have already become growth areas in the last few decades, were prominently mentioned as options for California wineries.


All of this from what seemed a small actual average increase of only a few degrees in the next 50 years or so.  I guess the environmentalists knew something all along that I should have been paying more attention to if I liked wine.


I thought about that for a while.  I began to speculate where the new wineries and vineyards would be in a few decades.  Wineries in the Rockies?  Would Idaho (which I have heard good things about) blossom into a major wine area?  Would those hardy wine pioneers in Minnesota be proven right and become rich?  Would this be the push that brought New York State back to Number One in US wine?  Would the St. Lawrence and Niagara be the place to be?  Where should a young and aggressive winemaker think about creating the next great wine region if he has a few decades to develop his success?


Maybe it will not be so bad after all.  Maybe all those vintners and winegrowers will work their way to a solution.  Maybe we can still have what we enjoy now, and look forward to even more wonderful bottles from new regions and winemakers.


Maybe.  But I still think I might want to add a few bottles to the cellar.  Just in case.

 Last modified: August 07, 2007