Climate change is quickly altering the world as we know it; we’re aware of greenhouse gases and melting ice caps, but it’s also affecting things that you may not have thought about before, like your favourite bottle of wine.
Warming temperatures could be irreversibly changing the wine industry, both in terms of its taste and production. But before you freak out about what will happen to your beloved Shiraz, read on to find out exactly what this means – and what you can do about it.
How climate change affects wine
The wine industry is pretty much at the mercy of the climate. Landscape, soil, temperature and rain all determine what grape varieties can be grown as well as the quality of the harvest. Grapes grow best in climates where temperatures during the growing season average 12-22°C. So, when the climate conditions are good, the harvest will be, too, and your wine will be even more delicious.
Wine producers used to be more worried about once-off extreme weather events destroying their vineyards, but now, there’s a less obvious, but more sinister concern – climate change. While producers have plans in place to protect their grapes against heavy rain and frost, what about long-term plans?
The issue of pesticides
Climate change could increase the frequency of severe weather and cause fewer winter frosts, which could encourage the spread of pests; while conventional wine vineyards use pesticides anyway, they’re really harmful to the soil and the environment, so using more would have even worse consequences. Organically-grown grapes cannot use any pesticides, so these vineyards would be worse off, unable to protect themselves from pests.
More generally, warming temperatures could impact the yield and quality of wine varieties. An example of how rising temperatures caused by climate change is already affecting vineyards can be seen in California, an area famous for its wine.
No water = no wine
While many growers are calling the hot climate in the US state the “sweet spot” for growing grapes, California experiences intense droughts and the snowpacks which store one-third of California’s water and supply reservoirs with a steady stream of water are shrinking due to little rain and warm weather. No water = no grapes = no wine. This year, California saw one of the worst droughts the region had seen in over 1,000 years, and it’s only predicted to get worse.
Droughts and high temperatures bring another threat: wildfires. Year after year, California breaks its own records for the largest wildfire season; in 2020, the wildfire season affected dozens of Napa Valley’s wineries.
Outside the US, the 2019-20 bushfire season in Australia also affected wineries; some vineyards caught fire, and others experienced “smoke taint,” where grapes absorb chemicals from bushfire smoke. Smoke taint can cause wine to literally taste smoky, burnt and ashy. We like our meat smoky, not the wine it pairs with!
What about the taste?
Bear with us while we get technical for a sec: increasing temperatures from climate change lower acidity in grapes and increase sugar, which is turned into higher alcohol during fermentation by yeast. In the Rhône Valley in France, summer heat is increasing wine alcohol levels to 16%!
In terms of taste, wines are becoming “fuller-bodied, more alcoholic and riper in flavour.” This may not mean much to casual drinkers, but for wine aficionados, this will affect the wine’s subtle notes and aromas that add to wine’s appeal.
However, while some regions are suffering, others are happy to deal with more heat. Countries that used to be too cold to ripen grapes are now becoming perfect for it, like Germany, England, Norway and Sweden. This may sound great for these regions, but that’s actually pretty scary – climate climate is creating entirely new weather pattens in countries that aren’t used to them.
What we can do
Wine producers may need to relocate to cooler climates, or they can grow different, more heat-tolerant grapes (which can take a few years to get right). Or, wine producers can just accept that their wine will taste different, and hope for the best.
As trivial as this all sounds, and while you may not be able to taste these subtle differences, entire regions have been built on their wine – thousands of jobs rely on it.
In 2017 in the US, it was calculated that the wine industry added US$219.9 billion to the local economy, while in Australia, it contributes around US$33 billion each year. Climate change could cause the collapse of these regions’ wine industries as producers move to colder regions.
This issue shows that climate change has the potential to affect our lives in ways we haven’t even considered – so if you needed yet another reason to take extra steps towards a greener lifestyle, this could be it.
A few simple steps that you can do everyday to fight climate change:
- Walk or use public transportation instead of a car/taxi
- Lower your meat consumption and eat more plant-based foods/vegetables
- Consume less energy by unplugging electronic devices when not in use
While these actions may seem small, they all add up! Be sure to spread the word, as climate change affects us all.
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