February 29, 2008
Global warming is here and that it is here but it may or may not be generated by the human occupation of the earth. The general conclusion is, however, that the Earth is warming up and at a considerably increased rate after 1970. Weather seems to be more erratic of late and the sustainability of our actions seems to be on the table more than ever. What I really want to know is what is going to happen to our wine. Is Champagne going to be in England? Will it become too hot for wine in Spain?
In doing a bit of research I have run into some very surprising studies. For example, Dr. Gregory Jones at Southern Oregon University did a study on just this topic in which he analyzed the quality of 50 vintages in 25 wine regions and compared them against the climate and the average temperature during the growing season. Over the 50-year period the average temperature in most of the better wine regions increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit and with the increase in temperature the quality of the vintages according to Sotheby’s (a very reputable source) also increased. There are, of course, other factors that played their part. Increases in winery technology have enabled winemakers to make more out of a mediocre vintage. In addition, the rising prices of wines have allowed winemakers to be more selective when picking grapes to make superior wines. It does seem however that the benefit in cooler regions is larger than the benefit in warmer regions.
With all this being said, it may be that climate change is creating wines that match the development of our collective palate. The magazines and wine writers consistently offer higher scores to wines whose alcohol content is higher. The warmer the conditions, the more sugar a grape has the potential to make and therefore there is more potential for higher alcohol content. Twenty-five years ago it was common to see red wine whose alcohol content was 12 percent whereas in 2002 the mean alcohol content for red wine was over 14 percent and 25 percent of all red wines have alcohol content between 14.8 percent and 16.5 percent. I guess, so long as we like our wines to be concentrated with alcohol, the warmer conditions might not be a problem but as temperatures continue to rise it might become increasingly difficult to make balanced wines in the warmer regions. Even today many winemakers use processes such as reverse osmosis to remove some of the alcohol from wines that become overly alcoholic.
The point is that the wines of our world are indeed changing. It may be that we are approaching a time where our world’s vineyards need to be reevaluated for different varieties. It may become Napa Valley Tempranillo sooner than we think but if it is simply a matter of changing my light bulbs and driving a more fuel-efficient car, than I’m all in to save the wine.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. He tries his very best not to spill the pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .