John and Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck
How do you get a vineyard into a suitcase?
By The Black Sheep Wine and Beer Store
By the year 2100 scientists predict the global temperatures to rise by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees on average. Because wine grapes are extraordinarily sensitive to temperature, they are in effect, an early warning system for the future of all agriculture. Rising temperatures associated with climate change are already reshaping the wine industry and if nothing is done to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, many vineyards will disappear because of inhospitable conditions. Others may be displaced as much as 300 miles north or south, depending on which hemisphere you’re in.
So, just replant your vineyards. `Sorry, doesn’t work that way. Not only is it a major investment, if you can even acquire the land, but the main concern is terroir. Temperature is not the sole determinant of wine’s taste and quality. Terroir refers to not just the soil of the region, but the winds, the hills and slopes, the directional facing of the vineyards, and the cultural knowledge of the people who grow and process the grapes.
Will your Sauvignon Blanc grapes yield the same wine in dry clay that it did on the calciferous banks of the Loire? No. Will your Pinot Noir produce a fine Burgundy with a fraction of the water that it got in Bourgogne? No, again. And if you stay put and just deal with the temperature increase what then? A classic example can be seen in California. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Napa Valley currently sell for over 4000 dollars per ton, while the same grapes from Fresno with a temperature difference of only 5 degrees Fahrenheit, market at less than 300 dollars per ton.
Warmer weather causes grapes to ripen faster which raises the sugar level of grapes dramatically. Too much sugar will produce a wine that is unbalanced and overly alcoholic. Higher temperatures can stress the vines and increase the risk of disease and pests that do not die off during the winter. Thinner skinned white wine grapes are even more sensitive to heat and tend to lose their light, refreshing qualities. Rising competition for fresh water will also be a factor for many vineyard owners.
A recent climate model from scientists at Stanford suggests that Northern California’s prime vineyards (including Napa) could be reduced by half in just the next 30 years. In 2008 Australia was so hot that normal fermentation became almost impossible for many winemakers. In France, where wine is their biggest export, reports of accelerated ripening and harvests that used to happen in late October but now are in early September are causing worry that the quality will be lost and so the farmers are planting slower ripening grapes. In Spain, Miguel Torres, their largest wine producer, has been busy shifting his vineyards to cooler areas as a hedge against climate change.
Many wineries are now powered by solar or wind energy and make other efforts to cut their carbon “footprint”. Some notable green wineries are Shafer, Jordan, Quivira, Cuvaison, Frog’s Leap, Honig, Robert Mondavi, Starmount, Far Niente, Wild Hog, Keenan, Sandrone, Santomé and Lageder.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives…nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
©2013 text Black Sheep Wine and Beer Shop
Photo/Illustration Credit: Bigfoto.com, Morgue File.com, Wikimedia Commons, personal photos of the author.