We'll stop whining about climate change when it stops affecting our wine.
The warming climate is helping vineyards produce better wine. However, producers in Western Europe and beyond may have to move their production elsewhere if they want to stay in business for the long run -- and that includes France, new evidence suggests.
Droughts are the reason for this shake-up.
In France and Switzerland, the greatest wines are produced when hot summers and end-of-season droughts follow heavy spring rains. This speeds up the harvest and makes for a better wine.
Droughts are crucial in great wine. Indian summers reduce surface moisture, dry the soil and bring on the harvest. Climate change is pushing harvests further back.
“Now, it’s become so warm thanks to climate change, grape growers don’t need drought to get these very warm temperatures,” said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
While global warming is currently improving wine, it spells upheaval and disaster in the long term.
“So far, a good year is a hot year,” said study co-author Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecologist at Harvard University. "If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can’t maintain that forever.”
The study notes a change in harvest in 1980 that advanced two weeks over the 400-year mean in France, where producers have kept records for centuries.
For every degree Centigrade (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) that the Earth warms, grape harvests advance forward roughly six or seven days. For reference, France has warmed about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) during the 20th century, and that's surely only the start.
The shift isn't sustainable because of the consequences to wine-growing and quality of the product. With so much heat, harvest timing has been virtually disconnected from moisture which could mean trouble down the line.
The Columbia study examines where certain vineyards could end up moving. California’s Napa Valley grapes could theoretically end up in Washington or British Columbia. The hills of central China could become the new Chile.
There's no guarantee that moving the vineyards is a safe bet. New environments mean new problems, so it's not certain if the transplanted ecosystems could survive rapid changes.
These new locales could be tested as soon as 2050, when two-thirds of today’s wine regions may no longer have the climates compatible for the grapes they currently grow.
In the interim, you may want to stock up on your favorites.