As a general matter we know that temperatures in traditional wine regions are steadily increasing, and it is highly likely that the cause is anthropogenic climate change. But when you look at specific data the threat becomes all the more real.
This article in Punch provides the gory details. In Burgundy, they have suffered debilitating hail storms and torrential downpours the last three years that have substantially reduced supply. Is it climate change? We can’t be sure about the causes of short-term fluctuations in weather. But about the general trend, there is no doubt:
Since the second half of the 20th century, the growing seasons are, on average, 1.4°C (2.5°F) warmer, and harvest starts around two weeks earlier. Built from this data, his formula shows that each degree increase in temperature pushes the harvest ahead by ten days.
The Mosel region of Germany, home of the finest Rieslings in the world, has experienced a similar warming trend. According to Dr. Hans R. Schultz, president of Geisenheim University, a horticulture and viticulture school in Rheingau
These light and elegant wines will be a challenge to preserve under the climatic changes we are undergoing,” he says. “We’ve already seen higher alcohols and a concerning drop in acidity.
Some vignerons welcome the higher temperatures in these cooler regions that in the past have struggled to get their grapes ripe, although the higher temperatures and wet weather invite new pests and diseases that pose new challenges. But the style of wine we are accustomed to enjoying from these regions may no longer be available in the near future. Burgundy and the Mosel have both made their reputations based on age-worthy, lighter-bodied wines with complex herbal, earth, and floral components, clearly defined flavors, and high acidity that gives them a fresh, lively aspect. It is hard to preserve that character when the grapes ripen too quickly.
But while the style of wine is likely to change in France and Germany, California may face more dire circumstances.
According to Schultz, end-of-century forecasts by regional climate models leave Germany squarely within a temperature framework that “we can mitigate and adapt to,” he says. “Even if there is a 3°C change in 70 years, there will be a change in style, but not necessarily a loss of riesling vineyards. The margins are much tighter for regions already at the warmer end.” Regions like California.
Lack of water and the resulting increase in salt content is already producing challenges. But if the temperatures in already warm regions like California should spike, photosynthesis will shut down—making wine will be impossible.
Research published in the Environmental Research Letters by leading American climate and viticulture researchers Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Gregory Jones predicts prime wine growing land in California will shrink by 50 percent in 30 years.
Who knows. Maybe in 30 years some combination of 3D printing and artificial intelligence will allow us to produce perfect replicas of 1990 Romanée-Conti. But don’t count on it.
The take away message is to drink the wines you love now. Or if you’re an investor buy wines from the iconic regions and hold on to them. You’re children may pay a fortune for a taste of the old world.