Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Archeologists have discovered evidence of winemaking as far back as 8,000 years ago. Humanity’s wine-loving roots run deep, and while the basic process of harvest, crush and ferment hasn't fundamentally changed since the early days, our understanding of how to make a crude fermentation, into a coveted bottle of wine, has assuredly evolved.
We now know that the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, also known as the terroir, is probably the most important element to making a great wine. We also now know that climate change, and the weather patterns therein, can make or break a harvest, costing millions, due to rise and fall of rain, or snow, and fire variances.
In Burgundy, harvest records date back to the 1300s, enabling historians to compile 644 years of weather conditions in the region. No surprise that these records show how climate change is impacting the wine industry. For starters, grapes are ripening sooner with higher sugar levels and less acidity. Additionally, unexpected rainfall in traditionally dry Mediterranean growing regions is causing early bud break, threatening entire vineyards from Alsace to Yarra Valley, and forcing early harvests, called vendange in France, to occur 2-4 weeks earlier than they were just 50 years ago.
3 Ways Climate Change is Altering the World of Wine:
Vineyards now face an increased loss of crop.
A welcome sign of Spring each year for grape growers is tiny buds on grapevines start to swell with the promise of leaves, an event known as ‘bud break.’ Around the world, warmer weather has been inspiring the buds to break too early, since for many regions weather variance of early Spring also means additional frost and even snow, which can kill the entire vintage. An event which occured throughout various regions in France this year, damaging over 30% of the 2021 crop. While the threat of frost after bud break has always been a worry for winemakers, climate change has increased this variable in recent years.
Temperatures are changing the quality of wine.
Wine grapes are extremely sensitive to climate. When grapes are harvested closer to Summer than Autumn, they tend to have higher sugar content and lower levels of acidity. This produces wines with higher alcohol content and intense flavors, but less freshness and bright acidity. These aren’t exactly undesirable qualities, especially in cooler growing regions where grape growing can be a bit trickier, but ultimately this is a thin silver lining to ever worsening challenges facing vineyards. If temperatures continue to increase, the growing season will eventually become too hot in certain regions, and wine grapes will move through their life cycle too quickly, endangering the development of important characteristics like tannin and acid. If global warming continues to increase at the rate it currently is, some of the world’s greatest wine regions, and some of our favorite wines, will not longer exist as they do.
Periods of high temperature and drought are becoming more frequent and severe.
Throughout the world, weather is becoming hotter and drier. Although many varieties of grapes excel in dry climates, changes in weather have started to make droughts and searing temperatures too difficult for even these grapes to overcome. In Bordeaux, where wine can be made from just six authorized grapes, experts on the subject already predict that some of these varietals will not be able to survive in the region. Winemakers have started to intentionally leave growing leaves on the vines in order to shade the grapes from the scorching sun.
As wine-lovers who imagine wine existing for at least another 8,000 years, we have the opportunity to be mindful about our daily footprints, and thankfully possess the knowledge that we can individually lower our carbon emissions. The opportunity for us to protect the natural beauty of this planet, jointly gives support for grapes to grow, and wine to flow for centuries to come.