Article By: David Singer
This February, in Barcelona, Spain, will be the Climate Change & Wine 2OO8 conference. Normally, I try to get people to join me for a conference, but this time I'm hoping someone else attends and reports back to me. Just to define it, "climate" is the average temperature over a long period of time with the standard averaging period being thirty years. Even though you could have an above freezing, sunny day in January here in New England, on average it will be below freezing. "Climate change" would be a significant difference in the average temperature. At present the average world temperature is increasing a third of a degree every 1O years, or three degrees in a hundred years. As little as this may seem, it is in fact massive. As context, the difference in average world temperature between a period of "ice age" and the warmest period on earth is only five degrees. Further, a three-degree increase in one-hundred years is the most rapid seen in over ten thousand years.
Dr. Gregory Jones from Southern Oregon University reported on twenty-seven different wine regions within a fifty year period. His study compared Sotheby's hundred point system with historical trends in quality and growing season temperatures. It also looked at a model projecting these regions over the next fifty years. Researchers found that the growing season temperatures have definitely increased over the past fifty years, on average two degrees. The study showed a significant relationship between the vintage rating and the monthly average growing season temperature in most regions. In hotter regions, the flavor development is going to get harder and harder to achieve. Former cooler regions will have to adapt to the weather by making varietal changes as its former grapes will have difficultly in the new increased temperature.
Consistent with climate change concerns, Champagne houses, such as Roederer, are going to England, specifically around Kent and Sussex, to find alternate sites for sparkling wine production. According to Roederer's Group President, Jean-Claude Rouzaud, "The company might consider investment in southern England where the chalk soils are similar to those in Champagne. But we would need to be convinced that global warming and the pattern of climate change are permanent." As climate change is imminent, this would be a smart business decision. Perhaps Piedmont should look to Switzerland or the Napa Valley to the Okanagan Valley - cooler regions to the north.
Certainly for the short term (meaning perhaps decades) some areas will benefit from climate change, as we have seen in Burgundy. Six out of the last ten years in the Cote du Nuits have been exceptional or rated 9O or greater points by the ubiquitous Robert Parker. This is not the norm. One can also see that the style of Alsace has changed. A bone dry, ice-picks-on-your-tongue acidity is becoming harder and harder to find. The fat, richer, lower acidity style that is born of warmer seasons is becoming much more commonplace. One is certainly not greater than the other, yet the weather patterns and their effects cannot be ignored.
For now I have been looking at the 2OO6 vintage reports with a little more attention to figure out what wines I ought to lay down so my daughter can experience wines from her birth year. To drink your birth year has always been a joy to experience that I want my daughter to encounter for years. Yet, when conceptualizing this article, another factor was now on my mind. What styles of wine, because of climate change, will my daughter not be able to experience without some studied drinking in her twenties? The clean slate and mineral driven Mosels will likely be rare; Riesling may in fact no longer be planted there in 3O to 4O years. Spatburgunder could be the quality grape of choice in that region thereby making a classic white-wine region a red region. It could become the norm that Chateauneuf du Pape can only be experienced from fluke cool years because the climate now cooks the grapes and philonic ripeness is impossible. The only thing that might be able to grow in the Rutherford dust is perhaps only dust. Napa Valley may wither in the heat, especially on the valley floor where temperatures already reach over 1OO degrees at times; buy up those famous names from the floor while you still can. It's enough to make me want a Prius . . .