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Friday, January 23, 2015

What Does Climate Change Mean to the Wine Consumer?

 Maybe you've heard the concerns about some areas getting too hot to continue to grow grapes by the end of the century. The vast majority of wine drinkers are removed from the actual production of wine and just want to drink it. So what's climate change actually mean to you as a consumer?

 This is a follow-up to an earlier post on climate change and wine.

Wines and Weather

 Wines are very susceptible to year-to-year variation in the weather. A wine made by the same person from the same vineyard will taste different year to year. Why? Weather changes. Cooler, hotter, or wetter than normal weather can have an effect on what you taste in the finished product.
Grapes rotting after a rainstorm
Image from
The Future of Wines

 A generalization about premium wine growing regions is that all of these areas are warm, but with a cooling influence. Most of coastal California fits this perfectly with cool nights and mornings accompanied by warm-to-hot afternoons. The cool air is provided by the Pacific Ocean.

 With global warming wine grapes will have to move to cooler areas -- somewhere that will be cool enough and still have enough sunlight and the proper soils. I don't think there's any guarantee it will be feasible weather-wise or financially that there will be a home for all wine grapes in a hotter world. Some varieties may migrate successfully, some may not.

 Wines will taste different just like a Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley (a cool coastal climate) tastes different than a Zin from Lodi (hotter inland area). Wines will probably get more expensive if the supply drops or there are high costs to plant new vineyards in locations that never had vineyards before.

What Happens in Europe?

 There may be some interesting developments in the Old World. In the U.S. you can plant whatever grapes you want wherever and irrigate or not. In the Old World there are often restrictions on this. Europe might be slower to migrate wine grapes -- we'll see.

What Happens to California's Climate?

 As the planet heats up the generalization is that the entire planet gets warmer. Are there areas that may not see this effect? When inland California heats up with global warming will there still be a cooler ocean to provide temperate breezes? So maybe they aren't as cool as now--that could be a problem. If the ocean doesn't heat up much compared to the inland areas then will the winds be even stronger than now and maybe the coast cools off even more?
Prevailing coastal winds
Image from

The Future of Premium Wines

 If the grape growing regions heat up like we think (okay, based on what we read in the paper) then:
  • Wines will taste a bit different (the Russian River Valley vs Lodi comparison)
  • Wines are likely will get more expensive (dwindling supply, mass replantings)
  • There may not be an adequate supply of all varieties (will there be a home for all the world's Chardonnay, for instance)?
The vintage of 2090 might look a lot different than 2014. Of course, most of us may not be drinking wine in 2090, but we may see gradual changes much earlier. California has already seen three dry years in a row (and a 4th in progress) with early grape growing seasons (early spring bloom and very early harvests). It's too early to say this is because of climate changes, but it's too early to say it's not.