Responding to Climate Change

I started this post in April, my work life went nuts, and I never got back to it. Now that we have a brief lull, I think it’s worthwhile to share these thoughts and new ones about how winemakers are responding to climate change.

I continue to read about the ways that climate change is impacting wine production and what is happening to evolve the winemaking process as the impacts of climate change are felt.

Here in Virginia 2018 was a brutal year for vineyards, with record rainfall causing huge issues with grape quality and rot.  Sites that had less good solid rocky drainage experienced massive crop loss, and Stalwarts like Linden are moving ahead with rose and white wine, no red wines for 2018.  We have another year and a half until we see what really comes of 2018, with a handful of producers working day and night to salvage and work with what Mother Nature brought last year to make us great wine.

But worldwide, it appears that 2018 was a banner year.

The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) reported an increase in worldwide harvest and production, after a globally bad (but locally awesome) 2017.

In total, the European Union produced 181.9 M hl, which is then 62% of the world total. But it is a declining share. One reason for this is, of course, the very restrictive regulations in Europe. It is much easier to plant new vineyards, if one can find a demand, in countries outside of Europe.

Take then the five countries following the top three in 2018: in falling order, USA, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and German. They account for 25% of world production, a quarter of world wine come from the top four “New World” countries, plus German. Without Germany, the four New World countries have a still honourable 22% of world wine production in 2018.

The USA is still solidly the fourth biggest wine producing country with 23.9 M hl, which is a small increase.

I am actually excited to see the US that high up.  I suspect that the reporting agency is a corporate lobbyist pushing back against regulation, but I trust the Europeans’ approaches, especially since they are working against climate change and banning round-up.  I seriously favor strong regulations about pollution and chemicals in order to stem the worst effects of climate change and corporate greed, and hopefully regulators will win out and be able to closely watch what is happening with climate change and farming.  I suspect that the areas of the world that grow the most wine grapes will shift as climate change ramps up and alters growing seasons and patterns, and we will see different grapes grow in different areas.  Anyway, it’s good to see that production is so high, especially with the difficult year in Virginia!  How areas adapt and start planting different varietals is going to be very interesting to watch.

In one really interesting recent article in Decanter magazine, winegrowers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape have authorized adding white grapes to red blends to cut alcohol levels and focus on taste:

Winemakers in the famous southern Rhône appellation say that warmer conditions linked to climate change mean higher alcohol levels that  could threaten freshness in the glass.

One of those involved, Domaine de la Charbonnière, saw alcohol hit 16% abv in its Cuvée Les Hautes Brusquières 2016, for example.

Domaine co-owner Véronique Maret said that she intends to blend small amounts of Bourboulenc and Clairette into her reds, starting in about four years from now…

Michel Blanc, president of the federation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers, said that consumers and producers were accustomed to the southern Rhône’s very warm and dry weather.

‘But climate change compels us to be more careful about balance, between acidity and alcohol and tannin and grape ripeness,’ he said.

Out of some 290 Châteauneuf producers, he believes that more are planning to blend white grapes into their reds but he was unable to provide a specific figure.

Somewhere like France, with such a rich history of solid wines and serious control over how wines are made, authorizing this is serious, and is a positive response in the face of something they may not be able to control.  I’m looking forward to seeing more of this.  Remember that many Early Mountain red blends have hints of white wines in them too, adding a little bit of fun to them.

Speaking of holy regulatory changes Batman, check out this info:

So the two biggest appellations in the region — Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur — have just been granted permission by the French government to do something that, until recently, was unthinkable. They will be permitted to use non-Bordeaux grapes in their wines.

Bernard Farges, president of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur syndicate, told me and a few other visiting journalist this week that the change will take effect with the 2021 vintage.

Again, a region this tightly controlled allowing change in the face of this oncoming train means things are serious, and the French are giving in to the inevitable here.  If anyone can figure it out, it will be the French.  While America should lead in this arena, we’re not exactly emotionally available right now.  Maybe in a year and a half….. let’s hope.

Stay tuned as I search out more info on the impacts of climate change on wine, and how different regions are adapting.  I think things will continue to move in the direction of shifting what is planted where and loosening controls over appellation, etc.

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