Stock up your wine cellar before it's too late

 
 

Global warming has the potential to scorching our fine wine industry, reports Caitríona Farrell

The fact that wine is greeted into the goblets of both fine nobles and the humble mug of college students is proof that its appreciation has not fizzled out. Wine is notably a stimulant – an agent needed by the body – as claimed by some well-respected figures in the fields of politics and science, like Benjamin Franklin, Sir Alexander Fleming, and Sir Winston Churchill (who famously quipped that “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for – it’s Champagne!”).

The winemaker – traditionally known as a ‘vintner’ – can produce a reasonable vintage over a hot year in a warm climate. Thus, one might think that the general trend of global warming may be beneficial to the winemaking industry. However, it seems that excessive climate change could cause disastrous effects to the vineyard – as increasingly hotter climates tend to produce over-sweet wine with a high alcohol component. This may seem like good news, but such qualities are generally not appreciated by wine makers.

Global warming has spurred several problems, including challenges in irrigation, soil erosion due to flooding and heavy rain, and diseases spreading within the vineyard and annihilating the batch. A certain rise in temperature may be welcomed, but global warming hasn’t even began testing its limits yet. During the European heat wave of 2003, vineyards in the North of France profited while waves of alarm propagated down South as temperatures soared too high for the harvest to cope.

It is in Southern Europe and California, in particular, where global warming can really take these effects. Climate strain has left a burden on clusters of grapes, with experts forecasting a massive reduction in wine output. By the end of this century, California’s coastal wine growing areas may be the only settlement for grapes to thrive in the entire United States, where the sea breeze is the only breath of fresh air keeping the vines alive. As much as 81 per cent of California will be rendered unfit for grape growing in the future. Let us not drown our sorrows yet, though – a century might pass before only one fifth of the Golden State’s soil is still golden.

Although global warming’s danger to the wine industry isn’t immediate, the warmer regions have already began forming strategies as they commence the battle to cope with higher temperatures, such as planting vines in shallow soil to reduce their water consumption, shading the grapes from the scorching sun, and introducing controlled irrigation schemes. Switching to different grape varieties could also be another short-term solution, as would be the breeding of heat-resistant grapes through genetic engineering.

Wine is obviously big business in the World when an international emergency summit is called – who would have imagined a World Congress of Climate Change and Wine being gathered to challenge global warming as a principal worry? Yet two years ago the second such meeting attracted over 350 vintners from over 40 countries to Barcelona. There’s no point dodging that global warming will reign. The wine industry will not be immune to climate change, and cannot adapt at its pace.

Grapes are a sensitive bunch – they require a stable temperature within a narrow range if they are to produce a high quality of wine. A variation of one degree Celsius in temperature is significant – these tiny changes can be the distinct difference between an expensive Chardonnay and cooking wine. When global warming causes a major shift in the thermal equilibrium, the imbalance in alcohol and acidity will make most wine taste less like Chardonnay and more like a bottle of ethanoic acid.

A few startling facts will leave any wine lover in despair. Global warming will lead to a loss in colour in red wines, an inherent increase in alcohol content, and a reduction in the ageing potential for classic wines. With a higher yield in low-quality wine will come lower-priced, bad quality wine (though the average student punter might not think this such a bad thing).  Higher-quality booze will bear a heftier price tag as a result, with its supply declining by half. Global warming has Earth’s tipple in its hands.

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