Coping with Climate Change

By / Magazine / April 1st, 2008 / 2

In October I attended a symposium in Chicago organized by Serene Sutcliffe MW. She had invited ten young wine producers from around the world and asked them how they were grappling with the effects of climate change in their region and what challenges they faced in the future.

The questions Serena Sutcliffe put to the panellists — given the undeniable fact that our global climate is getting warmer — were: Will the wines you make be drunk young or cellared for years? Should you be experimenting or sticking to traditional methods? Should you be looking at new origins for the oak you use? Should you acidify if the summers are getting hotter? Will there be a water shortage?

Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon of Champagne Louis Roederer told us that the Champagne region had an average temperature over thirty years of 10.3°C. It is now closer to 12°C. Night temperatures are warmer and so are winter readings. Being so northerly, the Champenois are not unduly worried about this (because they get riper grapes), although some producers are already looking at southern England to purchase vineyard land. Lecaillon also mentioned that Roederer is producing a lighter bottle that will reduce their carbon footprint by five per cent.

Jeffrey Grosset of Grosset Wines in Australia’s Clare Valley commented on the 2007 drought and the impact it might have on soil erosion. Without a cold winter, the bacteria in the soil could thrive.

Thomas Duroux, Château Palmer’s winemaker, explained that Bordeaux might have to “play with rootstocks and reorder our canopy management to control the sugars. Merlot could suffer due to the increase in temperature. Cabernet Sauvignon, better suited to warm climates as the wines of Napa Valley have shown, could take a more prominent place in our terroir.”

Serena Sutcliffe, speaking on behalf of Domaine Fourrier, explained that the average temperatures in Burgundy since 1970 had risen 1.3°C and were more in line with those of the northern Rhône. This could mean Syrah planted in Burgundy.

Francesca Planeta from Planeta in Sicily is used to the heat. She ventured that the island’s indigenous varieties can withstand extreme conditions, stressing that plant density and cultivation methods could counter any significant climate change in her region.

Hans Vinding-Diers, the winemaker at Bodega Noemia in Argentina, uses organic and biodynamic viticulture to obtain lower alcohol levels under the strong Patagonian sun. “In a way, to battle with or against weather is nothing new in winemaking,” he said. “The weather change can be beneficial for some areas as well as a detriment to others.”

For David Powell of Torbreck in the Barossa Valley, water management is the prime concern. He grows oats, barley, triticale and legumes between the rows and puts straw under the vines to retain soil moisture. Raffaele Boscaini of Masi had a positive spin on global warming: “We now have more time for the appassimento process [grape-drying for Amarone]; this gives us a distinct advantage in the early and most crucial phases — warm temperatures and helpful breezes in October are positive factors.”

Adrian Bridge of Taylor’s Port has seen changing weather patterns in the Douro Valley — hailstorms, snow and unusual high rainfall that contributed to great lass of crop in 2002 and 2006. “Our greatest annual fear,” Bridge told us, “is the hurricane season in the southern US, as the tails of these storms often whip across the Atlantic and bring rain to our harvest.”

There is no question that winemakers everywhere will have to deal with the twin problems of climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gases. The young winemakers at this symposium were fully tuned into these imperatives. Climate change may be an initial blessing for cool-climate regions (like Champagne, the Loire Valley, northeastern Italy, to say nothing of Ontario and BC), but, in the final analysis, unless we can arrest the heating up of the planet, our grandchildren might not be able to taste the wines we enjoy today.


Being so northerly, the Champenois are not unduly worried about this (because they get riper grapes), although some producers are already looking at southern England to purchase vineyard land.




Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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