Climate change will have myriad impacts on nearly every sector of the economy and corner of the globe. Antarctica might melt. Clean energy may reign. Coastlines will drastically change. The insurance industry will forever be playing catch-up. But lately, one specific impact has been scrutinized more than one might expect: how will wine come out in all of this?
While many of us may have been led to believe that wine production will suffer in the face of climate change, the near-term picture is not quite so dramatic as many areas thrive while others face uncertain futures.
In the latest addition to the literature on global warming's impact on the multi-billion dollar industry (in the United States in 2015 alone wine sales totaled $38 billion), a new study shows that wine producers in the U.K. could actually benefit from climate change—assuming that extreme weather doesn't descend upon the vineyards too often. Scientists from the University of East Anglia determined that the warming of spring months over the last quarter century has allowed an earlier start and lengthening of the wine-growing season.
(Another recent study found that England's growing season is a full month longer than it was just a generation ago.)
But all is not coming up roses for the region's wine growers, and the study's authors warn that "while rising average temperatures are important, the impact of short term weather events such as cold snaps, sharp frosts, and downpours will continue to threaten productivity."
For now, the results of these climactic changes are being felt in a very good way: Over the last decade the amount of land used for wine growing in the U.K has increased by around 150%, now totaling over 2,500 soccer fields-worth. At the same time, the U.K is getting more recognition for premium wines, such as English Sparkling Wine which is "out-classing other more famous sparkling wine-producing regions," according to the study.
Cheers to that.
Across the Channel in France, wine lovers are also clandestinely cheering at least one impact of climate change, as a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found a similar case of improving early-season conditions that aid production and quality.
"Before 1980, you basically needed a drought to generate the heat to get a really early harvest," the study's co-author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, told NPR about France's vineyards. "But since 1980, it's been so warm because of climate change that you can get the hot summers and really early harvests without needing a drought."
To reach their conclusions, the authors tracked weather trends and grape harvest dates from wine-growing regions in France and Switzerland since 1600. By comparing harvests with temperatures and precipitation data they were able to determine that warmer temperatures and drought conditions led to earlier grape harvests. They were also able to conclude that vintages produced from earlier and warmer harvest years got better ratings overall.
In this sense, Elizabeth M. Wolkovich of Harvard University, a co-author in the study, thinks "grapes are a great window into changes in climate."
"Hotter summers are usually higher-quality wines in France, and so we do actually have higher-quality wines on average with climate change," she told NPR, warning this this trend unfortunately can't go on indefinitely. "The issue is we can't keep warming up the system and expect that to continue."
Indeed, climate change and the related droughts, heat waves, and extreme weather are helping to redraw the map of global wine production, which is also shifting due to demand as countries like China are rapidly acquiring a taste for the libation. And in many other regions, the wine-producing forecast is not as hot as it is in the U.K. and parts of France.
California may not fare so well, as intense heat prevents grapes from reaching optional ripeness, while traditionally less renowned vineyards in Oregon and New York may thrive. Wine industries in Sweden and Canada are also doing well.
A major 2013 study found that climate change will threaten wine production in many traditionally popular wine-producing regions, including parts of Italy and Chile.
"Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins, and color in wine," said Antonio Busalacchi, a climate scientist at the University of Maryland and lead author of the 2013 study.
If temperatures increase more than 2 degrees Celsius, the internationally recognized target of avoiding truly catastrophic warming, then wine production will likely also suffer. So don't start rooting for climate change or anything. At the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of the century the world will warm far more than any wine producer wants. Drinking that glass of wine at the end of the day should still feel much more satisfying if you did your part to limit your carbon footprint.
One thing's for sure—the impact of climate change on wine will not go unscrutinized by scientists, producers, sommeliers, and whoever else wants a taste.