An Upside To Climate Change? Better French Wine
by Alastair Bland
NPR freelance writer based in San Francisco who covers food, agriculture and the environment
While climate change threatens coastal cities and generates extreme weather, the effects of global warming could bring good news to some of France’s most esteemed vineyards.
Here, the conditions needed to produce early-ripening fruit, which is historically associated with highly rated wines, have become more frequent, according to research published online March 21, 2016 in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“Before 1980, you basically needed a drought to generate the heat to get a really early harvest,” says the study’s co-author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. “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.”
In other words, human-induced warming has become so pronounced that even drenching summer rains cannot always absorb, and reduce, the heat that helps ripening grapes develop sugars, acids and tannins.
Overall, this has meant earlier-than-average harvests, more frequently. That’s potentially a good thing for winemakers in the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions, where Cook and his co-author, Harvard University’s Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, focused their research.
“There is a very clear signal that the earlier the harvest, the much more likely that you’re going to have high-quality wines,” Cook says.
But Cook says the traditional reasoning that hotter weather, and an earlier harvest, means better wine may only hold true to a point. He notes that in 2003 an extremely dry, warm growing season preceded one of France’s earliest harvests on record. Grape growers were harvesting their fruit in mid- to late-August — several weeks earlier than usual.