Monday, February 18, 2008

Climate Change and Wine

Quality wine depends upon a lot of factors but not least the climate, indeed the best wines depend upon the microclimate on particular hillsides. So it is not surprising that wine growers are concerned about climate change. They held a conference in Barcelona last week, and I will get to that later, before ending with a note on a report about wine’s carbon footprint. But first a couple of anecdotes:

  1. It was reported last year that Louis Roederer and other top champagne houses are considering purchasing land in England because Champagne may become too warm. It is rumored that some Champagne houses have already bought in Kent and Sussex in southern England.
  2. The drought in Australia has been so bad that Australian wine makers do not have enough grapes to satisfy demand. For example, Lindemans is sourcing wine from Chile and South Africa.
And now to the conference in Barcelona, where Al Gore is giving the closing address just about now as I prepare this on Saturday 16th. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the Second International Congress on Wine and Climate Change has attracted more than 350 experts from 36 countries. (But apparently for some reason not many from Spain and none at all from Rioja; Catalonian/Basque rivalry maybe?)

The conference began on Friday when Bernard Seguin, head of climate studies at France's INRA agricultural research institute, told delegates that the consequences of global warming are already being felt, adding “Harvests are already coming 10 days earlier than before in almost all wine-growing regions."

"Wine and wine-producing will change in a way that will depend on how we confront global warming,” said Seguin. "If the temperature rises two or three degrees (centigrade), we could manage to see Bordeaux remain as Bordeaux, Rioja as Rioja, Burgundy as Burgundy. But if it goes up five or six degrees, we must face up to huge problems, and the changes will be hard."

Comments from two other attendees quoted by APF:
  1. "The types of wines will change in almost all regions," said Vicente Sotes, a professor at the Polytechnic University.
  2. "The French will have problems," especially in the Bordeaux region, said Pancho Campos, the president of the Wine Academy of Spain, who organized the Barcelona conference. “German producers on the banks of the Rhine will be the least at risk,” he said.
  3. The French "Grand Crus" could be further threatened by the "New World" wines of Australia, California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand, who would have the best climatic conditions. "The countries in the southern hemisphere are next to a greater mass of water, and it is sea currents which maintain the temperature at its level," said Campos.

This is all very speculative in my opinion, because we do not really know how the global rise in temperature will affect individual climates around the world. All we can say for sure is that the wine map of the world will change. Some areas may get better, some worse, while others may adapt their techniques and the varieties they grow. We may see Cabernet and Merlot growing in Burgundy instead of Pinot, though of course this would require changing French wine law.

On a related topic, wine lovers also worry about their carbon footprint. A recent report, “Red, White and “Green”: The Cost of Carbon In the Global Wine Trade” by Tyler Colman and Pablo Paster, studies this. A lot of the carbon footprint is due to transport, so the main findings include:

  1. Better to drink out of cardboard rather than glass.
  2. If you must have glass, a larger bottle is better because the ratio of glass to wine is less.
  3. In the US, if you live to the West of a line that runs down the middle of Ohio and then curves around to split Texas in two, so that Houston (where I live) and the rest of the gulf coast are to the east of it, it is better to drink California wines while to the east it is better to drink French.

Frankly, as a wine lover I find it hard to imagine many people selecting their wines on the basis of these rules, but I am very grateful to be on the French side of the line! And thank god Dr. Vino does not suggest drinking Texan wines.


Ros said...

Wouldn't it be great if the bottles were returnable? Most wine comes in standard bottles, so why do we smash them up and make new ones?

Tony Welsh said...

I'm not sure that they are standard enough to go through same bottling machines etc., though of course they could be made so.

However, I am not sure of the economics of re-using bottles as opposed to making new bottles from old glass. The main issue is freight cost, and one presumably would not want to ship the bottles all the way back to France if one could avoid it.

RosInSheffield said...

Surely it would be reasonable within the US for whole bottles to returned to US wine-producers? And in Europe couldn't the French, Italians, etc. be reusing bottles? It might even be economical for bottles used in the UK to be sent to European wine-producing regions. OK, we wouldn't reuse all the bottles - we import so much wine from Australia, the US, South africa and South America - but it would help.

(P.S. It's really irritating to have to go through the Google word verification for every comment I make!)