Wineries in eastern Australia are gearing up for the 2023 harvest having faced intensive flooding as well as drought conditions. Historic flood levels are being surpassed as water pours its way down the Murray Darling River system, taxing a system of levees that stand in the way of businesses and agricultural land. In Argentina, Mendoza’s government declared an agricultural state of emergency in November after more than 10,000 hectares of vineyards saw temperatures down as low as -4.5 C, resulting in a devastating loss of crops.
Closer to home, winemakers in British Columbia and Ontario are excited about wines in their cellars that were produced in 2022, despite challenges caused by unpredictable weather. Vintners in the Niagara region started the growing season with significant crop losses due to a cold snap in January. Those who had grapes to harvest, particularly chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, are impressed by the quality at this early stage. Wineries in British Columbia faced widespread winter damage of its own, followed by a cold and wet start to the growing season that pushed the harvest late into the year. Reports are optimistic about what consumers can expect in the bottle.
For wine writers, it’s typical to start the year with a column suggesting trends and making predictions about what the hot regions and bottles will be. Will this be the year that Albariño steals the thunder of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as the stylish white wine? Can Rioja finally get its due? Why everyone should drink retsina in 2023!
Those columns were suspect even before climate change made everyone’s crystal wineglass cloudy. To be successful, you’d need to predict which regions will somehow escape the vagaries of heat waves, frost, wild fires, hail and other climate-driven catastrophes and be able to produce quality wine and in sufficient quantities to export.
Grape growers and winemakers around the world are facing extremes in every season, with a marked increase in violent weather events, such as flooding and forest fires, that negatively impact the availability of healthy grapes and threaten vineyards, buildings and long-term production.
Rising temperatures have helped some regions produce riper and more consistent wines, but it would be wrong to assume grape growing takes care of itself as a result. Overlooked cooler viticultural areas — notably Canada’s and England’s wine regions — are now contending for attention alongside celebrated regions, but they aren’t immune to inclement weather.
Wherever possible, wineries are planting vines further north in the Northern Hemisphere, and south in the Southern banking on warmer growing seasons to come. (In mountainous regions, higher elevation plantings are increasing as well to take advantage of cool nighttime tempertures.) Vineyard area has increased in Belgium, Norway and Sweden, with cold, hardy hybrid grape varieties being planted alongside some more resilient vinifera varieties, notably riesling.
Some long-cherished wine growing areas are seeing profound transformations in the styles of wine produced as winemakers adapt to the accelerating effects of climate change.
Clickbait headlines love to predict that Bordeaux or Napa will be too warm to produce fine wine in 30, 40 or 50 years. Those pundits would be on firmer footing saying that Bordeaux, Napa and other winemaking regions won’t make the same style of wines they’re making today in 50 years. But that would be true even without unpredictable weather patterns. Winemaking styles continually evolve, usually according to fashion and changing consumer taste. Now grape vines in vineyards are planted to withstand what Mother Nature has in store. Cabernet might give way to heat-tolerant grenache or tempranillo. Chardonnay could be replaced by vermentino or fiano.
No matter where they’re to be found, winemakers and grape vines are an incredibly resilient bunch. That’s the only trend I can securely claim looking into the year ahead.
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