A decade ago I wrote an April Fool’s Day wine column about an optimistic winemaker in Sweden who had planted cabernet sauvignon, anticipating that climate change would put him ahead of the curve.
At the time, the idea was considered radical; Sweden was too cool to grow wine grapes. Not anymore.
In fact, a hybrid grape called Rondo now is growing in Sweden, England, and Germany, and going into red wines in all three regions. Part of the reason Rondo works in such previously wine-barren regions is that all three areas are seeing warmer average temperatures.
An article published earlier this month in the New Zealand Herald addressed how climate change Down Under will impact one of New Zealand’s most important wine regions – Central Otago.
Long known as a superb cool location for pinot noir and riesling, New Zealand’s south island area Central Otago has already begun seeing the effects of increasing temperatures – so much so that the area may soon be warm enough to warrant planting other grape varieties.
“Wine enthusiasts may well be able to buy Central Otago-grown syrah and merlot in the next few decades,” the Herald article said, quoting former Central Otago Winegrowers President James Dicey.
Temperature changes, including additional heat spells and higher peak temperatures, require changes in farming techniques such as better irrigation systems and new techniques to maintain vine character, Dicey said.
Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for Mendocino and Lake counties, just returned from a technical conference in Argentina where the topic was water — or a lack thereof as a result of drought, scant spring runoff and other difficult conditions for wine growers.
Part of the problem for many southern hemisphere wineries will be the shortage of water, he said.
“Specifically, their snowpack (in Argentina) was not as big as in past years, and many areas are very arid,” McGourty said. “Water is scarce.”
“We face this same situation in most areas of the Central Coast — they are in dire straits in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey counties. You can see how dry everything is by looking at the fires down there right now.”
He said that following the October fires in Napa and Sonoma, “the North Coast got ample rainfall, but before all that we had some incredibly hot weeks, even in places where you wouldn’t expect it, like San Francisco.”
McGourty noted that during the recently concluded harvest, the four North Coast counties had several days in a row of 100 degree temperatures. Really, they were heat storms that lasted for a period of time, and that can change the composition of the fruit.
“(Heat) can create sunburn, it increases the pH and the sugar. And yes, winemakers can deal with some of these things in the winery, but it’s not their favorite way to go.”
He said the resulting wines may be satisfactory, but occasionally such conditions will produce characteristics that are atypical: “It’s contrary to our handcrafted image of wines made from exquisitely grown fruit. If you’re a pinot noir grower and all of a sudden the temperatures rise to 100 degrees for several days in a row, well, that’s not the kind of wine you want to make. It’s not what you signed up for.”
Berger on Wine
Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 AM.