Climate Change – A Silver Lining?

Climate change is a subject that’s been high on the public agenda over the last few months, especially if you’ve been trying to navigate around London during the protests.

According to NASA we’ve seen 17 of the warmest 18 years on record since 2001.  Following the unseasonably warm weather in April and May I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy at the prospect of a long hot summer, but in all seriousness, things are really heating up.

Alongside industries such as energy, fishing and even skiing, the production of agricultural crops, including the grapes destined to be turned in to wine, is poised to change dramatically, potentially to the point where we need to re-write the book.

Vines thrive the world-over where the climate meets their individual varietal characteristics.  A good example of the scale of change can be found in the revered French wine region of Burgundy. 

At a northerly latitude once deemed to be at the top end for successful grape production, the cool inland climate allows the thin-skinned Pinot Noir grape to perfectly ripen throughout the long warm summers without being scorched.  Even though the French don’t tend to varietally label their wines, it’s well known that the Pinot Noir grape is the heart and soul of the world-famous Burgundy.

What though if the climate gets too hot for this delicate grape?  Suddenly the entire profile of the wine would change as the vines were pulled up.  Hardier grapes from the warmer south of France would potentially need to be moved northwards as the temperature rises.  Could we be seeing Burgundy made from the spicier Grenache or Syrah varieties in the future?  It seems unbelievable, but that’s what some experts have said may happen in as little as 20 years time.

Alongside the warmer temperatures we are also seeing more and more evidence of volatile weather conditions hitting the vineyards.  The US has suffered devastating wildfires, sudden hailstorms have decimated the years-worth of work in minutes across France, Germany and Italy, whilst South Africa and Australia have suffered from severe droughts.

As something of a silver lining to the doom and gloom, we’re now seeing new wine regions appear in the land where it was once too cold to successfully produce well-ripened grapes.  The most obvious of these is our own home-grown wine industry which, thanks to rising temperatures, has turned from little more than a hobbyist activity to a serious world contender in roughly 25 years.

English wines have been served to royalty and heads of state, have taken off in the US, and go from strength to strength in wine competitions year after year.  If our world leaders continue to stall on addressing and tackling the seriousness of climate change, given that we now successfully compete with the quality of the Champagne region some 250 miles south of London, how long will it be before the south of England becomes the new Burgundy?

This article was originally published in the June 2019 edition of The Ocelot. For more of my articles, please click here.

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