TJ and I have been lucky to go on quite a few wine travel trips in the past several years. TJ goes more often than I do, but I’ve stood in enough vineyards in the past three years to know that everyone is struggling with one undeniable issue: global warming is affecting their grapes. For some the vineyards are getting too hot. For others the sun seems to have disappeared completely. For others, bud break happens too late, while in other areas ripening happens too soon. The issues may differ, but the nervousness these farmers feel is undeniable.
We were reminded of the looming issue of global warming and its effect on grapes while visiting Castello Romitorio in Italy last week (was it only last week? It feels like a lifetime ago). Their harvests have moved up by several weeks. And not just of their grapes, their olives are also affected. Usually a Christmas time harvest, Romitorio now harvests their olives at the end of October. For the moment they’ve been able to deal with the issues caused by global warming by moving their vineyards around and playing with sun exposure and other factors. Vineyards that didn’t get enough sun before now warm up nicely, and other vineyards are assisted by adjustments in the growing schedule.
This same issue is happening in Alsace. The vineyards that have been in the same place since the Franciscan monks are having to be rethought. New plots of land are being considered, new techniques tried. Vineyards sites with what had always been considered unfavorable sun exposure are now being readied to plant. The farmers there are trying to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature.
But what to do in Burgundy? They haven’t seen a proper growing season in years. Lingering winters, rain, hail, a lack of sunshine have added up to pathetic yields and aging barrels that sit empty year after year. Burgundian wine is in crisis mode. This is what people forget about global warming – making one area too hot makes another unsettled in other ways. Too cold can also be an indication of the overall warming trend.
I’m no scientist, and I don’t even want to attempt to wade into the science of this issue. I leave that to smarter people than myself. What I do know is that grapes that are grown in regions that are too hot will have too much alcohol and too little balance. Our palates will change and adjust, but wine itself will different. We’ll see vineyards that have been passed from family to family struggle to produce enough wine. On the flip side, new regions will open up and become viable. Things will shift. But there’s only one Burgundy, you guys. There’s only one Montalcino. There’s only one Napa.
The producers are worried. And we should be too. There’s a lot more than just wine on the line.