According to Jancis Robinson, the major components of the legendary term ‘terroir’ – the thing we winos like to say is what makes each wine unique – is an indefinable combination of soil, topography, macroclimate, which in turn effects mesoclimate, and vine microclimate. That’s an awful lot of ‘climate’…
It’s no great secret that the world’s climate is evolving and shifting, and with this comes a heap of new challenges and potential problems for the world we live in. It’s the great question of our time: how will climate change affect us and what can we do to combat it? It should come as no surprise that the world of wine is not untouched by the very same predicament.
It’s the job of winemakers to work the land, to notice weather patterns, and to work in harmony with them. Their very livelihood depends on it. To get a view from the vineyard, we caught up with a few of our winemakers and got the low-down on how climate change is affecting them and their work.
The impact of warmer summers
This last few weeks we’ve seen some incredibly hot weather, with the highest ever recorded temperatures in London and Paris. There have been over 100 cases of wildfires… since June… in the Arctic Circle! It’s nuts.
While the extremes and anomalies make the headlines, it’s the pattern of increasingly warm, dry summers that are having the biggest effect on winemakers.
“We’ve seen that the years were much warmer, much drier. We had such an early harvest [last] year: we started on the 14th August. Usually we… I don’t know it was just crazy!”
– Kathi Moser, Weingut Sepp Moser
Warmer summers mean earlier-ripening fruit. The problem this causes, as Kathi explained, is that within the grapes the sugar level goes up, the acidity comes down, but the grapes themselves do not have time to reach full physiological ripeness before their juice dictates the harvest date. This can lead to unbalanced wines which, if you pride yourself on the quality of your product as do our winemakers, isn’t ideal at all. For the Mosers and their fully biodynamic estate, this is where some of the biodynamic preparations can come to the rescue – Horn Silica 501 gives the vines a ripening impulse which can help restore some balance to the wines.
Perhaps the most worrying effect of the ever-warming climate is the impact of milder winters. Winter and the frosts that come with it is an important part of the growing cycle of a vine. Not only does it allow the vine to go into dormancy – a well-earned rest from a year of stress and growth – but the frost is also vital for keeping vines healthy.
“When the soil is completely frozen it kills off a lot of disease and things. And when it is changing between frozen and not frozen again and again, it makes the ground easier to work in the Spring. Now that this is disappearing slowly […] it will be, I think, a big problem for the next generation with disease.”
– Damien Petit, Domaine Desiré Petit.
The greater the chance of disease; the greater the risk of damage to the crop; the greater the risk of a bad vintage; the more precarious your position as a winemaker.
Whether it’s extremes of weather, or the slow(ish) build of changing circumstances, there’s little doubt that the changing climate is having its effect on the world of wine. Warming temperatures may well be opening up the possibility of new growing regions, but for many who have been making wine all their lives, the situation is becoming more challenging all the time. Of course, winemakers have their ways and means of adapting or counteracting where they can, but we’re moving into uncharted waters. It’s certainly an interesting time to be a wine lover.