How climate change affects wine?

Recently, we have become increasingly aware of how climate change is putting the entire agricultural production at risk and, certainly, the wine industry is not being spared.

With this article, we will try to understand how this phenomenon is altering grapes and, consequently, the taste and aromas of different varietals; finally, we will explore various solutions that have been adopted so far to cope with this global emergency.

How climate change affects wine?

How global warming interferes with wine chemistry, in brief:

At high temperatures:

  • grape clusters mature faster, accumulating many more sugars, which in turn contribute to a higher alcohol content (generally, it goes from 12% to 15% Vol)
  • acidity, which gives freshness and taste to the wine, drops drastically
  • anthocyanins, in extremely hot weather conditions, degrade, inevitably reducing those aromatic notes that we find in wine
  • in case of early harvesting, tannins may not develop sufficiently

The quality and many of the main characteristics of wine, as we know it today, could be lost, transforming into something completely different. In 2022, for the first time, in France (in the Aude region) the vintage started on July 25. In Franciacorta, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir started on August 1st.

Even though vintage has always been synonymous with celebration, it is a hard job that, with the scorching heat of early August, will become even more difficult to complete. This will lead to the inevitable shift of viticulture towards Northern Europe and North America. An example is UK, which currently boasts 3,800 hectares throughout the territory, including varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.

As we all know, UK does not have any wine history like Italy and France, but the demand on the market (especially abroad) is increasing, just like the heating.

What is happening in France?

It is becoming essential to implement a possible modification of the regulations, to include new varietals that can counteract climate change.

This is what is happening in Bordeaux where, for a few years now, several vignerons have been able to experiment with different new blends of grapes, by mixing them with one of the most precious wines in the world.

Initially, 52 varietals were vying for the position: for each of them, their behavior was studied, keeping track of the result in terms of quality and resistance to drought, in direct contact with the Bordelais terroir.

The goal was to maintain acidity, structure, and aromas as much as possible, and they succeeded with the varietals of Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan, and Touriga Nacional for reds, and Alvarinho and Liliorilla for whites.

What direction should we take?

Climate change does not mean the end of wine. It is not the first time that Planet Earth and humans have faced a period of global warming. Nature is capable of adapting, and despite reluctance and scepticism, humans themselves could not turning their backs on change.

By cooperating, we will certainly be able to find new ways of viticulture, without necessarily losing quality.

Multiple studies have been conducted in different parts of the world (Italy, France, California, New Zealand, etc.) to assist the vines and winemakers during this time of significant transition, and various solutions can already be applied.

• Planting more resilient vines – PIWI

Have you ever heard of PIWI? The acronym stands for “pilzwiderstandfähig” which means “fungus-resistant vine,” requiring reduced use of pesticides and promoting naturally organic agriculture, facing the fight against climate change from the roots. It is a technique that has been studied since the 19th century but only started to gain popularity in Italy a few years ago, probably due to an impending necessity.

In 2023, the first PIWI wine, the Vin de la Neu 2020 by Nicola Biasi, received an important recognition from Gambero Rosso, one of the most important and renowned Italian food&wine magazine.

• More efficient and timely use of water

According to a study conducted by the University of Trieste: the amount of water required is not as important as the time the vine receives it, i.e., when it needs it the most. At the right times, a minimal amount of water allows for high production and perfect quality standards.

• Moving vineyards to higher altitudes

This is certainly the quicker solution, albeit temporary, and may still be harmful to the environment, which until then had remained wild.

Recently, it is the primary solution that most winemakers have considered, to gain more time before making the definitive decision.

However, there are wineries, such as ours, Cantina Il Poggio, that have benefited from rising temperatures.

Despite the region of Emilia Romagna is a land of sparkling wines. In a hilly area, based on clayey soils, like Salsomaggiore Terme, we have been able to produce great still reds. With full body and structure, reminiscent of Bordeaux wines. This allows small and unknown wineries to produce a product which is able to compete with the most important international wines.

Will we be able to save the world’s most prestigious grape varieties or will new wines of the millennium emerge? Ladies and gentlemen, let us remain open to change.

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