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RP Siegel headshot

Climate Change is Impacting the Flavor and Quality of Wine

Words by RP Siegel

It has been a challenge at times to get well-heeled and sometimes highly influential people to care about climate change. After all, having a great deal of money can serve to insulate someone from problems that afflict those less fortunate. Food prices going up, for example, not that big a deal. Coastal areas flooding out, go somewhere else for vacation. Many of those at the top of the heap are finding that business-as-usual is working very well for them, thank you very much. Besides, they might have significant investments in industries that could be threatened by changing to a more sustainable model

Perhaps, what is needed to get their attention is something that hits closer to home. Here is an item in England’s The Telegraph that might fit the bill: Apparently, rising temperatures in areas like France, Italy and Spain are affecting the flavor of certain wines. The grapes that are used in the production of certain wines, like pinot noir, are growing more quickly than before.

What that means, according to Kimberly Nicholas, a wine industry consultant, is that “as the atmosphere warms, the desired ratio of acid to sugar occurs earlier in the season.” That challenges the vineyards to deduce the ideal time to pick the grapes.   Ms. Nicholas, an associate professor of sustainability science at Lund University in Sweden, warned that vineyards are finding it difficult to know the perfect moment to pick the grapes in order to retain a wine’s signature taste. The grapes may no longer produce the unique flavors that wine fanciers have come to associate with their favorite reds and whites.
One university study of the impact of a changing climate on the wine industry, performed in Pennsylvania, found that: “The sugar levels mature too quickly, while the flavors lag behind. As the vintner waits to harvest the grapes until the flavor is fully developed, they sacrifice the acidity, resulting in a 'flabby' wine (high alcohol content as a result of high sugar levels with very little returned acidity)."

How are vineyards responding?

A number of vineyards in California and southern Europe are dropping pinot noir for other varieties of grape that are more tolerant to higher temperatures. While that might not seem like a tragedy for many who are ambivalent about which wines they drink, this is a development that is bound to get the attention of wine lovers around the world.

The value of the global wine business is estimated at close to $200 billion. This is not to say that people are going to suddenly stop drinking wine, but if their favorite varieties are no longer available, some people might look elsewhere for their enjoyment.

Many aspects of our modern lifestyle will require these kinds of adjustments, particularly food and drink.  But few things have come to epitomize the good life as much as a glass of fine wine.

Another study, in Australia, found that wine grape quality could be expected to reduce by anywhere between 7 percent and 39 percent by 2030 and by as much as 76 percent by 2050. Of course, new varieties will likely be developed that can hopefully provide better quality in these new conditions. But this will take some time, and in the meantime some people might turn away from wine as their drink of choice, especially if prices go up.

Will this represent a wakeup call, a message delivered into the inner sanctum of those benefiting the most from our status quo and least inclined to want to change? Only time will tell. But as time goes on, more and more of these changes will continue to exert pressure on every aspect of life.

Image credit: def1 10: Flicker Creative Commons

RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


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