A Positive Result of Global Warming?

     We’ve reported on the worries of some California winemakers that global warming could be changing the climate of vineyard areas that heretofore have been ideal for quality grape growing.

     But if one is growing grapes and making wine in an area where cooler temperatures sometimes prevent grapes from attaining full maturity, a rise in average air temperatures could be considered a positive development.

     Here are excerpts from a recent “Morning Edition” radio report on this very topic:

     In 2003, France got a glimpse of what the future may hold. A summer heat wave broke all temperature records, straining the country’s medical and energy resources. But a future of warmer summers could bring unexpected pleasures – including wine.

     The town of St. Emilion lies in the heart of France’s famous Bordeaux wine region. Beside just about every road there are row upon row of exquisitely manicured grapevines. Francois Despagne, the winemaker at Chateau Grand Corbin Despagne, explains that it is impossible to produce good wine without good grapes. And he should know. Despagne’s family has been living in this part of the Bordeaux wine region since the 16th century. Today, he has 200,000 plants on 53 different plots.

     Despagne says that French wines are so special because French winemakers pay almost religious attention to something the French call terroir.

     “Terroir is weather and the soil,” he explains. “Many people say it is the soil. No. It is the combination of the weather and the soil.”

     The soil in Bordeaux is a mix of gravelly dirt and clay, perfect for grapevine growth. The weather is good, too. There’s not too much rain, and enough summer sun for the grapes to mature. But the weather varies considerably from year to year, and this affects the vintage.

     Despagne says he had good vintages in 1988, 1989 and 1990, but each year was very different. “It is like three children,” he says. “They are your children, but they are not the same.”

     Something else is happening in addition to the annual variation. Harvests have been coming earlier – and grapes have had more sugar – because on average summers have been getting warmer. At least in the short run, this is a good thing for Bordeaux, because a warm, dry August is a good thing for wine.

     These changes are welcomed at Chateau Ausone, a premier Grand Cru Classe winery. The Ausone vineyards are just outside the walls of the medieval city, below the Romanesque church. They’re on a southeast-facing hill, so the grapes are bathed in the warm morning sun. The 2005 vintage hasn’t appeared in stores yet, but if you want to buy the rights to a bottle when it does come out, it will set you back nearly $1,800. That’s for one bottle.

     And global warming could send the prices even higher, according to Alain Vauthier, the owner of Chateau Ausone. “I very sincerely think that right now global warming is very favorable,” he says. “We’re getting more and more great vintages. We have very sweet grapes like those that we want for great years such as ’47, ’61, ’82.”

     And he doesn’t seem concerned about the climate getting too hot.

     “In 30 or 50 years, I don’t know what the climate will be,” Vauthier says, “but we’ll see. Actually, I won’t see, because I’m too old.’

Posted in Wine and the Environment
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