Yes, there are far more serious things to be concerned about re: global warming than the fate of the wine industry, says Steven Kolpan — but it’s not nothing. Kolpan writes that we’re already seeing big and deleterious changes in wine-making from climate change. Excerpt:
In 20 to 30 years, Burgundy, France, will be too warm to plant its classic varietal, Pinot Noir, and should think about switching to Cabernet Sauvignon, because its climate will mirror today’s Bordeaux. So while there may still be “Burgundies” available to drink, the Burgundies we’ve always known will be no more. Bordeaux, which will mirror Valencia, Spain, has to think about planting Syrah and Grenache, now grown in the much-warmer Rhône region. (Currently, there is a government-approved program in Bordeaux for planting “experimental” grapes, including Syrah and Zinfandel, as well as the wine world’s favorite cash crop, Chardonnay, which really needs a cool climate to excel.) And everybody’s talking about buying vineyard land in southern England, usually considered too cool a region for anything but sparkling wines, but may become a leading wine region, along with Canada, in the world of global warming.
In California, the Napa Valley will become as warm as Modesto. Modesto will become as warm as Stockton. Stockton will become as warm as Bakersfield. Bakersfield is already as warm as Mexico. Barring genetic manipulation of grapes (of course, that research is already ongoing), much of California will become a wine wasteland, producing just-drinkable bulk wines in fancy bottles. Ramp up that marketing machine before it’s too late!
What to do? I would be the last person to advise anyone not to continue to enjoy wine, one of the astounding miracles of nature. But the next time you sip your favorite wine, maybe think about it a little differently. The message is clear: Wine is a precious product of nature, and its future is threatened. In your glass of pleasure there is also a microcosm of our shared environmental concerns, concerns that can no longer be ignored, no longer be denied.
You might say: OK, this is sad for winegrowers today, but this only means that opportunities will open up for regions that are now too cold or otherwise unsuited for growing wine grapes. From the point of view of the wine consumer, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is this. There’s something called terroir, which has to do with the way the composition of the soil in which the grapes are grown, combined with the local climatic conditions, work together to give wine from particular regions its own taste. Wine is not interchangeable. There’s a reason why a Burgundy tastes very different from a Bordeaux. Mostly it has to do with the grape (cabernet sauvignon dominates Bordeaux, pinot noir Burgundy). If they start growing cab in Burgundy, we’ll have a very different wine. Similarly, whatever wine is made in southern England or Canada may well be delicious wine, but we’ll have that only because we’ve had to give up another wine people have come to love. And, as Kolpan explains in an earlier piece, it will be a fundamentally different wine because the taste of a given wine depends on the kind of soil it’s grown in. Again, this might not be a big deal to you, but for people who love wine, and who understand it not merely as a flavorful liquid, but as an expression of place and culture, it’s pretty catastophic.
And, like Russell D. Moore has done with the dying of the fishing industry of the Gulf Coast, we should reflect on how the end of wine-growing in some regions will occasion traumatic cultural shifts. If you’ve never been to the wine-growing regions of northern California, you can’t imagine how the death of that industry would affect the local people and their culture. But that region has only really been defined by wine-making for 40 years or so; think about how far, far worse it will be for the ancient wine-growing regions of France, Italy and Spain, and the people who live there. These aren’t just grape vines under threat of death; these are communities and local cultures. At this point, I believe it’s unavoidable, and I hope there are delicious Canadian and English wines in my grandchildren’s future. But the demise of something so precious and fundamental to civilization should not pass away unnoticed and unmourned.