Toasting the Planet

Oct. 8, 2021

Of wine and climate change.

One of the more annoying arguments against taking man-made climate change seriously is, “Think of the benefits of a warmer climate.” Those are few and far between, unless you want to count farmland that suddenly becomes beachfront.

But the University of California, Davis, says that there seems to be another one, at least for now: Better wine.

In a press release titled “Increasing Temperatures Led to Better-Tasting Wine Grapes, but for How Long?,” UC Davis informs us that higher temperatures over the last 60 years have had a beneficial effect on wine grapes – so far. Warmth makes the grapes ripen faster, improving their sugar content and overall flavor.

UC Davis conducted a study alongside French researchers, centering on two of the world’s great wine sources: California’s Napa Valley and France’s Bordeaux region. They looked at grape quality data from those two regions, tracking it against temperature, and gauged wine quality from ratings in oenophile journals.

“One key finding: As temperatures exceeded what was considered the optimal level for quality, the grapes produced better wines,” the press release says.

But it’s not all sweet swigs. The study also found that as warmer-than-normal periods persisted and the grapes got sweeter, in some cases their skin and overall quality deteriorated.

The study suggests that a tipping point has been reached, and that one possible consequence will be opening up new regions to viticulture – while eliminating it from long-established ones.

That doesn’t sound like much of a bargain to me. The farmer who discovers that it’s now warm enough to grow grapes probably won’t be any better off than the one who looks out his window and discovers that he’s now living on the beach.