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09.28.2006

The First Real Study on Global Warming and Vineyards

It's nearly already a cliché: start buying land in Sweden, because soon you'll be able to grow grapes there. There has been an awful lot of talk over the last 15 years about rising global temperatures and the effects on the wine world. For some of us, there was long ago enough circumstantial evidence (along with the very real, documented increase in global temperatures) to point to some pretty serious implications for the winegrowers of the world. There are lots of hardcore science types, however, that like to maintain that such evidence, even when collected by people like the Inuit (who you would think could be trusted when they point to a patch of soggy ground and tell you that it has been frozen for the last 30 generations) doesn't amount to scientific proof.

This study doesn't amount to proof (in fact it takes it for a given), but a recent article in Slate highlights what to my eyes looks like one of the more rigorous scientific studies on the effects of global warming on vineyards. The interesting thing about this study is not that it was conducted by a couple of economists who wanted to know what the effects of global warming would be on the vineyards of the world, and in particular, whether top vineyards would still be able to produce the quality of wines they are producing now if global temperatures go where now most people are saying they will.

These two economists used the highly documented (since the 1800s) vineyards of the Mosel valley to try and discover correlations between the amount of radiant heat the vineyard received and its quality of fruit. They in fact determined that the more heat the vineyards got in the Mosel, the better (and higher priced) wine they produced. Which means good things for the Mosel as global temperatures climb, but here's the rub: the Mosel is one of the more northerly growing regions of the world. So essentially the research shows that Germany will be sitting pretty in ten to twenty years, but elsewhere? Can you smell the raisins?

The upshot gives credence to the flip discussion about new vineyard land. There will doubtless be places producing wine in two decades that no one ever believed could possibly do so.

Read the whole article.

Comments (5)

.brian wrote:
09.28.06 at 2:40 PM

I also saw the article in Slate. Confused by the "findings" reported, I was able to track down the actual research paper by the economists. Unfortunately, I have to say that the findings are probably not to be taken seriously. Their premise is physically faulty; the authors don't seem to understand what global warming is all about. In effect, they assume that Mosel will get more sunshine in a warmer world. Of course, that can't be true, since nothing about the sun is changing. They also build a model that penalizes vineyards for being far from large bodies of water because they will have larger daily temperature variations. The fact is that as global warming progresses, nighttime temperatures are more strongly affected than daytime temperatures, meaning the daily variation will decrease. More importantly for the wine industry, I think, is that some regions that have too short a growing season now might acquire a few more days of spring and summer and be able to grow better fruit. This bodes well for some currently cool valleys in places like Washington and Oregon. (read a rather incoherent critique over at my blog... I'll try to clean it up later)

Barrld wrote:
09.29.06 at 10:16 AM

Some very recent work by a meteorologist studying the melting arctic ice cap suggests that the infusion of an enormous volume of very cold water into the North and Baltic Seas and then Atlantic Ocean will effectively stop the warm waters and temperate abilities of the Gulf Stream before it reaches Europe, resulting in significant decreases in prevailing temperatures in the continent. Such a result could destroy virtually all wine growing regions in Europe, esp. in France

Alder wrote:
09.29.06 at 10:25 AM

Thanks for the comments. If I recall correctly, this scientific hypothesis was featured prominently in Al Gore's recent film about global warming.

09.29.06 at 2:48 PM

I've heard this trumpeted around Ontario of late: if global warming raises temperatures by an average of 2 degrees, the growing season in the Niagara region will mirror that of Bordeaux.

I can't say whether that's true or not (or based on science or conjecture) but I recently had a 2003 Pinot made from 100% Ontario grapes that clocked in at 14% alcohol -- which seems to indicate this process is underway already.

Plus, with new farming practices like 'hilling up' soil over shoots and roots during extreme winters, I predict great things for this region over the next while...

tom farella wrote:
09.29.06 at 4:52 PM

Hmm. Why is it always a northern scientist preducting the change. The last 2 big headlines on this matter came from a study from a group of scientists with northern pedigrees, as well. To paraphrase the naysayers, why can we predict weather 100 years from now but not tomorrow and the next day? That said, it's not a simple matter, nor very comforting, either way.

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