Breakdown: Why wine grapes could be impacted by rising temperatures

Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 10:09 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -Climate change could mean some changes to wine grapes as wine grapes are sensitive to even small changes in temperatures and precipitation. The growing season for grapes is April to October and temperatures have risen 2 degrees since 1970 according to Climate Central. Over that same time period, the growing season has risen 2.9°F in California, which accounts for 85% of wine production in the US and 12% globally for wine production. These variation in temperatures could affect the taste and quality of wine.

Premium grapes are best grown in areas that only have small changes in temperatures and precipitation. When these grapes are grown in the spring through fall temperatures can only range by about 18 degrees and there are others like pinot noir that have an even lower threshold with a range in temperature of only 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

2021 was one of the worst wildfire seasons and the smoke from wildfires can pose a threat to wine grapes as well as periods of extreme heat, excessive rain or drought and an unexpected spring frost can have impacts. Winters have been shorter and somewhat milder, this means insects and other pests are having longer life spans and can damage wine grapes.

Here are some of the impacts of warm vs cool climates. Warm climates typically have more consistent temperatures. The more subtle the transition from summer to fall allows grapes to ripen longer (but at the same time allows more of the natural acidity to be lost, which can be a negative thing. This produces wines that have more fruity flavors and less acidity according to climate central.

Cool climates may experience bigger temperature swings between summer and fall. Lower temperatures preserve acidity but the grapes take longer to ripen, producing more tart and acidic flavors.

For the best quality wines, three conditions are needed, warm temperatures, low risk of frost damage, and no extreme heat. A warm growing season often means a good wine production. In the long run, warming trends could mean that vineyards currently producing a high quality Chardonnay may have to change to growing merlot grapes in the future. When climate impacts the grapes in the vineyards, there are some options. Winemakers can add color, acid, sugar, and other flavors.

Wildfires have moved through many of the major wine-producing regions in the past few years from Oregon, California, Greece, Australia, and Spain. Higher temperatures, drier conditions all linked to climate change even fires at a safe distance from a vineyard can still pose a threat to wine grapes. When wildfire smoke is exposed to grapes while ripening, this can cause a an unwanted smoky, ashy taste and aroma.

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