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Climate Change Makes For Tastier Wine

Global warming + wine grapes = true love…for now

A toast to global warming! Kind of. (Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Rising sea levels. Spiking temperatures. Melting ice. More natural disasters. If you can’t think of a reason to applaud climate change, you can’t be blamed—but then again, you may not be a French vintner. For that subsegment of Earth’s population, writes NPR’s Alastair Bland, warmer temps are cause for celebration because they could make French wine taste even better.

Before you scoff, consider the wine grape. The fickle little fruits are super sensitive to climate: When it’s cold, they don’t ripen as quickly and have to be left on the vine longer. Late-harvest grapes are moldy, shrunken and less abundant—they can appear more like raisins than plump grapes. And if they freeze on the vine? Forget about it—once a grape goes below a certain temperature, it’s only suitable for certain types of niche wine. It’s no wonder, then, that grapes harvested early are associated with the most delicious wines.

The best French wines have always depended on something out of the ordinary: drought. Because temperatures in European wine-growing regions are normally mild, those areas used to need droughts to ratchet up the heat and bring on fruit maturation.

And that’s where climate change comes in. A new paper published in the journal Nature says that climate change has now weakened the relationship between droughts and warm temperatures in Europe. Researchers write that “climate change has fundamentally altered the climatic drivers of early wine grape harvests in France,” speeding up harvest dates by nearly eight days on average.

Temperature isn’t the only thing that makes for great wine. As Smithsonian.com reported in 2014, the Earth itself is also to thank—earthquakes both shaped regions like Napa Valley and created the perfect soil conditions for growing grapes. But when it comes down to it, growing conditions themselves can make or break a wine crop.

Bland writes that the new information on climate change could help winemakers make more educated decisions on when to harvest grapes, but notes that it could also presage a point at which temperatures simply surpass what’s good for grapes. Translation: Global warming may have improved what’s in your glass for now, but in the future it could sour an entire industry.

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