I often get asked “why are winemakers now making wines with higher alcohol levels?” or “How come I can’t find as many clean and crisp white wines as before?” There is no sugar-coating the answer anymore as it’s becoming abundantly obvious: Climate change.
I’m not here to give anyone a lecture on climate change and I’m certainly not here to tell you how to live your life, we get enough of that almost everywhere else. I’m here to tell you what’s happening and where we are headed.
As the temperature of the growing season rises, grapes ripen sooner and develop more sugars. During fermentation most of these sugars become alcohol and what’s left are residual sugars that show sweetness. Thus higher alcohol levels in the wines and fewer crisp and dry whites.
The Earth is warmer than it was 50 years ago and although it’s sometimes easy to forget, wine comes from crops of grapes grown on vines. (I sometimes laugh at the perception that wineries are these lavish houses just because they’re named Chateau, Maison or Bodega whatever. In reality, most winemakers are humble farmers, making the wines their families have made for generations.) The vine is a plant that is very sensitive to any changes in its surroundings and temperature in particular. The battle to maintain quality in traditionally cooler old-world climates is waging.
Winemakers in Champagne no longer struggle to find ripeness but, instead, face a fight to provide adequate freshness in their wines. To that end, Louis Roederer has recently undergone a complete overhaul of their winery, even dropping their best selling Champagne the Brut Premier.
In Catalonia alone, there has been an increase in average temperatures of 1.2 degrees over the past 50 years. The biggest winery in the region, Torres, are now in the process of going carbon neutral as the head of the family, Miguel, stresses how much the environment has changed in his lifetime.
So, what now?
Well, as the traditional wine countries are scrambling to adapt to the new way of the world, we are seeing a growth of excellent quality wines from peculiar places. The UK is now a source of outstanding sparkling and white wines, the German Spätburgunder could rival Burgundy Pinot Noir in some places, and we should see an influx of crisp and zippy Nordic or Eastern European whites to the market that reminds us of the Touraine Sauvignon of old.
But as a wine-drinker what should we do? I suppose the answer is to experiment. I’ve made the decision that I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to try new things, whether that be the developing flavours from old favourites or new and exciting wines from previously disregarded regions.
Kind regards and drink up,