Your favorite wine may soon taste different due to climate change

It costs so much to make that glass of red or white that you enjoy at the end of a long day. Grapes should be harvested at a fixed time. They are then crushed and pressed and undergo a fermentation and clarification process. Thereafter, the wine is aged and bottled. Only then can you enjoy your favorite glass of vino on your back porch while relaxing from your stressful day.

Some consider winemaking to be an art form (I agree!) but it all starts with the condition of the vineyard. The condition of the vineyard depends on climate and other environmental factors.

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It’s no surprise that winners always have to grapple with the weather, it’s just something that comes with work. But this task is becoming increasingly difficult due to climate change, especially in areas most affected by changing weather patterns. Everything from drought, wildfires and changes in temperature can have a huge impact on crops.

Forest fires, smoke and water scarcity

Forest fires continue to threaten vineyards and wineries. California has seen a large number of wildfires for decades and vineyards are feeling the effects. And it’s not just an immediate threat to their vineyards and wineries, although it is a major problem.

For example, in 2020 the Glass Fire was active for 23 days and destroyed structures at 30 wineries in Northern California. But it was one of the fiercest fires in California’s 9,900 wildfires. year,

2020 Wallbridge fire near a vineyard in Santa Rosa, CA. (Gibson Outdoor Photo/

The impact of wildfires on grapes is also undeniable. Smoke can alter the taste and smell of grapes, sometimes completely ruining the wine. Winemakers have coined the term “smoke tent” to describe the effect on their wine. Some wines may smell or taste like a campfire or ashtray, while other wines may be unaffected by the same smoke.

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Drought is another issue facing many vineyards from California to Europe. Vineyards in France, Germany, Tuscany and Napa have experienced droughts over the past year. And while wine grapes can sustain dry conditions, they can only survive so much drought.

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In some cases, winemakers decide to harvest their crops earlier, which can potentially change the flavor profile of the wine. If picked too early, the wine can become overly tart due to the high acidity.

There is a delicate balance to harvesting grapes for wine. The pH, sugar and acidity of grapes should all be in harmony. And vines need the proper amount of nutrients in the soil, the right amount of water, and the necessary amount of sunlight to thrive.

rising temperature

The ideal temperature for growing grape vines is between 77 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But in places like Oregon’s Willamette Valley, heatwave temperatures have exceeded 117 degrees. This typically cooler weather region produces wines such as Pinot Noir. The heatwave could have had devastating effects, but luckily, it didn’t last long enough to cause major damage.

Excessive and constant heat can have many harmful effects on wine grapes. If the weather heats up too quickly, the grapes can ripen too quickly. This can result in a tasteless but highly alcoholic alcohol. And finally, if the temperature is too hot for too long, it can shrink the grapes and make them unsuitable for wine.

Bunch of withered grapes.
(Stephen Farhall /

the winners are fighting back

Winemakers have their work cut out for them. Some vineyards have opted to grow different types of grapes, usually to cope with climate change. These growers are choosing varieties that tolerate heat better. Choosing Malbec or Zinfandel grapes instead of Pinot Noir or Riesling can help winemakers transition when temperatures rise.

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Wastewater recycling, dry farming and controlled irrigation are other solutions, at least in the short term. As restrictions on water use remain in place and droughts continue or worsen, it is essential to find creative solutions to keep crops flourishing. The water used in water recycling uses treated water, which should not affect the taste or quality of the grapes.

Dry farming is a technique that is more environmentally sound and does not use irrigation systems. It relies on rainwater and residual soil moisture to achieve this during the growing season. However, dry farming will not be suitable for all vineyards, as it depends on the type of soil and the amount of rainfall during the rainy season.

Controlled irrigation can be used in areas where water is scarce. Drip irrigation is the most expensive, but also the most controlled. In this type of irrigation, evaporation and runoff are reduced and water is distributed directly to the root system.

Drip irrigation is used in a vineyard.
Example of drip irrigation. (Nolte Lawrence /

We can only hope that these systems and techniques help winemakers keep their vineyards flourishing for years to come. In our continuing struggle to fight climate change, we are delighted that some winemakers are considering alternative ways to keep the quality of their products delicious.

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