Global warming, global warming. As if we don't have enough to worry about (China starting to make and export wine), now experts are telling us to beware the effects of global warming on our favorite vineyards.
It's a good news, bad news situation. You guessed it - bad news for California (assuming it survives the global warming and doesn't fall off the edge of the U.S. as has been predicted for many years now), pretty good news for Seattle's Puget Sound and Oregon's Willamette Valley. Within 30 years, it's conceivable that California will grow too warm to sustain fine-wine grapes, and other regions will prosper.
A federal agency report in 2009 found that average U.S. temperatures could increase 2 to 4 degrees by 2020 (though with 8 inches of snow on the ground outside my window, that seems like a remote thought). That's an increase of 2-4 degrees over 1970's averages, which doesn't seem like a huge increase, but you need to consider it's over a relatively short time frame. According to Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, the best grapes "grow in a narrow geographic range that exhibits a narrow climate envelope." So, apparently Noah knows climates and wine.
USA Today further reports that warming overall has meant that areas not generally associated with wine are becoming bigger players in the industry. If you've been paying attention to the wine world, I bet you could name a few. Puget Sound is a newbie - wine-grape growing was not even possible there until the 1970's. Southern England, Tasmania (Australia), New Zealand's South Island and Canada's Okanagan Valley in British Columbia are coming along as well, according to Gregory Jones, a research climatologist and wine-grape expert at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. I can attest to the Okanagan Valley wines - tasted some of their "boutique" wines several years ago and they were quite tasty. Not only is the wine pretty good, it's a lovely area of our country to visit. Another wine area that is changing for the better is New York's Finger Lakes region. In the late 70's/early 80's they were known for sweet wines with names like Niagara and Catawba - and I'm telling you - they were really sweet (not unlike many Ohio wines today). Now, the Finger Lakes region is producing very nice wines that would make anyone proud to serve (though you have to pick and choose).
In California, a paper suggesting that 50% of the state's premium wine-grape growing areas could become too hot to grow high-quality grapes by 2039 stirred intense debate among grape growers. It was published this past summer in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"Climate change can and will affect all fine wine-growing regions worldwide, but the results will not necessarily be a blanket effect," the Napa Valley Vintners said in a statement (what else could they say?)
Other scientists are more concerned with wide swings in termperatures and timing of seasons. "We're in a much more variable climatic structure right now," Southern Oregon's Jones says.
"The pace of change proected for this century is far beyond what previous generations of farmers have had to face," Cornell's Wolfe says.
Something to think about, as we sip our California, NY, OR or French wine this evening.