May 12-13, 2020
Santa Rosa, CA
Climate change is already having a massive impact on the wine industry, leading to more extreme weather conditions on a worldwide basis. Forest fires in both California and Spain, for example, have been blamed on climate change – as have late frosts in France that have devastated vineyards. Overall, warming temperatures are forcing winemakers to seek out cooler growing climates, whether at higher altitudes or much further north or south than winemakers ever thought possible for growing grapes.
The first major study that analyzed the impact of climate change on the wine industry was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in 2013. What the researchers suggested was that wine produced in iconic wine regions of the world – including Burgundy, France and Napa Valley, California – would slowly disappear over the next 50 years. In their place would arise new wine regions – such as England in Europe and northern states like Montana, Wyoming and Michigan in the United States. So which wine regions of the world have the best chance of becoming “the next Bordeaux” or “the next Napa Valley” over the next few decades?
Within the wine world, there is growing consensus that England’s wine industry could be one of the biggest winners from global climate change. By the 2020s, in fact, England could emerge as one of the biggest players in both the sparkling and still wine categories. In southern parts of Britain, hundreds of wineries are popping up, and more than half of them are producing sparkling wine. The one region that has everyone’s attention right now is the Sussex South Downs region, which is located less than 100 miles away from its far more famous neighbour, Champagne. Due to warming weather conditions in Britain, South Downs now has similar weather to Champagne. Moreover, both regions have the same type of chalky, clay soil that helps to create world-class sparkling wine. As a result, the very best British wine estates may soon rival the best French Champagne houses.
And, if you’re willing to take a very long look at the future of the wine industry in England, just wait until the year 2100. According to a group of researchers at the University College London, due to climate change, temperatures will warm by an average of 2 degrees Celsius, and there will be 5 percent more annual rainfall. As a result, they predict that there may eventually be Tempranillo vineyards in central London and a robust Pinot Grigio wine region in the Scottish Borders.
Elsewhere in northern Europe, the one wine region that has captured the attention of wine enthusiasts is Scandinavia. Three nations – Denmark, Sweden and Norway – are rapidly developing their own wine industries. As a result of warming temperatures, it’s now possible for winemakers to benefit from longer growing seasons and milder winters. In Sweden, regions like Skane are now mini-wine hot spots. In the Guardian, the situation in Sweden as compared to the situation in England about 15 years ago. So, if you buy into the idea that England is soon going to become a major wine region, then Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia will not be far behind.
You didn’t think that we’d talk about the future of wine and not mention China, did you? Traditionally, China’s wine industry has been concentrated along the coastal regions. But now the biggest domestic producers – such as Changyu Pioneer Wine Company – are venturing further inland, looking for pristine growing conditions. The wine region that is getting the most attention is Ningxia, which has already built a reputation for world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. There are even Bordeaux-style chateaux in the region now, and wines from Ningxia are now starting to appear in top restaurants, hotels and hospitality venues around the world. And it is not just Ningxia that could become the next hot wine region – other regions include Xinjiang as well as the northern wine regions near China’s border with North Korea and Russia.
Right now, mainland Australia gets all the attention from the wine world, with regions like the Barossa Valley justifiably famous for their world-class wines. But due to warming temperatures in Australia and the potential for severe heat waves and drought, attention is now turning to tiny Tasmania. Climate change will actually improve the growing conditions in Tasmania, making this region more suitable for grape varieties such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the United States, warming temperatures could encourage winemakers to look further northward, to states such as Michigan, Wyoming and Montana. All of these have wine industries on a very small scale right now, but if Napa Valley becomes too warm and arid to grow certain grape varieties, you can bet that cooler, northern climes will get a lot more attention. Of these states, Michigan has perhaps the greatest potential. According to official Michigan grape and wine organizations, the number of wineries in Michigan has skyrocketed from 16 to 130 in just the past decade.
The situation in Chile, in many ways, mirrors the situation in Australia. Winemakers are steadily moving south, in search of better growing conditions. While Chile has benefited from a traditional, Mediterranean-style climate, warmer and more arid growing conditions are putting a premium on finding regions either at higher altitudes or further south, where temperatures are cooler. One wine region being mentioned a lot right now is La Union, a region that used to be too cold and too wet to grow grapes. However, annual rainfall is decreasing and temperatures are warming. As a result, some wine experts have suggested that Pinot Noir could become very popular here.
Due to climate change, the one big trend that is being noticed worldwide is the emergence of new wine regions further away from the equator, to latitudes that were once considered too far north or too far south to support a robust wine industry. As a result, within the next decade, it may no longer sound strange to talk about English bubbly in the same sentence as Champagne, or to talk about wines from Michigan as worthy rivals to wines from Napa and Sonoma.