Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The fight to save wine from extreme weather

Jeffrey T. Iverson in Time: If there were any climate-change doubters in the wine industry, it seems they are now as rare as a 1921 Château d'Yquem. As the third annual World Conference on Climate Change and Wine gets underway April 13-14 in Marbella, Spain, the debate seems to be settled, and a new evolution in mentalities is taking place. "I think the majority of the wine industry has acknowledged that there is a problem called climate change — the impacts are being observed in wine regions throughout the whole world," says Pancho Campo, Spain's first master of wine and the conference's organizer. "Now, the next step is we have to motivate them to start taking action."

Which is why scientists and wine-industry heavyweights are gathering in Spain to debate and showcase new strategies for adapting to and mitigating climate change. The worldwide climatic events of 2010-11 alone explain why climate is ever present on these winemakers' minds, according to Greg Jones, a climatologist and viticulture expert at Southern Oregon University. While 2010 was the warmest year on record for the northern hemisphere, says Jones, more worrisome is the increasing climate variability — record cold winters followed by record hot summers, droughts and fire seasons giving way to extreme rainfall and flooding. Says he: "That variability in climate produces a lot of variability in production and grape quality, therefore it really strongly influences economic risk in wine regions worldwide." (Read "Foodies Can Eclipse [and Save] the Green Movement.")

Concerns over how recent extreme weather has affected grape quality, especially the balance between maturity in sugar content and aroma, helped spur behemoth Spanish wine producer Bodegas Torres into action. Hoping to become part of the solution, the company is leading, along with the Spanish government, a multimillion-euro nationwide research project studying the mechanisms of wine's adaptation to climate change.

….For Chilean wine producer Concha y Toro, too, the motto is "Adapt or die." Convinced that temperatures in Chile's central grape-growing valley will continue rising over time, Latin America's largest wine producer participated in a thermographic study of the region that allowed it to identify new growing regions along river basins that act as corridors of air from the Pacific Ocean or the Andes mountains. At the end of 2009, Concha y Toro released their Gran Reserva Serie Riberas line of wines, which promise to have a freshness uncommon to Chilean cuvées. (See if environmentalism has lost its spiritual core.)…

Red Vineyards near Arles (1888), Vincent van Gogh

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