Climate change is affecting wine

Climate change is affecting wine


Who: Terra d'oro Winery
What: 2013 Chenin Blanc & Viognier
Where: Amador County, CA
Why: Because it's a chameleon
How much: $13

A friend recently shared an article with me that discussed the effects of climate change on growing grapes and winemaking. It explained how a shift in climate and temperature is changing balance and flavor in the grape growing regions of California. Winegrowers think of climate on three levels: macroclimate, mesoclimate and microclimate, and each is important in determining the look, feel and flavor of a wine.

The macroclimate is the overall region, influenced by geographical location and setting, the growing season, temperature and rainfall patterns. The temperature controls when the vines come out of winter dormancy and begin the ripening process. As global temperatures increase, certain regions are struggling with drought that causes uneven grape yields.

The mesoclimate is the local vineyard and is responsible for controlling the delicate balance of acid and sugar, which forms the foundation of taste. There exists a particular point during ripening, when the sugar increases and the acid decreases, which creates a balanced grape ready for harvest. In warmer temperatures when grapes ripen more quickly than expected, the sugar content is too low and/or the acid is too high. This is not the recipe for tried-and-true or traditional wines.

Finally, the microclimate is the actual cluster of grapes within a canopy of leaves. This cluster must have the correct amount of sun exposure to produce the characteristic color of a wine. With a shortened ripening period the color is unable to fully compose.

This is a lot of technical talk, but all important to the look, feel and taste of the wines we're drinking these days. As climate change continues to occur, winemakers are forced to either adjust the variety of grapes they're growing or work to move vineyards to a more appropriate region consistent with their desired product. Neither is easy and both may cause old world wines to disappear from our collections and tables. I also believe this to be the reason we're seeing more wine blends all the time. This is the result of winegrowers adapting to the different climate conditions.

The wine I tasted this week is one influenced by climate change. The producers of chenin blanc let the climate dictate what the wine will be. A chenin blanc in general may vary from passion fruit tart to pleasant peach and from extremely dry to bubbling sweet depending on the region grown, how much sun exposure the grapes receive and when they are harvested. If Mother Nature decides the grape clusters should remain on the vine a longer period of time than normal, the producers will adapt and turn the grapes into something on the sweeter side, or vice versa. This particular 2013 Chenin Blanc & Voignier is made from grapes that were harvested early. I determined this because it is on the dryer side with a higher acidity level. It tastes of fruit, but of mangos or grapefruit that are less ripe (meaning a bit more tart). And, the color is almost non-existent, being so clear it appears like water. Some would consider the taste thin, which is normally an undesirable term for wine, but I think this works because it eliminates any aftertaste and leaves me with a clean-feeling palate. The best thing about all of this is that chenin blanc pairs well with any type of meat, spice, cheese or vegetable.

Somewhere in my research I remember reading that chenin blanc wines do not age well and should be consumed early. This is another identifier of grapes harvested earlier than normal and spending less time on the vine. They are not aged and are produced for drinking within two to four years.

So, wine drinkers should be concerned about climate change too. Who wants to open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and have it be the color of a blush? Or pour a glass of refreshing Pinot Gris, only to find the taste of Moscato? It would be the end of my world as I know it. Anyone have Al Gore's number?