Ask most vineyard owners if climate change has impacted their winery and the answer is a resounding yes. But how do they adapt?
The Torres Winery in Spain is taking climate change very seriously and has adopted a philosophy to confront it head on. Just like many other vineyards throughout the world, Torres has noticed that warmer temperatures have increased sugar content and lowered acidity which dramatically change the way wines taste. If the winery has spent years developing a style, then that trademark can be eradicated
or at least diminished. And that hurts the bottom line of profitability.
The issues of where to plant vineyards and even what grapes to plant have become of primary concern. Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, easily identifiable grapes throughout the world, need a cooler climate to thrive. What happens in Burgundy or Oregon where these grapes are the trademark grapes used to make wines? Can you imagine a white Burgundy from any other grape than Chardonnay? That is the only grape allowed in Burgundian white wines. But what if the character of the wine becomes flabby or unbalanced because of high sugar levels? There is very little the winemaker can do in the vineyard, except moving the vineyard or changing the grape variety, both of which are outlawed.
Torres has the luxury, as do some other wineries, of planting new vineyards in cooler climates, which in Spain translates into higher altitudes. I witnessed the same phenomenon in October while visiting Sicily. Think Sicily and you think sun and heat, which is correct. That’s why winemakers have taken on the challenging task of planting in higher elevations, like the north slopes of Mt. Etna.
Torres is near the Pyrenees in northwestern Catalonia and selected this area to plant new vineyards. The new vineyards are in elevations ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 feet. Decades ago, growing grapes at these altitudes would have been impossible.
Another technique is to switch to grapes that thrive in warm weather. Torres is experimenting with 6 grapes that are practically unknown, including pirene, forcada and gonfaus. Forcada for example is a late-ripening white grape that has great acidity while Pirene is a red grape that produces a wine that exhibits a berry-like fruitiness.
The Torres family is so committed to addressing the impact of climate change that they’ve teamed up with the Jackson Family Wines to form the International Wineries for Climate Change. The purpose of the organization is to influence other wineries to reduce carbon emissions.
Meanwhile wine lovers should get accustomed to seeing wines coming from areas never heard of before, like Denmark, Sweden, Norway or England.
The inspiration for this blog came from an article by Eric Asimov in the NY Times, 10/30/19.