How climate change may transform taste of wines

Climate change may cause popular wines to taste different, forcing winemakers to plant lesser- known grape varieties to counteract some of the effects of global warming.

Published: 03rd January 2018 05:32 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2018 05:34 PM   |  A+A-



BOSTON: Climate change may cause popular wines to taste different, forcing winemakers to plant lesser- known grape varieties to counteract some of the effects of global warming.

Scientists and vintners need to better understand the wide diversity of grapes and their adaptions to different climates, according to Elizabeth Wolkovich, assistant professor at Harvard University in the US.

"It's going to be very hard for many regions to continue growing the exact varieties they've grown in the past," Wolkovich said.

"The Old World has a huge diversity of winegrapes - there are over planted 1,000 varieties - and some of them are better adapted to hotter climates and have higher drought tolerance than the 12 varieties now making up over 80 per cent of the wine market in many countries," she said.

"We should be studying and exploring these varieties to prepare for climate change," she added.

Convincing wine producers to try different grape varieties is difficult at best, and the reason often comes down to the current concept of terroir - the notion that a wine's flavour is a reflection of where, which and how the grapes were grown.

As currently understood, only certain traditional or existing varieties are part of each terroir, leaving little room for change.

Even if winemakers were open to switching to new varieties, researchers do not have enough data to say whether other varieties would be able to adapt to climate change.

"Right now we know we have this diversity, but we have little information on how to use it," said Ignacio Morales- Castilla, from Harvard University.

"One of our other suggestions is for growers to start setting aside parts of vineyards to grow some other varieties to see which ones are working," said Castilla, who investigates which winegrape varieties will adequately mature where under climate change.

Even if researchers came to the table armed with information about grape diversity, Wolkovich said the industry still faces hurdles when it comes to making changes.

In Europe, growers have more than 1,000 grape varieties to choose from, research repositories such as INRA's Domaine de Vassal that study this diversity, and expertise in how to grow different varieties.

Yet strict labelling laws have created restrictions on their ability to take advantage of this diversity.

For example, just three varieties of grapes can be labelled as Champagne or four for Burgundy.

Similar restrictions have been enacted in many European regions - all of which force growers to focus on a small handful of grape varieties.

"The more you are locked into what you have to grow, the less room you have to adapt to climate change," Wolkovich said.

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