by Debra Williams
With all that is happening in our world with climate change, I wondered its impact on the development of the grapes and ultimate flavors of the wine we drink. We all know that flavor is largely determined by the grape itself. But, what effect does a warming planet, unpredictable weather cycles, and increasing wet vs. dry rain/drought cycles have on the ultimate taste of the final product.
Yiyao Wu and Terry Kandylis from Decanter wrote about this in November 20, 2015 and July 9, 2106 editions. Here’s what I learned, though I recommend you find the original articles for more detail.
According to Yiyao and her WSET training, wine climates suitable for production are broken down into three categories: hot, moderate, and cool, all based on their latitude (closeness to Equator), altitude (the higher, the cooler), and sea influences (warm vs. cool ocean currents).
Keeping that in mind, Terry Kandylis, Head Sommelier at 67 Pall Mall, writes that wines from warmer climates, like Napa Valley or Goonawarra, tend to have higher alcohol content, the fruit is riper, tannins are softer, and the acidity is typically lower.
With a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, on the other side of the coin, there will be earthy notes, the red fruit will be crunchier (love his use of that word), and it will have a more refreshing acidity.
Most vineyards can be found between 30 and 50 degrees latitude, and then it becomes too hot. Climate influences temperature, as Yiyao addresses, as it guides temperature, which in turn, impacts the production of sugars. Some grapes require high temperatures to mature, some require lower.
Weather obviously also plays a huge role in production of a good grape. Late freezes, drought conditions, floods all impact the quality of production.
Sunlight causes the grapes to combine carbon dioxide and water into sugar. Too much causes the grapes to ripen too fast. Too much rain causes rot to occur and causes the grapes to be bloated.
I wonder the impact of the horrific fires in Napa Valley last year on the taste of their ’17 wines. The flavors of that vintage may actually give us a “taste” of climate change.