I was cleaning up my office the other day and came across an old (Sept. 2007) issue of National Geographic. I had flagged an article discussing climate change and its effects on the world’s grape growing regions. According to the article, by the year 2099 most of the current major viticulture areas in the world will have become too hot to produce wine at all. Or if wine production is still feasible, these areas will not be able to produce great wine from the varietals that are currently being planted. Growing seasons will become too short, and sugar levels will rise to outrageous heights long before the fruit has time to mature and develop its wonderful character.

To me this is a frightening prospect, and is one that the wine industry also recognizes and is taking seriously. In fact since this article was published, the Second Conference on Climate Change and Wine took place in Barcelona, Spain. Al Gore keynoted the 2008 conference, and the next is planned for 2010.

So, as the title of this article asks, where would you plant a vineyard now (or would you plant one at all), knowing that it may not be sustainable in that same area in the year 2099? Do you side with the National Geographic scientists, and believe that Global Warming will dramatically alter the wine growing landscape over the next 100 years? Or are you a glass half full kind of person, believing that we will solve the climate crisis and avert this wine world apocalypse? Or maybe you are a little bit of both, believing that climate change will spur innovation and that viticulturists will develop new grape varieties to flourish under the new global conditions?


In talking with others in the wine industry, I’ve found people who represent all of the above schools of thought. Dr. Richard Smart of Smart Viticulture suggests the following potential challenges resulting from climate change:

• Earlier bud break, flowering, veraison and harvest
• Harvest will happen during hotter temperatures
• Increased water use
• Vine pest and disease threats will change
• Present varieties will be less well suited from a winestyle/quality point of view

…and how will the above specifically affect the wines?

• Wines will become more alcoholic, with higher pH and lower natural acidity
• Some red wines may lose color/hue
• Some wines will lose varietal flavors, and perhaps become more jammy
• Many white wines will lose varietal typicity
• Perhaps the proportion of red to white wines will increase

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Winemakers look to hardy hybrids for solutions to environmental challenges” discusses the development of new grape hybrids that can handle the stresses of higher temperatures and the increasing issues with climate change. In addition to climate change, the article points out that the trend toward “greener” viticulture practices and reduced fungicide use will also increase the need for more hearty hybrids.

For now I think I’ll start looking into land in Antarctica. I’m sure at this point it will be fairly cheap, and my kids can start to cultivate it in 2099, when I’m long gone.

johnheadshotJohn Witherspoon is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and publishes the blog  Anything Wine from his home in Richmond, Virginia.  Anything Wine is more than the name of his blog– it is also his way of life. When he’s not blogging, John manages a local wine shop and helps with cellar rat and winemaking duties at his in-laws’ winery in Virginia, Woodland Vineyard.

10 Responses

  1. Evan Dawson

    John – One school of thought you left out is the idea that climate change is not actually happening at all. I’m not endorsing this idea; I’m capable of seeing factual data despite recent scandalous events. But here in Rochester, every major news station features a meteorologist proclaiming global warming to be non-existent. In a blog post today, the CBS affiliate’s chief meteorologist declared that the “planet is not getting a fever” and said he’s happy about the Climategate issue. It bolsters his view that scientists are skewing facts to support their ideology.

    Bottom line is that your piece carries the POV that everyone accepts that the planet is getting warmer. That’s not true, as surprising as it seems. I imagine there are plenty of people in the wine industry who don’t care about this issue at all, as they expect the climate to remain essentially the same.

  2. Viviane Bauquet Farre / food & style

    John, thank you for this great article. I am surprised not more people talk or write about this topic. I am in the school of thought of “a little bit of both”. But your piece makes me think how very important it is to savor every sip of every bottle of wine… now! From what Dr. Richard Smart suggests, wines, just like the climate, might not ever be the same again…

  3. Win

    Thirty years as a vinyeard consultant. I have already seen the same cycle repeat itself in all of my Northwest vineyards. It is warm for a while (7-10 years) then it cools down for a while then it warms up again, and now we are headed back down with progressively later spring frosts and earlier fall frosts- the pattern is the same in the winter months here. Years of above zero temps, then years where the winter lows below zero..sometimes way below. I have records dating back to the late 1800s. I mapped them all, including the precipitation, mountain snowpack, winds, etc. Same cycle repeating every 15-20 years. My money is on the history repeating itself for a long, long time.

  4. Morton Leslie

    Climate change is not uniform. I expect global warming to make Napa Valley cooler and wetter. We saw this in 1998, 2000, and this year. El nino effect is an example. But man’s influence on world climate has clearly been overstated. 12000 years ago our central valley was buried under a mile of ice and ocean levels were 400 feet below present. the earth has been warming ever since without man’s help. Our influence is small and our impact on world climate hard to document.

    That is the apparent reason a group of influential IPCC scientists chose to make fake data, peer review each other’s bogus research, and conspire to keep conflicting research out of the journals. It’s very easy to understate the implications of the recent disclosures of ClimateGate vis a vis anthropogenic climate change. World climate is determined by four data sets. We know from climategate that two sets were being fudged with fake data to hide what is currently happening. You hear people say, “Well, that doesn’t affect the other two data sets.” The problem is a third data set is from satellites and is based in part on ground measurements (to determine what is going on between the satellite and the surface) which use these fudged data. The fourth data set had to be revised recently because of a “correction” factor that was discovered by a Canadian statistician. This had the effect of making 1931 the warmest year on record. The fourth data set is still under scrutiny because of urban influence on weather stations. You hear the talking heads say, “This was only a few scientists, it doesn’t discount the work of 4,000 others. Well, if they are all using the same bad data, it does.

    For a good read of a contrary viewpoint, Lord Moncton’s recent paper about climategate. He is devilishly funny. A warning, it is technical, has a lot of graphs, but hey that’s better than what you get from the talking heads at five o’clock.


  5. john witherspoon

    Thanks for the comments everyone, I appreciate the feedback and opposing or contradictory viewpoints. As Evan stated in his first comment, the post is written from the viewpoint that everyone excepts that global warming is a REAL problem. The post was meant to be thought provoking but more so a fun exercise in thinking where viticulture might be feasible than it is now. Obviously I won’t be around in 90 years, none of the winemakers currently making wine now will probably be either so I imagine they aren’t planning for it.

    Nobody really answered the question of the post, more were rebuttals of climate change as an issue! But I guess by presenting data that climate change isn’t as dramatic an issue as the National Geographic presented is an answer to the question of the post.

    Win – is your data from only the Northwest, or is it world data? With the cycles is their any increasing or decreasing temperature trend?

    Morton – thanks for the article reference, I’ll check it out. I know at the climate conference going on in Copenhagen this week there was talks around issues with data set combining. Is that what you’re referencing? I understood that they took “tree ring” data that had become unreliable and combined/attached it to current data sets from satellite data. Nothing wrong with combining data sets as long as you do it properly, scientists in ALL fields do that to get greater strength in their data.

    Cheers to everyone for their insight.