Is global warming something wine lovers should be worried about? Absolutely, argues Florentine oenologist Stefano Marinari as he examines the highs and lows of the 2017 wine year.
Oenologist and wine producer Stefano Marinari has been working at the award-winning Castello di Bossi winery producing Chianti Classico wine for the last five years. Before returning to make wine in his home country, he spent time refining his expertise in California and Chile.
In what kind of climates and terrains does wine thrive?
This really depends on what exactly you want to make. There isn’t a one size fits all altitude or terrain that is good for wine but rather a combination of diverse factors that are dependent on the terroir. Different types of grapes achieve their maximum expression in different types of soils, at different altitudes and temperatures. Generally wine has been cultivated in regions with climates similar to that in the Mediterranean basin where it historically has been grown. In the last couple of centuries though, people have become more experimental searching out similar climates but at different latitudes or heights.
Why is climate change an issue for wine production?
Is global warming something wine lovers should be worried about? Absolutely, argues Florentine oenologist Stefano Marinari as he examines the highs and lows of the 2017 wine year. Climate change has been an important factor in the last few years. In the past, when people planted vines they would always make sure they were facing the South (or if you are in the southern hemisphere, the North) to make sure they got as much sun as possible. Now we are seeing the reverse, with vines being increasingly planted in cool areas because it’s becoming easier this way for them to reach their full level of maturity and maintain their varietal characteristics. The problem now is if grapes are exposed to too much sun they become drier and the sugars increase in concentration which means the resulting wine is not as well balanced as it once was.
Any recent examples?
2017 has on the whole been a disaster in Europe because at the beginning of the year, excessive temperatures induced the vines to germinate earlier than they usually would but then in March, much of Southern Europe was subjected to a big cold front and both France and Italy lost between 5% and 10% of their outcome. As if that wasn’t enough, we experienced major drought this year which meant that the grapes were about half their usual size which resulted to a further 30- 40% loss of produce. Generally here in Tuscany we produce about 300 to 400 tons of grapes per hectare while this year it was more like 150 to 250 tonnes. So yes, overall in 2017 it is safe to say that Italian wine producers produced between 30% and 40% less wine than usual. Meanwhile in California, the September 2017 forest fires created a whole other disaster. Even though the vineyards were not directly scorched, they were subjected to a lot of smoke which significantly affected the taste of the grapes. Basically most of the Californian wineries that were near where the fires were happening have probably had to throw away their entire crop because it is virtually impossible to make wine out of smoked grapes.
What can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change on wine production?
One thing that has changed is that people are beginning to find ways to protect the individual grapes from excessive sun exposure. This includes changing how the leaves are pruned and irrigating as much as possible and trying to pinpoint what the exact amount of water necessary is. Another thing that is happening is that people are moving to higher altitudes. While before 200 to 400 metres was the usual, today you’ll find more and more Italian winemakers moving up to heights of around 500 and 600 metres.
Which wine producing countries stand to gain from global warming?
Places like Washington State, Canada and Germany never used to make big wine productions, they were considered too wet and humid but are now moving more forcefully into the market with Pinot Noirs. Patagonia, to the south of Argentina, is also beginning to get much more active in the field and for all we know England might become a huge wine producer in the future.