Why Climate Change Is a Boon to French Wine

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The warming planet has benefited French grape crops -- and the wine they produce. But you'd better drink fast. Climate experts say there will be tipping point.

Global warming has found an unlikely – and possibly short-lived – friend: French wine.

According to a study recently featured in Nature Climate Change journal, researchers revealed that warmer temperatures in France have compressed the standard growth cycle for wine grapes. Those early ripening grapes are more likely to have the perfect balance of sugar and acid – which is key to producing a higher-quality wine.

“Before 1980, you basically needed a drought to generate the heat to get a really early harvest,” the study’s co-author, Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, told NPR. “But since 1980, it’s been so warm because of climate change that you can get the hot summers and really early harvests without needing a drought.”

The study is focused on more than 500 years of harvest records in France.

Unfortunately, while wine enthusiasts may be enjoying some exceptional French vintages now, in part due to the earlier harvests caused by global warming, it’s a trend that won’t be positive in the longer term.

“If we keep warming the globe, we will reach a tipping point,” study author Elizabeth Wolkovich of Harvard said in a statement. “The trend, in general, is that earlier harvests lead to higher-quality wine, but you can connect the dots here … we have several data points that tell us there is a threshold we will probably cross in the future where higher temperatures will not produce higher quality.”

Climate change does seem to have a varied impact on different winemaking regions across the globe. While France may be enjoying some higher-quality wine grapes as a result of earlier harvests — not all winemakers are so fortunate.

Lee Hannah, a University of California, Santa Barbara-based climate change biologist with Conservation International, co-authored a 2013 study that warned that grape growers may eventually need to move their vineyards to higher elevations and latitudes to escape the higher temperatures resulting from global warming.

Hannah told NPR that the increases in temperatures and drought conditions in California have many worried that winemaking regions like Napa and Sonoma Counties could become too hot to produce quality wines.

“People have been very worried about what this latest drought could mean for wine production in California,” Hannah explained.

Are you a wine lover? What do you think of the potential impact climate change has on wine quality? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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