It might sound shocking to some, but I had no interest in learning about climate until studying wine. Astounding, right??
In short? Climate is everything (well, along with soil). Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Chardonnay and you’ll see what I mean.
The Chameleon Grape
Chardonnay is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. It also grows well in a large variety of climates, which is part of why it’s so popular.
Put Chard in a cold climate and you get lots of citrus and green fruit. Omit oak treatment or lees contact and it’ll also pick up minerality (flint, chalk, gravel) from the soil it’s grown in. Great examples of cool climate Chardonnays include Chablis and, in my opinion, Ontario.
Put Chard in a warm or hot climate and things change a LOT. Citrus and green fruit give way to stone and tropical fruit. Peach, pineapple, melon and mango are all fair game in a warm weather Chardonnay. There also isn’t as much minerality but there does tend to be more oak treatment, I’m guessing because the wines aren’t as subtle and delicate and can take the stronger flavours that oak imparts. Oak would leave flavours like vanilla, coconut or banana in its wake, further adding to the difference between warm and cool climate Chardonnays.
And all that based on the climate. Makes you wonder how climate affects people…
A Study in Extremes
One of the biggest effects we’re currently seeing when it comes to climate change is extreme weather. Here in Toronto we had what I thought of as a very pleasant (read: not freaking HOT) summer, followed by a weeks-long heat wave lasting from mid-September and into October. Neither of these things were normal. And this after 2016 was the hottest year on record in almost every place across North America.
And people still think climate change isn’t a real thing.
Extreme weather hit the wine world this year too. Worse-than-normal hail storms in France contributed to the worst harvest they’ve seen since the 1940’s. The cooler-and-wetter-than-normal summer in Ontario is making combined with the late summer heat wave is going to make the 2017 vintage an interesting one. And anyone who’s taken a look at the news over the past week has seen what’s happening in Northern California.
Yikes. Is there anything good to say about climate change? Actually, I think there is.
The Possibility of New Regions
In my WSET 3 classes we talked about how grapes can only really grow between 30 and 50 degrees’ latitude on either side of the equator. This leaves out a lot of places on earth that just can’t support vine growth. But as the planet heats up that range of growability might shift farther away from the equator, opening up new regions to the possibility of winemaking.
One of the newest regions becoming known for its wine is England. (I know, right? Kind of weird!) It’s becoming a pretty good region for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so you know what that means – sparkling wine!
No, I’m serious. Vines that were planted in England in the 1980’s are showing some signs of greatness and getting noticed by big wine publications like Wine Spectator and Decanter. Seeing that burgeoning industry make waves gives me hope for my own background wine region of Niagara. Maybe in time we’ll see bigger, riper wines coming out of Ontario.
Look, no one is happy about climate change, myself included. Every time I hear about yet another storm ravaging communities that weren’t built to withstand them I have to take a second to fight off apocalyptic visions.
But as sad as I’d be to see Southern Italy or Spain struggle to maintain their wine industries, I’m also really intrigued to see a developing British wine region. Who knows, maybe it won’t be that long before we see wine from places like Sweden and Mongolia! A girl can dream at least.
Silver linings? Sigh…