Visit with almost any wine vine grower and they will tell you climate change is indisputably real. And it is both a bad thing and a good thing—depending on where your vineyard is located.
In particular, it is erasing the distinction between “New World” and “Old World” wine. It also brings into play once problematic wine regions such as Canada and Germany and England, or at least opens up new grape opportunities in those areas.
For years, “New World wine” was shorthand for fruit forward, higher alcohol, more experimental wines identified by the grape variety. Clever labels, including critter cartoons and off-the-wall graphics, was part of the play.
“Old World wines,” featured balance, freshness, food-friendly lower alcohol and a focus on the place where the grapes grew instead of the variety of the grapes grown. Labels often were incomprehensible to newbies.
The wine world has changed, is changing. Technology is worldwide, with grape growing and wine making skill sets no longer circumscribed by a village or a region. “Flying winemakers” such as Michel Rolland bring their oenologist skills to wineries in every continent and hemisphere. Some bemoan such influence—too much fruit, too much oak in the Rolland case—but there is no question that growers and makers worldwide have upped their games. Today, we enjoy the best wine in the history of the world.
Warmer climate is major change. “We are the big winners from climate change,” German vintner Dirk Würtz told the New York Times. “I know it’s disgusting to say, but it’s the truth.” Today, Germany produces ripened grapes and dry wines that previous generations never imagined possible.
England—foggy, rainy, England!—now produces world-class sparkling wine. Northern Italy—Barolo—has more consistent, riper vintages than ever before. Norway—Norway!—is an emerging wine region. Norwegian producers Klaus and Julia Keller: “This harvest is beautiful and frightening at the same time.”
Global warming means riper grapes, which means more vivid fruits and higher alcohol. While 10-12 percent alcohol by volume once was the norm, now 14 to 15-plus is attainable by wineries around the world. That certainly pleases some people, but it also makes for wines that are less food-friendly, less subtle.
Change is constant and inevitable in almost all things. The wine world is not exempt.
Last round: Some people search for a reason to enjoy wine. I search for a glass.