In Vino Veritas

    The Nordics’ love of summer is legendary. Up here, we basically survive most of the year just so that we can enjoy those precious few weeks of exuberant light. And sipping a glass of wine on a balmy summer night, gazing at a sun that refuses to set, might be for many of us the very image of total bliss. Any threat to this postcard version of happiness is a blow straight to our hearts.

    I don’t know about you, but for me, reading about the devastating effects of climate change on that vital commodity of ours, wine, has been quite sobering. “Scorched, Parched and Now Uninsurable: Climate Change Hits Wine Country,” wrote The NY Times earlier this week, lamenting the plight of Californian winemakers. The Economist run a similar story, bringing the news closer to home and the old-world vineyards of Burgundy and Tuscany.

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that wine grapes are highly susceptible to changes in climate. Combating heavy rains during flowering season, frost in the spring[1] or hailstorms threatening the ready-to-harvest grapes have, of course, long been a part of any winemaker’s daily chores. Global warming, however, presents a whole new suite of challenges.

    On the bright side, a warmer climate improves grape yields and reduces the risks to the crop. It is also extending the boundaries of wine growing. “British bubbly is getting easier to make,” rejoices the Economist. Even up here in cool Scandinavia, entrepreneurial farmers with a taste for rare wines are happily experimenting with state-of-the-art vintages.

    There is no way of avoiding the shadier side, though. We have all seen the dramatic images of Australian and Californian vineyards going up in flames during wildfire season. Surviving the scorching is not quite enough either, as the smoke from distant fires penetrates the skin of the grapes, giving them that distinct ‘smoke taint’, not nearly as desirable for wines as it is for single malt whiskey.

    Apart from increasing the frequency of severe weather and accelerating the spread of various pests that survive mild winters, global warming is also slowly transforming the wine map as we know it. Those typical terroirs that you learned about in your sommelier class are shifting. You might need to re-take your wine-tasting exam in a not-so-distant future.

    Here is a pre-taste for you. Wine production occurs over relatively narrow geographical and climatic ranges, typically within climates where the growing season averages 12 to 22 degrees Celsius. For those fond of a particular grape, however, that range narrows down even further. The 14 to 16 degrees Celsius in places such as Burgundy or Northern Oregon, for instance, are perfect for producing the variations in style for which pinot noir is known, with the cooler zones producing lighter, elegant wines and the warmer zones producing more full-bodied, fruit-driven wines. “If we look at conservative estimates of warming in the future, Burgundy will likely end up on the warm upper end for Pinot Noir, changing the style of wine that they can produce there,” explains Gregory Jones, professor and research climatologist in Environmental Studies at Linfield University, Oregon, in his TED Talk, ‘Climate, Grapes, and Wine’.

    Whether you are a pinot noir fan or not, you might need to brace your palate going forward, getting used to a different bouquet of tastes, new grape varieties and unusual places of origin. However, this might be a minor challenge compared to the shift’s broader economic and cultural implications.

    Are you getting thirsty yet? Well, I don’t want to keep you away from a well-deserved glass of wine. Go ahead and enjoy; just don’t take it for granted. Skål!

    Image by photo nic on Unsplash

    [1] For a real-life example, look at the way some wine producers in Bordeaux use massive static fans, or even hire helicopters to hover over their vineyards and circulate warm air over the vines to protect them against frost.

    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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