A changing climate is affecting the taste of your wine

Wine grapes are one of the most sensitive crops to variations in temperature and precipitation.
(Source: KEYC)
(Source: KEYC)(KEYC)
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:27 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been a long, stressful day and all you can think about is that glass of Cabernet Sauvignon you’re going to pour yourself when you get home. You open the door, grab your favorite glass and top it off. As you sit in front of the tv catching up with your latest binge-worthy show you take a sip.

Immediately you’re taken aback and think the wine is spoiled, as the taste is off. This is a scenario that millions of wine drinkers face, as climate change is impacting the delicate wine grapes used in winemaking.

In a warming climate, the speed at which grapes grow and are harvested is being disrupted. Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists on climate change, recently reported that the future of wine production is likely to shift as the climate keeps warming. According to one paper, the United State could lose nearly 80% of its premium wine grape acreage by 2100. This is due to grapes needing a “delicate balance of heat and precipitation”, both of which are changing rapidly in the U.S. Data collected by Climate Central show that the average temperature in the U.S. during the growing season has risen roughly 2 degrees since 1970.

While the variety of grapes used to make wine have a variety of temperature ranges in which they can grow in, none are more susceptible as Pinot Gris, which has a narrow window of 4 degrees.

Globally, wine grapes are grown in areas where the average growing season temperature (spring...
Globally, wine grapes are grown in areas where the average growing season temperature (spring through fall) occurs within a narrow range of 18°F(Climate Central)

The U.S. isn’t the only region that is seeing a shift in wine quality production, as other countries are facing it too. This is one reason why you often hear that some years produce better wines than others and why the taste can alter from year to year.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing affecting viticulture, as climate change is causing more wildfires and in some areas prolonged rain and flooding. This is also affecting the quality of grapes and the taste of wine. Wildfires in California are growing at an alarming rate, destroying vineyards and equipment used in wine production. Even wildfires that are miles away can have lingering effects on grapes, as the smoke could alter the taste of wine making it taste more smoky. With a growing threat for wildfires, Oregon State recently received a grant for $7.65 million to study the exposure of grapes to smoke.

Wine growing in the U.S. contributes over $200 billion to the economy and recent wildfires have already impacted revenue and will in the coming years, as grapes affected from wildfires won’t be used in winemaking.

Each region across the world has different things to offer in winemaking, but climate change is making that a challenge. Many vineyards have already made the difficult choice in relocating and will likely continue to do so by moving to cooler growing regions or higher in the mountains. Relocating also provides its own challenges through irrigation and conservation impacts, of which is already being experienced in Yellowstone and Tasmania.

Winemaking has reached a new frontier and while the outlook ahead has its challenges, countries are stressing the importance of curbing greenhouse gas emissions and switching to cleaner energy.

So the next time you take a sip of your favorite wine, whether it be Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, it’s not your taste buds tricking you as the taste of the wine is altering as the climate changes.

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