Grape harvest records have been kept in France and Switzerland since 1600. Researchers have recently examined the records and found some surprising and potentially terrible news for the wine that you love.
Looking across all spectrums of wines, Burgundy, Bordeaux, to Loire, the researchers found that the harvest is on average two weeks earlier. The early harvest is actually a good thing and up to this point has actually been producing a better, higher quality of wine.
Warmer temperatures usually mean a delayed rainy season which is typically followed by drought. This scenario speeds the grape’s maturation process which in turn leads to a higher quality wine. While the taste of the wine does depend on several factors like level of tannins and how long it has been aged, the climate the grapes were grown in is a major factor as well.
“There are two big points in this paper, the first is that harvest dates are getting much earlier, and all the evidence points to it being linked to climate change,” explains Elizabeth Wolkovich who coauthored the paper published in Nature Climate Change. “Especially since 1980, when we see a major turning point for temperatures in the northern hemisphere, we see harvest dates across France getting earlier and earlier.” This has driven a significant increase in the quality, meaning that current batches are pretty good.
We might be hitting a tipping point. The relationship of higher temperatures to delayed rain and drought is starting to uncouple. As the global temperature is increasing, the drought period is not as predictable and instead a prolonged rainy season trend is starting to occur. Long rainy seasons actually decrease the quality of the wine the grapes produce.
“The bad news is that if we keep warming the globe we will reach a tipping point,” says Wolkovich. “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.” And it’s not just one grape type that will be feeling the heat. The study looked across the board, from Burgundy, to Bordeaux, to Loire.
Wine producers need to take heed this information and either shift their production to a more ideal climate or shift to a more heat tolerant grape variety. Either way if they want to maintain the quality of their grape production and in turn the quality of their wine, changes will need to be made soon.