By Emily Manley
How do you get your fast-paced, urbanite pals to care about climate change? What about your gourmand, foodie uncle? Or your globe-trotting, winery-touring parents?
Try telling them that if we don’t make some changes now, in 50 years their favorite wine-growing regions may be better suited for raisins than Riesling. That ought to get their attention.
In a panel discussion hosted by The Nature Conservancy in New York in March, three experts on wine, climate change, and carbon footprints came together to explore the future of the world’s wine growing regions in the face of global climate change — and what we can all do to lessen our impact.
A native of northern France — and a big fan of Bordeaux reds — Dominique Bachelet has been studying climate change since 1988 and today directs The Nature Conservancy’s climate change science program.
Her youth, though, was spent studying biology and working in vineyards in Burgundy, which makes it no surprise that the future of the world’s winemakers lays close to her heart.
As she explained at the event, there have always been optimum climate conditions for growing wine. Combine a lengthy growing season with the perfect amount of rain and aridity, and just the right fluctuation in temperatures, and the result is a great bottle of wine with consistent sugar levels, ripe flavors, and good balance.
Climate change threatens to upset the equilibrium winemakers have depended on for hundreds of years with uneven temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, increased pests and disease, and abnormal growing seasons.
Too hot and the result is a shorter growing season, lower retention of acids, and overpowering alcohol levels. Too cool and you get under ripe flavors, lower sugar levels, and a generally unbalanced vintage.
Luckily there are easy things we can all do to shrink our carbon footprint. Tyler Colman, event panelist and writer for the wine blog, Dr.Vino, has spent the last few months studying the carbon footprint of wine — specifically how much carbon is emitted during the journey from vineyard to wine shop. What he found just might surprise you ...
While “food miles” (the distance food travels from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer) are important, it turns out that not all of those miles are created equal. Efficiencies in transportation make container ships better than trucks, which in turn are better than planes.
By calculating the mileage and transportation involved in getting your wine to you, Colman found that there exists a “green line” running smack down the middle of Ohio:
Drinking organic wine is another easy way to lighten your carbon load. As Scott Pactor, owner of Appellation Wine & Spirits, explained, small farms and organic or biodynamic farming methods all result in fewer harmful greenhouse gas emissions — with the added bonus of a healthier product for the earth and the consumer.
While climate change does pose a threat to the ancient art of grape growing and wine making around the world, it's important to remember that there are things we can all do to make a difference. Whether you live on the West coast or the East — and whether you prefer Pinot Noir or Sangiovese — the choices you make today could influence the wines you drink tomorrow. Remember these important facts the next time you visit your local wine merchant: