Climate Change Has California Vintners Rethinking Grapes
on 03/11/11 at 10:32 amWine
Prime California wine country areas like the Napa Valley could soon be facing rising temperatures, according to climate change studies. So some wineries are thinking of switching to grapes that are better suited to a warmer climate. But when vineyards have staked their reputations on certain wines, adapting to climate change is a tough sell.
The specific type of grape, or varietal, is how most of us think about wine. At one recent meeting of the San Francisco Wine Lovers Group, for instance, members listed pinot noirs, sauvignon blancs or cabernets among their favorite kinds of wine. All are well-known varieties grown in the California region.
“That’s the big problem,” says Andy Walker, a grape breeder at the University of California, Davis. “We’ve spent the last 100 years emphasizing varieties, and we’ve really marketed those names very effectively.”
The university’s test vineyard grows hundreds of different wine grapes from around the world. The vast majority are unknown to consumers because most wineries focus on only a handful of French grapes that prefer cool climates.
Extreme heat can be the enemy of good wine; it destroys acidity, and changes color and aromatics, Walker explains.
Resistance To Grape Breeding
According to a recent study from Stanford University, about 2 degrees of warming could reduce California’s premium wine-growing land by 30 to 50 percent. That could happen as soon as 2040. Water supply is also expected to be an issue.
“I think the interesting thing for me as a breeder is to take advantage of this and say, OK, let’s actually re-adapt varieties to California,” Walker says.