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Effects of Climate Change on European Wine

Climate change—the gradual changing of temperatures, weather patterns, and more across the world as a direct consequence of human pollution and unregulated industry—quite certainly has far-reaching effects. For one thing, it’s quite worrisome because it has been threatening the survivability of a number of species around the globe, and many have already gone extinct, threatening the delicate balance of countless ecosystems.

And—as upsetting as this will no doubt be for wine lovers—one of the many life forms threatened by climate change is the grapevine, and Europe, in particular, is being hit hardest by this threat. While it’s unlikely the grapevine or any varietals thereof will go extinct (that is why botanical gardens are kept with samples of numerous varietals that winemakers can take cuttings from, after all), this news is still rather troubling, because climate change is giving winemakers in Europe, the continent that produces the highest volume of wine—about 17 billion liters per year—and the greatest number of delectable fine wines in the world, a hard time cultivating their vines, and making it rather difficult to produce the same volumes and quality of wine they’re known for.

Climate Change Effects as Applied to Vineyards
A combination of heat, lack of water, and very strong, frequently shifting winds has very recently begun to plague a number of European vineyards across the continent. The heat tends to produce grapes with a higher sugar content, which ultimately means wine with more alcohol, but this is not necessarily a good thing, as a more alcoholic wine does not automatically mean a better wine (better at getting you drunk, maybe, but not necessarily more flavorful or complex). Further, lack of water threatens total yield, making it difficult to maintain typical levels of production. Not only does this impact immediate availability of wine—a problem which could ultimately cause soaring prices in response to a high demand and low supply—it could threaten to put smaller vineyards out of business if they can’t manage to make enough wine to stay afloat economically.

The Future of European Wine
The worst part of this whole ordeal is that there aren’t any perfect, elegant, or wholly effective solutions presenting themselves at the moment, and no reason to expect them to magically appear anytime soon. The future of wine all over Europe is looking pretty grim, and it’s very likely we’re going to see a sharp drop in wine production from the biggest wine giants in the world (France and Italy, in particular, remain the current highest wine producing countries in the world by volume).

One possible, although unpalatable solution, is the notion of moving vineyard further north, to lands less ravaged by climate change. The issue here, of course, is that vineyards are long-term commitments. It’s not all that easy to just uproot (both literally and figuratively) your vineyard and move it north, because starting afresh and planting new vines means waiting years—around 30 in many cases—before you can make the same kind of high quality wine you might have before (obviously, it does not take this long before grapevines bear fruit, but for a time, a newly-started winemaker would be very limited in the kind of wine they could produce, and the rich complexities of old-vine wines, of course, need many years of vine maturation before they can produce the highest quality product).