Will we be toasting the new year with English Champagne?
Temperatures are rising, rain is falling less and the flavours of wines are changing. Vineyards are being shifted north or onto higher ground
Will we be toasting the New Year with English champagne?
The story of Mark Driver and his challenge to the big French champagne producers has attracted considerable media attention. It’s been told by the Huffington Post and the Telegraph.among others. But Driver is not the only winegrower to believe in an English wine revival with the help of climate change. The Atlantic has told the stories of others with similar faith. They include Frazer Thompson, the owner of a winery in Kent, who told the magazine:
“With every degree Centigrade that the global temperature rises, the wine growing envelope moves 270 km north.” He adds: “What’s the first thing you see when you come to England? The White Cliffs of Dover. And what are the cliffs made of? Chalk. If you want a perfect terroir, chop my land in half and see what you have.”
The New York Times talks about a boom in English wine, and sets out some of the data.
“English wine production has been growing rapidly, albeit from very low levels. There are now 416 vineyards, with a total of 2,732 acres under vines, and 116 wineries producing an average total of 2 million bottles a year. Latest estimates suggest that the acreage under vines might have grown by 50 percent in the past five years.”
The US newspaper also talked about attempts – so far not hugely successful, as the growers themselves admit – to plant olive trees and produce high-quality English extra-virgin olive oil as well. However, for that, the climate will have to change still further.
An English vintage wine?
Wine production in England in the Middle Ages is documented in the Domesday Book, a survey of England and Wales completed in 1086 for William the Conqueror, which is considered one of the oldest and most valuable statistical documents in European history. It talks about more than 40 wineries that extended up to the outskirts of London (even if most of the wine was probably used for the Eucharist).
You can taste the climate in your glass
The vine plant is actually one of the most sensitive to changes in climate, and most importantly so is its main product: wine. For example, Italian wines already have average alcohol contents higher than they were 30 years ago: hotter summers, on average, and most importantly more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, cause the plant to produce more sugar, which then becomes alcohol.
If the most pessimistic forecasts of temperature increases and reduced rainfall in the Mediterranean become a reality, some parts of Italy that are now winegrowing areas of choice could see their production go down, especially in the South. But more importantly, winegrowers will need to develop new techniques, from irrigation systems to improving vine varieties, in order to maintain high-quality production.
Agriculture in Greenland?
Well. There has been talk about this possibility in this article in the Telegraph amongst others.
“Some supermarkets in the capital, Nuuk, sell locally grown vegetables in the summer. Potatoes grown commercially in southern Greenland reached 100 tons in 2012, double the yield of 2008. Vegetable production may double this year compared to 2012, according to government data.”
The climate is changing. But how much?
It is very difficult to be certain, even for researchers who have been working on it for decades.
To find out more, the main reference is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international scientific body established by the United Nations, which brings together thousands of experts from all over the world.
The fifth and most recent IPCC report found that:
“Global warming is unequivocal, and since 1950 many of the changes observed have no precedent within decades or millennia. The atmosphere and the oceans have become warmer, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea levels have risen and the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased.”
As for the causes, it concludes that “it is extremely probable that human influence has been the dominant cause of the warming observed since the midpoint of the 20th century”.
That the planet is heating up, (almost) everyone agrees. That the primary cause is human activity is agreed by the great majority of scientists, although there are dissenting voices. However, forecasting what will happen in the future is the most difficult part: computer models capable of reliably simulating the behaviour of the atmosphere, water and oceans are needed. In any case, according to the IPCC:
“The global temperature increase before the end of the 21st century will probably be more than 1.5 degrees higher than the period between 1850 and 1900, and it is more likely than not that it will be more than 2 degrees. Warming will continue to show considerable variability from one year to the next and from one decade to the next, and it will not be the same everywhere.”