Brave New Warmer World for Vintners

  • Drier areas will find a warmer climate makes things tougher, but other areas might benefit (Photo by Patrick Tregenza, courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)

Farmers are starting to see signs
of climate change. One crop that’s more
susceptible to change than most is the wine
grape. Lester Graham reports not everybody
thinks that’s bad:


Farmers are starting to see signs
of climate change. One crop that’s more
susceptible to change than most is the wine
grape. Lester Graham reports not everybody
thinks that’s bad:

Vineyards are likely to be especially affected by climate change.

Gregory Jones is a research climatologist at Southern Oregon University. He says
growing grapes for wine is always a tricky business, and climate change will make it

Gregory Jones: “Pinot noir is produced in a cool climate and cabernet sauvignon in
a warm climate, and you cannot produce one in the other without having it affect
style, quality and flavor.”

So, grape growers across the nation are watching things closely. Drier areas will
find it tougher, but other areas actually might benefit.

Bill Hendricks is showing me his vines. Pinot grigio, cabernet franc, cabernet

Hendricks says grape growers in central Michigan – where he is, Virginia, Missouri, California – they’re all beginning to see changes.

“They see it coming. You know, the record year of ’99—what, 2001 I also think.
Like, last year we were about ten days above norm. This year we’re four days above

As the climate changes, some vineyards might have to switch to different varietals –
different kinds of grapes.

(sound of the peninsula)

More than 200 miles northwest of Hendrick’s vineyards, on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, there’s a wine
growing area called Leelanau. It’s known for its white wines. It’s always been a little too
cool for red wine grapes, but things are changing.

Chalie Edson is the vintner at Bel Lago Vineyard and Winery. He says he doesn’t
want to call the warmer seasons global warming.

“Not being a climatologist, I’m going to answer
‘no.’ It’s tempting to say ‘Yes, yes. It’s getting warmer.’ Whether that translates into
overall increase of warmth in expected temperatures in the years to come, I think that’s still
somewhat speculative. But, I sort of hope that it happens.”

Yep, you heard right. Global warming would be beneficial to Edson. You might be
wondering, ‘why?’ Well, because this climate is better suited to white wines, and red wines
sell better.

“People come to northern
Michigan just like they come to any other winemaking region and they ask for reds.
We’ve made some really great progress in the last ten years in making reds as the
winemakers learn better how to utilize the fruit that we have here. And we’ve also
had a string of really warm vintages.”

But right now, Leelanua County is known for its white wines.

Climatologist, Gregory Jones says there’s a real question whether wine
consumers will be able to keep up with the changes.

“If you’re in a historic region that’s always produced pinot noir and all of a sudden
you really can’t do that, you know, because the climate’s changed, then you’re going
to grow merlot and you’re going to do it very well in that same place, but the
consumer has to be retrained.”

And so Burgandy wines might not come from Burgandy in the future, and wine
drinkers will have to try to keep up.

(sound of bottles clinking and price-tag gun clicking)

At Plum Market in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wine buyer Rod Johnson says climate
change has been a good thing for wine – so far.

“So, places like Michigan which traditionally have been too cold is suddenly seeing a
lot of different wines like pinot grigio and riesling, even pinot noir being able to be
grown here. So that’s beneficial. Same thing in Germany. They’ve had great year
after great year after great year in Germany where it used to be they were too cold.
When we get to the point that we’re hurting the wine business, I think there will be a
lot more hurt going elsewhere in the world.”

So if those dry California areas or Mediterranean areas get too warm and too dry for
wine grapes, that’ll probably be the least of their worries.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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