Sour Grapes: Climate Change Pushing Wine Regions Farther North

Posted: Aug 05, 2019

Global warming is fast becoming a concern for the wine industry. But while traditional wine-growing regions might only yield raisins in 30 years' time, other areas around the world are starting to embrace viticulture.

According to Roman legend, Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, traveled as far as India to learn everything about the craft of harvesting grapes. Today, however, such tropical climates can increasingly be found in the least expected of places, allowing oenophiles to sample grapes from such atypical places as Scandinavia and Siberia.

The main reason for this change is global warming, which is not only challenging farmers in Europe's traditional wine regions to seek ways to make their harvest more heat and drought-resistant, but is meanwhile also moving the Arctic tree line farther north in general.

In other words, people are increasingly using previously barren land to try their luck at agriculture, including the cultivation of grapes. The United Nations has even predicted that viticulture as a whole in the Northern Hemisphere might move an average of up to 111 miles (180 kilometers) farther north compared to where grapes are growing now. If this trend continues, it could spell financial ruin to long-established wine businesses, while presently less likely areas could economically benefit from diversifying into the wine market.

And indeed, this trend is already manifesting in places like southern England, Sweden and Canada, where vineyards are popping up, winemakers are trying new varietals and methods and the traditional wine industry is beginning to notice some steep competition.

Old wine in new bottles

While wine growers in places like southern France, the Iberian Peninsula or even in South Africa are nervously biting their nails while trying to adapt to a climate-changed future — for instance by planting more resistant grape varietals or using slopes they had not previously considered to provide a suitable terroir for growing grapes — newcomers in the wine business elsewhere are slowly perfecting the growing of vines in previously ignored and neglected regions. Areas that previously were at best an afterthought are suddenly beginning to make waves.

There's even an annual wine award for "Cool Climate Wines" established by the Polish Czas Wina wine magazine in 2004. While there are hardly any truly Nordic nations among their 2019 winners' list, the competition does feature bottles from less likely wine regions such as Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and several German wines. In the US, wines from northern states like Minnesota or South Dakota are beginning to draw the attention away from the American wine staple of Napa Valley.

Even in Germany, where traditional wine regions like the Moselle and the Ahr valley have a long-standing tradition for white wine, red grapes are also being introduced into the mix. Meanwhile, new vineyards keep springing up in unexpected and positively northern parts of the country as well, such as the North Frisian island of Föhr, which borders Denmark, or in the Uckermark region, 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of Berlin. And even Scandinavian nations and Russia look as if they're on track to swap their vodkas for Viognier. That's climate change in a bottle.

Learn more about some of the northernmost wines of the world by clicking through the gallery above

By Sertan Sanderson
January 08, 2019

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