Climate Change: the Death of Terroir?

December 04, 2017

The climate debate is pretty much over for the wine industry, and the focus has shifted to mitigation.

In November 2017, scientists announced that, after a three-year plateau, emissions of carbon dioxide will rise to record highs by the end of this year.

The figures, as reported by the Global Carbon Project and published in several key journals, indicate that the international community is still far from achieving its goals to limit global-warming, with China and India proving to be the world's biggest polluters.

"These numbers suggest we still don't have sufficient policies in place to prevent global emissions from rising, let alone to force them downward," Glen Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, told the New York Times.

Yet despite such overwhelming evidence, a colorful set of characters – or is that maniacs? – continue to make a lucrative living out of denying the science of climate change.

Senator James Inhofe is one of my favorites; in 2012, Inhofe released a book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, and once told the Senate that "man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people".

Inhofe obviously hasn't read about the 2003 vintage in Europe – arguably the wine industry's watershed realization moment.

Growers in Burgundy faced a 30 percent lower yield during the 2003 heat wave compared with the previous year, while the Champenois had to contend with one of the earliest harvests on record.

"Nobody can deny the reality of climate change, it's a fact‎. Clearly 2003 was an illustration of this fact, bringing very different fruits of what we are used to: much more maturity, i.e. sugar and alcohol potential, much less acidity i.e. freshness," observes Champagne producer Bruno Paillard.

"The previous generations used to pick in October, even sometimes until the end of October. Now we have to pick in September, sometimes even in August, so to keep the good alcohol/acidity balance, which is key to deliver the elegance we look for in our Champagne. This is the most spectacular illustration of climate change, precisely climate warming."

Indeed, the very concept of climate change denial is surely both ludicrous and offensive to Europe's vignerons. Winemakers and growers are not questioning the existence of climate change, they are living it, with the empirical evidence in plain sight.

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