Global Warming Is Reshaping The Wine-Making World

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ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

Lots of us celebrate holiday meals with a glass of wine or bubbly. And if you stop to read where the bottle came from, you might be surprised. There's now wine being produced in places such as Denmark, southern England and even Tasmania, that used to be too cold. Researchers say climate change is one factor in this shift. Lee Hannah has been following this trend. He's a senior fellow in climate change biology with Conservation International. And we've reached him at his home in Santa Barbara.

Lee, thanks for joining us.

LEE HANNAH: Hi, Allison.

AUBREY: Give us a sense of how climate change is remaking the winemaking map.

HANNAH: We all know that wine comes from special places, places where the rainfall falls in winter and you have relatively cool summers. And as those places heat up, they're going to become less suitable for the types of grapes that are currently grown there. And then some other places are going to become more suitable. So places like Tasmania and Denmark even are now becoming more suitable for growing wine grapes.

AUBREY: There's some thought that with a warming planet, that this is overall good for the quality of wine - that warmer seasons have been good for French wine, for instance. Any truth to this?

HANNAH: Well, in the short term, a warm season can mean an especially good vintage. In the long term, what it means is that vineyard that produces the pinot noir that you love won't be able to produce that pinot noir in the future.

AUBREY: Why do you think that we should care about this? I mean, wine is great. It's a huge industry, but it's not necessarily a drink of necessity.

HANNAH: Well, two reasons really - for those of us who love fine wines, the wines that we love the most may be changing. But the other reason to care about it is because it means that vineyards will be going into places that vineyards haven't been before. And it'll create some environmental problems, so we need to have the industry working carefully with conservationists to figure out how these new areas can be developed in ways that don't impact the ability of wildlife to migrate across landscapes.

AUBREY: So have you tasted any of this Montana merlot or wines from Tasmania?

HANNAH: I have not. I have tasted wines from Virginia, some of which are very good and some of which are very ordinary.

AUBREY: (Laughter) Sounds as if the winemaking map is just expanding. There's wine production in more and more places.

HANNAH: There is. And it's - the suitability for growing wine grapes is decreasing in some areas where wine is currently produced. And that's of concern as well because that may lead to use of already stressed water resources being used for trying to counteract the effects of warming.

AUBREY: So lots of environmental impacts here.

HANNAH: Yeah, ones to keep an eye on for sure. And there are ways to deal with these issues rather than using water. But in the Mediterranean environments, if you use more water, you're tapping an already stressed resource. And then we also see wine suitability moving into places where open range is important for wolves and bears - is something that really requires careful conservation planning. It's a land use we haven't seen in those areas before, and we need to figure out ways to accommodate it.

AUBREY: That's Lee Hannah. He's a senior fellow in climate change biology and a professor at University of California in Santa Barbara.

Lee, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

HANNAH: Hey, thanks, Allison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.