The planet is undoubtedly heating up.
Watching the water rise over the banks of the Hudson River as Hurricane Sandy sucked strength from a warmed ocean and slammed into New York left no doubt that the world is a warming teacup.
The alcohol content in wine is rising alongside the world’s temperatures.
This is not new news. But sometimes realizations coalesce to emphasize the obvious and elevate it to a critical point of action.
Hurricane Sandy’s pounding and an article by Meg Houston Maker, quietly suggesting that lower alcohol wines are perfect for Thanksgiving dinner, together did just that.
Meg’s good sense recommendation and my serious difficulty in finding wines with 11.5 or 12% alcohol (or less), resurfaced the immediacy of climate change, its impact on wine making and on myself as the wine loving consumer.
Do a search on “climate change and alcohol content in wine”. This is not an original topic. But to the consumer, this is way under the radar. Even in the wine blogs, this is a topic rarely posted on.
I asked my local experts about this: David Lillie, co-owner of Chambers Street Wines and Christy Frank, owner of Frankly Wines. Whether alcohol content in wines generally were rising. And whether they see climate change as a core reason for this.
Their conversational conclusion was a yes, as is the general consensus of most I’ve spoken to in the wine world.
Interestingly, I was drawn to natural wines initially at least in part because, eschewing alcohol boosting processes like chaptalisation and commercial yeasts, they tended to be lower in alcohol, and likewise, more food and health friendly.
From recent cursory sleuthing, even Jura reds, seem to be rising in their alcohol levels. This trend may be less true in the most northern wine making regions of Europe, but they too are rising as the world heats up.
What’s really going on?
We can’t argue with core agricultural facts. That if the weather gets warmer (and drier), the grapes will ripen faster. If you don’t harvest earlier, sugar content will increase. Alcohol content will be higher. Basic logic.
Friends in Europe have told me that there is a growing scarcity of north facing slopes for growing vines. We as consumers may not be talking about this. The market may be blithely drinking what is sold but winemakers are in the know and have been looking for natural remedies like these cooler landscapes.
I’m simplifying the facts intentionally of course. Hours of sunlight. Precipitation. Vine health. Hang time. All naturally impact the alcohol level in the wines we drink.
But…the planet IS getting hotter. Alcohol content in wine IS rising. Both seem indisputable facts.
I’m fascinated by the relationship of climate change to winemaking and alcohol levels.
This is a topic worth shining a light on. Wine drinkers in general are not aware that the alcohol count is ascending as the planet ripens. My belief is that they (we!) will care. Significantly.
We should care about how global warming is changing the composition and health of the wine we drink and love. We should vote with our dollars and support producers who are cognizant of and adjusting to a changing climate. And who, through their actions, acknowledge the need to modify their agricultural practices.
If ever there was a strong argument for sustainable as a consumer category for wine, this is it.
The percent alcohol is listed the back of every bottle of wine sold. Rarely do we look at this. Almost never is it pointed out to us at the point of sale
Since Sandy…I’m looking at every bottle and asking why? I want to know and understand.
I’m encouraging others to do the same. I think just asking the question is the right place to start, and start to impact change.
I want to thank the following friends for participating in a great string on Facebook on this topic a while back: Luiz Alberto, Fabio Bartolomei, Alex Down, Jonathan Hesford, Robert Joseph, Meg Houston Maker, Magnus Reuterdahl, Dwight Stanford and Simon Woolf.