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Climate Change Makes French Wine Taste Better, Says Study

A (slight) upside to global warming


In addition to unseasonably warm days in January, climate change has another apparent upside: better-tasting French wine. According to NPR, weather conditions needed to produce early-ripening fruit in France — which produces the most highly-rated wines in the country — have become more frequent than ever before. A study conducted by climate scientists with NASA found this new weather pattern results from climate change.

Benjamin Cook, one of the co-authors of the study, explains, "Before 1980, you basically needed a drought to generate the heat to get a really early harvest. But since 1980, it's been so warm because of climate change that you can get the hot summers and really early harvests without needing a drought."

These early harvests are beneficial for winemakers in the Bordeaux and Burgundy areas where the research for the study was focused. Due to global warming, even summers filled with frequent downpours cannot offset the heat that causes grapes to develop acids, sugars, and tannins earlier in the season. "There is a very clear signal that the earlier the harvest, the much more likely that you're going to have high-quality wines," Cook explains. However, he warns that these perfect wine conditions probably won't last: He compares it to a dry summer in 2003 that produced similar conditions, but eventually resulted in a wine that, after a certain point, became "middling."

And global warming certainly brings with it plenty of bad news for winemakers. Depending on the weather of the region, climate change can improve or worsen harvest conditions. For example, in California where high temperatures have been coupled with droughts, these changes could make areas like Napa and Sonoma too hot to produce high-quality wines. Past research, like an article published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003, suggests that global warming will reconfigure global winemaking regions, predicting that vineyards in areas similar to California will have to be moved to areas with higher elevations to escape the strong heat resulting from these changing weather conditions.

Mother Nature has long had a love/hate relationship with winemakers throughout the world, particularly in California. The drought in the state has deeply affected local winemakers and is forcing many to rely on new technology, like weather data-collecting drones, to monitor crop growth. On the other hand, prolonged rain and unpredictable weather conditions due to El Niño can also have a negative impact on the development of crops. The wildfires that plagued California last year will also have a big impact on 2016's harvest. The rampant fires destroyed crops, damaged vineyards, and resulted in large amounts of grapes that were unusable due to the smokiness they retained from the blaze.