Something Strange and Terrible Is Happening to France's Wine Grapes

By Ria Misra on at

We’d suggest you sit down and pour yourself a drink before you hear this news — but, honestly, that would probably only make it worse.

Harvest dates for wine around the world have been progressively shifting earlier and earlier, as a warming climate gives us warmer and warmer cold seasons. In a new paper out today in Nature Climate Change, researchers at Columbia University and Harvard University looked at the historical data for early harvests over the last 400 years in France and Switzerland. They found some years over the last centuries that also had the same unusually early start dates we’ve been seeing recently. And what happened in those years gives us a glimpse into what the wine of the future could be like.

Centuries ago, “good” vintages in early harvest years, especially for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, benefited from a pretty common weather pattern: cool, very wet weather followed rapidly by a very warm drought. The problem, though, is that while our current harvests have been occurring earlier, that traditional pattern of cool rain and hot drought has been turned on its head. Instead, earlier harvests have a hot season that starts right away. Not only does this result in a more meh-tasting wine for existing varieties, it could also, the researchers warn, shortly make those grapes less likely to grow at all.

So is a wine shortage — or at least, some really terrible vintages — now inevitable? Perhaps not. The researchers suggest a couple paths forward, including growing more hot-weather varieties of wine or shifting production to areas currently considered too cold for wide-scale wine production. Wine will survive, it just may not look or taste the way we’re used to.