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How Is The Wine Industry Dealing With Climate Change?

By Alex Russell on February 20, 2014 in Food

Picture: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Picture: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone

Regardless of whether or not you believe the evidence for climate change, there are a few winemakers out there who have started to adjust their vineyards for the increased heat that may be coming.

Heat is necessary to help grapes grow, but too much heat will lead to grapes ripening too quickly. Leanne Webb at the CSIRO has researched this and determined that earlier ripening has indeed been observed over the last twenty years, affecting quality and taste, although she states that it may not be due solely to climate change.

Some grapes don’t deal with excessive heat very well – think of the grapes that typically only grow in cooler climates (e.g. Pinot Noir). That said, it’s not just an issue for those more delicate grapes.

One way of dealing with the issue is changing which grapes are grown in the vineyards. At least some wineries are experimenting with more heat tolerant grapes. Yalumba has a nursery in the Barossa where they grow small amounts of various varietals for research, and Brown Brothers is also on the record saying they’re exploring alternative grapes. There are many other producers out there who are also experimenting with something a little different and I hope that the readers of The Beast are giving them a go when they see them on a wine list or in a bottle shop.

Remember that most of the grapes that are famous in Australia (Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.) are some of the main French varietals. In contrast, the heat tolerant wines listed below are Italian varietals and they’re well worth a try.

I’ve written about this one a few times. It’s heat tolerant, so you’re likely to see more and more of it around. It’s relatively cheap to make and very pleasant to drink, with a fresh, crisp character to it. You can find quite a few of these around these days, although production is still relatively small. It’s generally good with seafood.

A white wine, think floral and honey notes. It can be a really easy-drinking drop and works well with a whole bunch of foods, from seafood to tomato-based pasta dishes, along with just about any cheese you want to throw at it.

Those of you who drink Italian red wine from time to time will be aware of this word. Remember that Italian wines are often named after the appellation (region) in which they are produced, not the grapes that go into it. Just to make life difficult, there is a wine region called Montepulciano and a grape called Montepulciano, but wines made in Montepulciano are not made with Montepulciano – makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? This grape tends to harvest late and may not be suited to very cool regions. If you’re a cooler climate Shiraz fan, this can have a little of the pepper note, but is more about the vibrant red berry flavour.

Nero d’Avola
This one is both heat and drought tolerant, making it a great potential solution. This has been described by Darcy Higgs of Vinodiversity as “Sicily’s red wine gift to the world”. It’s intensely aromatic, but also quite affordable. If you like Malbec, give this a shot.

Keep in mind that our winemakers have a lot of experience making the wines that we all know and love, but there is likely to be some trial and error with some of these newer grapes. Regardless, these are some of the grapes that may be commonplace in Australia in the next ten years or so.