Resurrecting Ancient Wines That Can Survive Climate Change

The Spanish region of Catalonia is proud of its traditions. The official language, Catalan, has thrived for centuries, despite the establishment of Spanish as the rest of the country’s official language in the 1700s. “Castells,” or adults and children climbing on each other’s shoulders to form human towers continues to be a popular activity at festivals. And in Vilafranca del Penedès, an hour outside of Barcelona, the local winery Bodegas Torres is researching and rediscovering wine varieties long thought to be extinct.

It just so happens that many of these revived regional varieties thrive in hotter, drier climates. So Bodegas Torres is regrowing these ancestral vines to assuage the wine industry’s looming climate-change crisis.

Growers in Mediterranean-climate regions in Western Europe, California, and Australia report that increasing temperatures are leading to early harvests. For the time being, these early harvests result in higher-quality wines. But as temperatures climb higher and higher, driven by human-related greenhouse gas emissions, researchers believe that climates throughout these regions will become unsuitable for growing popular varieties. A 2013 study reported that lands suitable for growing wine grapes will decline by 25 percent (Chile) to 73 percent (Mediterranean Australia) by 2050. In 2016, a paper analyzing viticulture data in France and Switzerland from 1600 to 2007 found that climate change is indeed behind the higher temperatures driving the reported early harvests across Western Europe.

Benjamin Cook, the 2016 paper’s lead author, explains that although early harvests may be a boon for growers in some areas, the increased heat will have different effects on wine-grape production in wetter climates like France, compared to drier regions like California or Spain. “In California, it doesn’t rain from May to September, so if you don’t have the water stored in the ground, or water available from…

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