Now before I attempt to answer this, I am going to clarify one thing, I’m not a scientist and am not ever going to profess to be an expert on climate change. Before we examine the UK, I think understanding what’s happening in other parts of Europe will begin to shape the answer to our question.
Burgundy in France is one of the most famous and iconic wine producing regions in the world. The length of a football pitch can be the difference between whether a wine costs £30.00 or £500.00 a bottle. But this great region is not immune from the challenges of climate change, not the heat, but the cold. In the town of Chablis known for its pure and elegant wines the Domaine owners are fighting a battle against the frost. The temperature in Chablis has plummeted to between -5 and -8 degrees. They have been lighting candles, fires and desperately trying to save this year’s harvest.
The vines on the bottom picture have actually been sprayed with water to freeze and attempt to protect the new buds that have burst on the vines. So, whilst the tendency often to think about climate change having warming effects, these changes are also having the opposite effect.
Whilst these cold conditions in Burgundy cause such difficulties for the Domaine’s, most of whom are families, not large producers the winemakers in the South of France are considering what do with the vines that they have had planted for many years. The consistent heat in places like the Languedoc in Southern France are forcing winemakers to make choices about some of the grape varieties that they have planted. With some of these vines planted decades ago, the rise in temperature means that it is simply too hot now for these grapes to yield. They are often now being replaced with grape varieties that are more suited to this new found consistent and rising temperature.
So back to England and our question. 30 years ago, the English wine industry was a very different almost non-existent industry. From the South coast to our little piece of the Wolds the majority of the wine producing regions in the UK sit on the sample chalky soils as Champagne what stopped us. Well as the climate has increased it has seen an industry flourish. The UK wine industry is now revered throughout the wine world. Whilst the South of England has taken some of those plaudits that has allowed 100s of vineyards and wineries to exist all over the UK. In Little Wold we still use grape varieties that suit our climate. The warmer weather always helps with the natural sugars in the grapes during the growing season. The warmer and drier it is the better our grapes will grow. The temperature increases we see and hear about will mean that the question of is global warming benefiting wine in the UK. The answer is yes. But just like Chablis we are susceptible to frost and the many other challenges of growing grapes in these volatile conditions.
We are still quite a way from planting Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. However, it’s not impossible to think that at some point in the distant future we might get there. I think what we know about climate change and its impact on grapes, crops, people are that it comes in extremes. I think how we navigate those extremes will determine the lasting impact on our industry.