- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2008

AY, France (AP) — Fruity merlot from Siberia? Not so fast, say vintners from Champagne to California.

As climate change threatens to alter the land on which vintners have relied, sometimes for centuries, established wine-growing regions around the world are deploying techniques old and new to adapt.

The goal: to stay competitive as climate conditions open up the prospect of wine from regions once deemed unsuitable for growing grapes, including Russia’s frozen but now thawing lands and rain-battered Britain.

In France’s southern Languedoc region, for example, once-sacred rules against irrigating vines are being relaxed, while growers in the U.S. are experimenting with genetically modified heat-resistant grapes.

That’s because by 2050, the world’s premier wine-friendly zones could shift as much as 180 miles toward the poles, said Gregory Jones, a climate geographer at Southern Oregon University.

In theory, that will make northern Europe or New Zealand more grape-friendly than Bordeaux or Australian valleys.

That has beverage conglomerates in the U.S., where wine is a $100-billion-a-year industry, scouting out vine plots that get more shade — contrary to age-old practices in both the northern and southern halves of the globe.

Meanwhile, sommeliers are readying for an array of new aromas as vintners vary varieties in response to warm weather.

“You are going to see people introduced to wines from weird countries, like Belgium,” said Jancis Robinson, wine connoisseur and co-author of the latest edition of the World Atlas of Wine.

“You will see a lot more wine from Germany, which can finally ripen its grapes, … and good Canadian reds,” she said.

Climate and market forecasts and studies of grape behavior suggest that during the next two generations — not a long time in the realm of wine — vintage Kent and Chinese or Canadian chablis could occupy as much supermarket shelf space as Bordeaux, Rioja and Napa’s finest.

In addition to creating new wine regions, the warming trend is changing established ones.

To keep their vines cool, Argentine producers are planting them closer to the Andean slopes and in Patagonia. In South Africa, wine makers have moved sauvignon blanc vines to higher altitudes and sought patches exposed to cooling sea breezes.

In Ay, where producers such as Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot nurture precious plots, harvesters hit fields in late August last year, the earliest since 1822, according to the Champagne Growers’ Committee, which sets harvest dates.

Leaving the pinot noir and chardonnay grapes on the vine any longer would have risked too much heat, too much alcohol and a strange new sweetness.

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