- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

Agence France-Presse


After New World producers Australia and Chile, French winegrowers could soon face new competition from Britain, as global warming helps grapes take root in milder cross-Channel climates, scientists said.

Commonly found on the British Isles from the Roman occupation until the 13th century, vineyards all but disappeared during the “Little Ice Age,” a cooler period that lasted from the mid-14th to mid-19th centuries.

Now the climate clock seems set to reverse.

According to France’s National Observatory on the Effects of Global Warming (ONERC), even a minor increase in average global temperatures would cause “zones suited to the culture of grapes to move significantly farther north.”

A rise of one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2035 — as predicted by one United Nations model — would see wine-growing regions shift, on average, 110 miles north.

Even small changes, analysts said, could have a serious impact on grape-growing regions in which delicate varietals thrive within a narrow range of temperatures and climatic conditions.

By 2100, U.N. specialists expect global temperatures to rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit on average.

“It is quite possible for there to be vineyards all over Normandy, Britain or the Netherlands by the end of the century,” said Bernard Seguin, an analyst at the French National Agronomy Institute in Avignon.

Britain’s modern-day wine business, which revived in the 1960s, now produces an average of 1.9 million bottles a year — still a drop in the ocean, compared with France’s annual production of 7 billion bottles. But its winegrowers hope that 2006, the latest of a string of especially hot summers, will yield a bumper crop, especially for sparkling white wines.

Over several years, a marginal rise in global temperatures — bringing hotter, drier summers to southern England — could help the fledgling industry spread its wings and challenge some of its French rivals.

For the past 20 years, a general rise in temperatures has spelled good news for the French wine trade, but a confirmed trend toward global warming could bring other unwelcome challenges.

“A rise in temperatures brings sweeter wines from the harvest, with more alcohol and less acidity,” Mr. Seguin said. “Cold years gave us wines with a low alcohol content, meaning we had to add sugar to boost it.

“But this applies to rises of one or two degrees Celsius. Any more than that and you no longer know what could happen.”

Global warming could shake up the traditional geography of French wine with potentially devastating effects on local economies, as grape varieties confined to certain areas start moving north.

In particular, it could threaten France’s system of Appellation d’Origine Controlee, which tightly regulates the sale of certain products — from wines to cheeses — tied to specific locations. Each wine’s particular flavor is intimately connected to the grape, the soil and the local climate.

“Will winegrowers be able to make the same product? With one or two extra degrees — maybe. Beyond that, it is not certain,” Mr. Seguin said.

The summer of 2003 — when a heat wave gripped much of Europe — was an early warning sign: The grape harvest was down 17 percent on average, almost entirely because of the temperature, according to the ONERC.

Paradoxically, by encouraging plants to flower sooner, a warmer climate also increases their vulnerability to spring frost — the bogeyman of winegrowers.

Warming climate conditions from 1945 to 1999 have already brought the grape harvest forward by three to four weeks in many parts of France — its earliest in 500 years, according to ONERC.

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