Silver lining? Climate change boosts flavor of French wine

© Jamal Saidi
It’s blamed for driving some species to extinction, threatening the very existence of low-lying island nations and increasing the frequency of extreme weather phenomena. Yet there’s one possible side-benefit to climate change: It will make wine taste even better.

Climate change has altered winegrape harvests around the world, according to a new report from two climate change researchers.

Climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Benjamin Cook and Harvard University’s Elizabeth Wolkovich have published their findings in a study of vineyards in the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France.

Writing on her website, Wolkovich noted that around the world, “grapes mature earlier by days and weeks compared to several decades ago”.

“Understanding the climatic drivers of these earlier harvests requires long-term records and teasing out the often intertwined drivers of fruit maturation: temperature and drought,” she added.

Early-ripening grapes, you see, are key to making the best quality vino but, up until the 1980s, drought conditions were often required to achieve this.

In the last 35 years climate change has increased average temperatures, even in wet weather, bringing the harvest forward to late summer instead of early autumn without the need for drought.

"There is a very clear signal that the earlier the harvest, the much more likely that you're going to have high-quality wines," Cook told NPR

“Since 1980, it's been so warm because of climate change that you can get the hot summers and really early harvests without needing a drought."

The report, which looked at grape harvest data from the year 1600-2007, claims that the way wine is produced in the future may be affected.

“Climate change has fundamentally altered the climatic drivers of early wine grape harvests in France, with possible ramifications for viticulture management and wine quality,” it reads.

There is, however, a caveat in all of this. The extremely dry, hot growing season of 2003 did not produce wine of the particularly high quality one might expect from the conditions.

"It was middling," said Cook of that year’s vintage. "That suggests that after a certain point, it could just get to be so warm, and the harvest so early, that you move into a situation where the old rules no longer apply."