Climate Change and Winemaking

Coming off one of the driest years on record in California and one of the most brutal winters the country has seen in decades, it's no wonder the 'is climate change real?' hubbub has subsided.  For year farmers have acknowledged that the weather is different, and even politicians of all stripes are throwing in the denial towel and taking side on remediation.  Reflecting on this over lunch today, I wondered what the landscape of winegrowing regions will look like 30 years from now - and whether we'll even have to wait that long to see.

My lunch date was the regional sales rep for Precept Brands, a wine holding company in the Pacific Northwest.  The vast majority of their vineyards are in eastern Washington, where high desert climate dominates.  Far from the coastal volatility, rainfall is rare (five inches last year), the days are long (up to 17 hours of sunlight at the height of summer), and the diurnal temperature swings that vinifera thrive on are routine (often up to 40 degrees).  With the Columbia River just down the hill, this clean, isolated land is a perfectly situated, controllable environment for growing ultra-premium wine grapes - and they do.

As mid-season temperatures continue to occupy a wider band and shoulder seasons continue to experience extreme conditions, will traditional winegrowing regions become too challenging for winemakers to produce high-end product?  Chances are the weather is but one factor in determining how that will play out and only time will tell.  In the meantime, I'm doubling down on the prediction I've been making for years: secondary regions that sit just outside the limelight today will replace the Napas and the Bordeaux of the wine world.  Which means, get while the getting is good.  While $20 today buys you incredible quality and wine drinking experiences from eastern Washington, as other regions' stars fade, it's inevitable that these other places fortunes shall rise - and with them prices.