Grapes of Wrath

Wine drinkers face an uncertain future. A decade of great vintages, plentiful supplies and cheap prices could be about to come to a shuddering halt.

In the classic wine regions of Europe there are huge concerns over climate change and land use. Burgundy’s greatness is based upon the relatively low temperatures that allow its chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to ripen slowly. Gradually rising temperatures in the region are ripening the grapes more quickly, increasing sugar and therefore alcohol levels. The subtle flavours are threatened and, given the strict geographical rules of the French system, the very existence of Burgundy wine could be under threat.

Meanwhile, in Germany’s Mosel Valley construction has already started on a motorway and spectacularly ugly bridge that will cut across the vineyards. Local winemakers fear that the delicate geology of the region will be shattered forever, altering the conditions that create the world’s finest riesling.

The New World doesn’t escape the environmental problems facing the industry. In Australia decades of over-abstraction and drought have denuded vital water supplies whilst climate change could make many of the wine-making regions inhospitable to all but the hardiest grapes.

Tom Heap considers the threats to the world’s wine and asks what can be done to protect our best vineyards from environmental change.

Producer: Alasdair Cross.

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