By Gina Trippi
The wine world is headed north. Rising temperatures are threatening indigenous varietals in warmer regions. And England is making sparkling wine from its own Chardonnay vineyards!
“The world is getting warmer and it is affecting the wine you drink more than you might think,” says Andy Hale, director of The Asheville School of Wine at Metro Wines. “Famous wine regions are changing the grapes grown due to rising temperatures, and different parts of the world previously too cold for vineyards are producing wine.”
Let’s consider one of the wineries we support at the shop: Alois Lageder, in Alto Adige, Italy. Alois Lageder makes wine from grapes grown in the family’s own vineyards, which are managed on the basis of biodynamic principles. Their holistic approach is reflected in consistent wine-growing activities, long-standing relationships with numerous grape growers and an ambition to create awareness for an agriculture that is in tune with nature.
But erratic weather conditions, shifting harvest dates and rising temperatures have forced winemakers to follow new practices in 2020, and, in some cases, plant new grapes. According to Lageder, temperature extremes are occurring across vineyard farming and creating a destructive stew of conditions.
In recent years, temperature extremes, mostly overnight lows bringing deadly frosts, have caused winemakers to lose up to 80 percent of vineyard grapes. Warmer winters also cause grapes to ripen earlier. And rising daytime temperatures make preserving natural acidity in grapes challenging.
“We don’t want to make overloaded, overripe wines,” Lageder says. “We want freshness and precision.” The winery is finding new ways, using grape skin contact and stems to heighten freshness.
To preserve the freshness that is characteristic of his wines, Lageder has begun to seek out higher altitude growing sites. Simply put, Lageder says that while wineries can grow grapes at higher altitudes, there is concern about disrupting the natural landscape.
Matching vineyard parcels to grape varieties, according to Lageder, can be a bit like solving a Rubik’s Cube. He cautions against merely seeking higher ground. “You should be careful because you can interfere with nature,” he says. “Healthy agriculture needs a certain diversity because diversity leads to fertility in the soil.” He strives to strike the delicate balance of flexibility and, at the same time, remain in tune with nature.
At the end of the day, Lageder is realistic, but not overly frightened by the specter of climate change. He says that while Alto Adige is currently known as a white wine region, perhaps the future will lead them to become a red wine dominant zone. “We deal with climate change, which is nothing new,” Lageder said. “Where we are, at 700 feet under dolomitic limestone, we had riesling 100 years ago. Riesling has now moved up to 2,800 feet. So maybe in the future, we need to change as well.”
There is much to know, understand and anticipate about wine in the future. The Asheville School of Wine presents Climate Change and Wine on Tuesday, April 14, from 5:30–6:30 p.m. at Metro Wines. Hale hosts the class, which includes a presentation and tasting. To register, call 828.575.9525, or visit MetroWinesAsheville.com.
Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Reach her at at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.575.9525. Cost of the Climate Change and Wine class is $25.