Warm Southern Breeze

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Climate change benefits English wine growers now producing high quality sparkling wine

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, April 29, 2013

British winemakers credit climate change for boom in bubbly sales

By , Published: April 28, 2013

CUCKMERE VALLEY, England — Blessed with soil similar to France’s Champagne region, vineyards in England nevertheless produced decades of low-grade goop that caused nary a Frenchman to tremble. But a Great British fizz boom is underway, with winemakers crediting climate change for the warmer weather that has seemed to improve their bubbly.

Sparkling wine undergoes an early fermentation process at the Ridgeview Wine Estate in East Sussex, England. Warmer summers are producing wines competitive with some from France. - GRAHAM BARCLAY/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Sparkling wine undergoes an early fermentation process at the Ridgeview Wine Estate in East Sussex, England. Warmer summers are producing wines competitive with some from France.

Increasingly hospitable temperatures have helped transplanted champagne grapes such as chardonnay and pinot noir thrive in the microclimates of southern England, touching off a wine rush by investors banking on climate change. Once considered an oxymoron, fine English sparkling wine is now retailing for champagne prices of $45 to $70 a pop. In recent years, dozens of vineyards have sprouted in Britain’s burgeoning wine country, with at least one traditional French champagne maker doing the once-unthinkable — scooping up land to make sparkling wine in England.

British bubblies have bested global rivals in international competitions and were served in lieu of champagne at last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year on the throne. A small but growing export market has found English sparkling wine on store shelves and restaurant menus in Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia.

Temperatures here are about 11 / 2 degrees warmer than they were four decades ago, significantly improving harvests. Many climatic variables affect wine grapes. But by at least one measure — average temperatures during the grape-growing season, which are now routinely above 55 degrees here — southern England is beginning to look more like the Champagne region of years ago.England's Wine Boom w-britbubbly2

“Think of what French champagne was like in the 1970s,” Mark Driver said as he gazed out at the newly planted vineyard he is building within scenic eyeshot of the English Channel. “That’s what England is producing now.”

The global wine business is fast becoming a bellwether for scientists monitoring the ability of industry to adapt to climate change. Winemakers and agricultural experts say warmer, shorter growing seasons are affecting the characteristics of some well-known wines and challenging celebrated grape regions.

In Italy and Spain, vineyards are seeking higher altitudes to cope with greater sugar and alcohol levels from ever more sun-drenched grapes. In France, slightly higher temperatures are accelerating annual harvests, forcing wine producers in some areas to grow more natural canopy, reduce pruning and, in extreme cases, phase out more fragile varieties of grapes.

The English, meanwhile, are adding their names to the expanding global wine list of colder-climate producers. In 2011, Wine Spectator magazine added a Patagonian malbec to its top 100 wines, and the cool-climate vineyards of New York’s Finger Lakes are gaining attention for world-class Rieslings.

Some experts contend that more warmer-season vintages have largely meant a broader range of better wines from most growing regions, old and new. “From warmer weather, I think what you’re seeing is a change in character in some wines rather than one of quality at this point,” said Dana Nigro, senior editor at Wine Spectator. “We are seeing fewer and fewer mediocre wines.”


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