Climate change is causing problems across the globe and across industries, including winemaking. As winemakers and vineyards struggle to cope with changing weather patterns, extreme climate events, forest fires, earthquakes and more, there is at least one positive development that can be attributed to climate change: the resurgence of ‘extinct’ ancient wines.
In Vilafranca del Penedès, an hour outside of Barcelona in the Spanish region of Catalonia, a local winery is researching and reconstructing ancient wine varieties. This winery, Bodegas Torres, has discovered that these old, long ‘extinct,’ wine varieties thrive in hotter, drier climates. With climate change threatening most modern grapes and damaging the wine industry, these ancestral vines might be the answer.
Across the globe, vineyards are reporting early, limited harvests. Right now, the threat isn’t immediate. Wineries are still able to produce quality wines from these harvests, but soon the climates will become unsuitable for growing today’s popular wine varieties. A 2013 study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, or PNAS, reported that, by 2050 lands suitable for growing wine grapes will decline by 25 percent.
Climate change is affecting different wine regions in different ways, but everyone is seeing some impact. It won’t be long before the supply and varieties of wine available are noticeably limited. Bodegas Torres’ ancestral-wine project may have been motivated by a desire to preserve local heritage, but it is emerging as a small silver-lining to an otherwise looming problem.
These ancient wines have long been thought extinct, a victim of an aphid epidemic in the 19th century. But Torres has been looking for survivors for 30 years. “In 1996,” The Atlantic reports, “Bodega Torres produced its first healthy ancestral grape species: Garró , a tannin-heavy, dark blue grape.” Today, the Bodegas Torres experimental greenhouse, is green with rediscovered vines.
The process is tedious and slow. It may be 20 years before the Spanish and Catalan governments can approve these old, climate-sturdy vines or any super-climate offspring ecologists may develop for mass production. Nonetheless, they remain a glimmer of light, a sip of delicious wine in an otherwise troubling time.