Stu is quoted several times in The San Francisco Chronicle discussing how climate change is affecting the wines of the world. Esther Mobley’s piece is online and will be in the April 3 print edition.
Has global warming been improving the wines of France over the last few decades? That’s part of the claim being made by a new study by NASA and Harvard University. However, the study warns that the upswing in quality may not last forever, and a hotter planet looks like bad news for French vineyards in the long run. In California, meanwhile, the relationship between climate change and wine quality is not nearly as straightforward as what the study authors observe in France.
It’s harder to draw clear patterns from the climate data of California’s North Coast wine regions over the last decades. “In the 45 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen every extreme,” says Stu Smith, owner of Smith Madrone Vineyards on Napa’s Spring Mountain. At Smith’s site, “the biggest drought was in the mid-’70s, and the warmest decade was the ’80s, and the coldest three years were 2009, 2010 and 2011.”
Smith has observed that his vineyard is rarely frost-prone now, whereas frost was a major concern for him in the ’60s and ’70s. (Frost pressure varies across different areas of Napa.) “But as far as some kind of linear progression where you can make some kind of prediction, I think the only thing you can predict is it’s helter-skelter,” he says.
So in this increasingly erratic California wine landscape, could climate change threaten the quality of our wines, as Cook and Wolkovich suggest it might eventually in France?
“Frankly, from my point of view, I hope it never gets normal,” says Smith. “Because that is the joy of wine. That’s why we vintage date, to celebrate the diversity of the vintages.”