What will our grandchildren drink? Bordeaux? Not everyone thinks so. The crazy weather which has been wreaking havoc in many parts of the globe has some in the business thinking in pretty apocalyptic terms about where things are going. Could it be that in less than a generation consumers will be drinking wine as different from today's Chardonnay and Cabernet as our own favorites are from the sweet, white, highly alcoholic Falernian that the ancient Romans mixed with their water.
A fantasy? Perhaps but we say this not just because of the tragic fires that ravaged California wine country in recent weeks and the inevitable fallout that we know is coming. An increasing accumulation of events is pushing the wine industry in new directions. Bloomberg last week reported on a Spanish winemaker who five years ago bought 195 hectares—about 482 acres—of barren land 1,200 meters up in the Pyrenees—despite the impossibility of growing grapes there. The vintner, Miguel Torres Maczassek, manager of Bodega Torres in Catalonia told Bloomberg he expects that with the help of climate change the Pinot Noir stock he is planting today will be bearing usable fruit in ten to 20 years.
Torres has also been collecting vines that survived the 19th century phylloxera epidemic. The reason is that they have superior endurance to drought—now a growing problem. From six of these varieties Torres is producing marketable wines that haven't been made in 150 years.
Of course, the industry's changing "climate"—an intended pun—runs much deeper than individual stories like Maczassek's. France will produce its smallest vintage in 60 years this year, a direct result of a crippling spring frost in Bordeaux and savage summer storms in Champagne. The rest of Europe has not been exempt.
The Continent is now plagued with earlier harvests, less acidic grapes, heat, hail, drought, and other extremes, including unexpected high humidity in Germany. "France, Spain and Italy will likely see production fall between 10% and 20%," according to Rabobank. Together, those three areas account for half of worldwide production.
South America, too, has problems. Argentina has had two poor harvests in a row. Chilean vintners are reportedly hoping that juice from wild grapes grown in rain forests will alleviate drought problems in their traditional growing areas.
Australia, often seen as the source of an infinite ocean of inexpensive wine is gloating for now. Predictions (backed by available data) are that global shortages are a shot in the arm for Australian exports. Exports for the 12 months ending September 30 climbed 13% to $2.44 billion (Australian). Not only have many new exporters joined the throng, but on top of gaining from troubles in Europe and elsewhere, Australia is also benefitting from premiumization. Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark pointed recently to the significant gains in the value of their exports that the vast majority of Australian producers have experienced. (Wine Australia is a government agency that both promotes and regulates the Australian industry.)
But the climate change spectre haunting the rest of the world's wine growing regions is not expected to simply pass over Australia without taking a swipe. A 2013 study, cited in the Bloomberg story, indicated that 73 percent of today's viable vineyards would no longer be usable by 2050.
Rabobank says that this litany of setbacks will force up the prices of grapes and bulk wine, especially in Europe. What about here in the U.S.? We can only speculate. The two charts below from BMC'sDrinkTell™ database give some idea of the degree to which U.S. consumption is dependent on imports from the key markets we are looking at.