Chapoutier questions climate change map

17th May, 2013 by Rupert Millar

Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier has raised questions about a recent report into the effect of climate change on vineyards by 2050, saying the authors showed a “lack of basic wine knowledge”.

Michel Chapoutier1

Michel Chapoutier in one of his vineyards

Speaking to the drinks business he said that the report made sweeping “generalisations” about winemaking, with too much of a New World focus that made it less applicable to Europe as well as using viticulture as a more headline grabbing industry to further its agenda.

“They wanted to make examples of a couple of places,” he said. “They visited a few wineries perhaps and then made generalisations such as making it sound that everyone irrigates which, in France, we don’t do.”

Among other claims, the report, put together by an international team under the leadership of Conservation International, asserted that climate change would push vineyard growing areas into wildlife preserves by 2050 as more traditional areas became too warm – especially in Europe.

The scientists behind the report said that the use of irrigation in viticulture would put pressure on water supplies while the use of pesticides and removal of natural vegetation could damage the natural environment of endangered species such as the giant panda in China and grizzly bear in California’s national parks.

For Chapoutier, this focus on zoological conservation is the main reason for the “lack of basic wine knowledge”.

“The goal of the research was to protect the giant panda,” he continued, “saying that the consequences of global warming are, ‘it will be warmer everywhere,’ is very simplistic.”

Tackling the assertion that it would become too warm in the Rhône to produce Syrah and that plantings would move as far north as Burgundy he countered: “There is Syrah in other parts of the world where the average temperature is 2-3˚ centigrade warmer than the Rhône and even the average temperature change over the next 20-30 years or more is not projected to rise that much.”

In fact, he continued, the greater danger for parts of Europe was that it might get too cold to produce certain varieties, “50% more likely in fact,” he said, explaining that a change in the path of the Gulf Stream was likely to lead to colder temperatures.

“Don’t forget that in Bordeaux and the Rhône we are on the same latitude as Montréal,” he said (winters in Montréal regularly record averages of -10˚C a day).

As for the claim that the arrival of viticulture in new zones would harm the local environment through overuse of pesticides and the destruction of natural vegetation, Chapoutier countered: “Wine is the agricultural industry with the highest level of organic farming.”

He suggested that intensive cereal farming was likely to have a greater impact on the environment – something the report’s authors did mention – but criticised them for focusing on wine because it was “more interesting” and more likely to garner attention as a topic.

Chapoutier did not dismiss the notion of climate change absolutely however and added that rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere was contributing to rising alcohol levels.

As the plants photosynthesise, even small increases of CO2 will lead to increased sugar levels.

“Even without global warming the vines are naturally producing more sugar and more alcohol,” he said, considering it a far greater challenge that needed to be addressed by the wine trade in the long term.

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