Bordeaux has a problem with over-alcoholic Merlot.
The reason is climate change.
Bordeaux’s Climate Change
A “headline grabber” (that I missed), now Bordeaux can contain four new red grape varieties and two whites. Traditionally, our Bordeaux is mostly made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Because the new varieties ripen later, they are appropriate for global warming.
Since the mid-1950s, Bordeaux’s average annual temperatures have climbed 3.6 degrees (as of 2020). During 2019, vineyards endured 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bordeaux’s grape vines responded to the heat with more sugar. Then, when the grape juice ferments, the elevated sugar content creates more alcohol. Less acidic, “more boozy,” sugary grapes change wine flavor. As for the alcohol (abv) content, it skyrocketed from a traditional 13 or 13.5 percent to 14 or even 15 percent.
In Bordeaux, that is a problem.
Growers at one vineyard are experimenting with heat tolerant grapes. Mapping also has some potential–if they can identify micro patches of land that retain traditional temperatures. Meanwhile, in the lab, scientists are looking for yeast strains that, even with more sugar, produce the same amount of alcohol. For Merlot, they’ve even tried clones but with little success.
Others have been planting more forests and hedges. Adding animals and insects, the goal is partially replacing Bordeaux’s 270,000 acres of vines with some biodiversity. (Napa has 45,000 acres.)
A last resort, the solution could lie with you and me. We just have to decide that we like our Bordeaux made from a climate changed grape.
Our Bottom Line: Factors of Production
For economists, it is all about the factors of production. Adjusting to global warming, our land, labor, and capital will have to change. So yes, growers are trying for more biodiverse land. New fermenting processes will require capital innovation. However, basic to it all, labor, shown through new human capital (new learning) will innovate.
Ostensibly about wine, instead, as a prototype for the global warming response, aren’t we really talking about much more?
My sources and more: The Washington Post (the source of our featured image) had a good introduction to the impact of Bordeaux’s climate change on its vineyards. From there, the Wine Enthusiast had more detail.