Climate (and in paticular climate change) is a buzz words these times, and for good reason.
The climate plays a key role for the production of wine, and has always done so, even before the onset of the changes that we are currently experiencing with increased temperatures and generally unstable and more dramatic weather.
Both temperature and precipitation, and to some lesser extend also the wind, all have major influence on the quality and style of any vintage of wine, in any region, worldwide. We often speak about a vintage as good or bad, or even exceptional, but what does this really mean?
In general a good vintage is the result of better than average climatic conditions. Enough rain, but not too much, and at the right time, as rain during e.g. flowering and also harvest can result in catastrophic consequences. (Scarce/uneven pollination, fungal diseases and vineyards too slippery to access, just to mention a few!
The temperature is linked to above and also a key factor for optimal flowering, fruit-set and ripening of the grapes. Too high temperatures can exhaust the plant and also contribute to drought. Too low temperatures on the other hand, can slow things undesirably down making it difficult for the plant to properly mature the grapes. Spring frost is the worst enemy in many regions and can ruin an entire vintage or a major percentage of the crop if the temperature drops too low after the first leaves and especially flowers or fruits have appeared. The damages, if severe enough, does actually not only influence the vintage in question, but also has a negative effect on the following.
The wind is usually a friend with it's drying and thus "purifying" effect in the canopy of the plant. Especially organic producers love a bit of wind to limit problems with fungal diseases, but again, in moderation, as really rough winds can also damage the plants!
Finally comes hail... Another archenemy for many producers. Hail can strip a plant of all leaves and grapes and damage it so much that it will take years to heal and return to normal strength. Certain regions are especially prone to hail. Piemonte and Bordeaux are two of those, whereas we in Mallorca usually do not have to worry too much about this. However, even at our estate we sometimes get a real scare and loose a bit of leaves and grapes to ice falling from the sky!
So climate is a key factor for the production of good wine. An exceptional vintage is one where all climatic factors have been favourable thoughout the growing season, resulting in the perfect grapes, in abundance, healthy and optimally balanced in maturity.
There are many degrees of a "bad" vintage. From a crop so low barely any wine is produced, over a bigger yield with lack of balance of maturity, to a full crop but with overripe and unripe grapes at once! (and everything there inbetween)
So yes; climate is one of the probably most determining factors when it comes to both quality and quantity for any wine producer, anywhere in the world.
With modern innovations like irrigation and sprinklers/fans to combat frost we can milden the potentially devastating effects of rouge weather, but we are still in the hands of Mother Nature to a great extend.
As the climate is changing we feel this dramatically, even at Mallorca. Less rainfall, the odd hailstorm that never happened before, extremely hot summers and now even snow some winters. Climate is at change for sure, and other regions are much worse affected than us.
Just to give you some very real examples then we barely got any rain for an entire year at the estate from November 2020 to November 2021 which, despite us having a very sophisticated sub-soil irrigation system, resulted in a much lower yield than expected. Also, we were actually also hit by spring frost for the very first time on April the 8th 2020 which luckily did not affect us dramatically, but our neighbour lost around 60% of their crop! And finally, the horrendous hail also hit us (also for the very first time) in late July 2020, but only touched the outskirts of our vineyards. However, our other neighbour lost 90% of their crop. A true "annus horribilis" We have been extremely lucky so far, but will it last?
We see entire regions being at danger. With a climate hotter and drier than just 20 years back, regions typical characteristics change with alcohol levels rising and maturity going off the charts. Many regions are experimenting with new grape varieties that can better handle the increased temperatures, but many fear that even this is not enough to save many of the classical regions in the world... And also; can you imagine your usually noble and elegant St. Emilion wine to be produced from the Portuguese grape Touriga Nacional?
Not really right?... Climate change is impacting the wine industry dramatically and no matter how clever we are and try to battle Mother Nature, we are up to loose that fight. So we better already now start working on creative ways to ensure we can also make great wines in a hotter and more dramatic climate.