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Climate Change Allows Scottish Wine to Debut

March 30, 2014; 7:14 AM ET

Christopher Trotter will make history later this year when he unveils the first bottles of wine from his vineyard nestled to the north of Edinburgh -- all thanks to climate change.

The 2014 vintage will be a unique treat for Scotland, where Highlanders have concentrated on brewing ale and distilling whiskey for centuries.

"Scotland has probably been more of a beer-drinking nation than anything else," said Trotter, a chef and food writer. Wine hasn't been part of the culture, he said, "until now."

Tinto Hill, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. (Credit: Flickr/Sebastian Fuss)

The $270 billion global wine industry is undergoing a transformation due to climate change. Warmer seasons in Europe, for instance, are forcing Spanish and Italian winemakers up hillsides, bringing success to German vintners, enticing Polish growers, and transferring wine grape cultivation to whiskey-and-ale-friendly locations.

It's also transforming the flavor of prestigious French wines and boosting the alcohol content.

Vineyards thrive when annual temperatures range from 50 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and too much rain, dry weather or hail can deteriorate or demolish a vintage.

"Wine is very responsive to climatic factors," said Karl Storchmann, a professor of economics at New York University and managing editor of the Journal of Wine Economics. "This is especially true for fine wine, when weather-induced vintage-to-vintage price variations can exceed 1,000 percent."

According to a study last year by Conservation International senior scientist Lee Hannah, up to 73 percent of today's major wine-producing regions will no longer be ideal by 2050. Warming may jolt natives as European grape varieties have been handpicked for local conditions for more than a millennium, revealed research by Gregory Jones, a research climatologist at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.

"A warmer climate is taking hold little by little," said Olivier Bernard, owner of the Domaine de Chevalier estate in Bordeaux's Pessac Leognan area since 1983. "We're harvesting grapes in Bordeaux now that are indisputably riper than 20 years ago" (Rudy Ruitenberg, Bloomberg, March 26).

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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