Warmer weather, hotter grapes?

Warmer weather, hotter grapes?


ASHLAND —  Southern Oregon University climatology professor Gregory Jones received an award for outstanding service at the recent Oregon Wine Industry Symposium. Jones, who got interested in studying the impact of climate on wine making around the time that his father, Earl Jones, was planting his first grapes at Abacela Vineyards in Roseburg, is known for his expertise on the potential impact of global warming on the wine industry.

“Grapes are grown in fairly narrow climate zones,” Jones says. “In a highly variable climate a particularly cold year or hot year means that it’s challenging to make wine.” In the Willamette Valley, Jones says, recent warm years have made for some outstanding pinot noir grapes and wines, but in another generation or two, the region’s grape growers might be better off turning to some warmer-weather varieties such as the tempranillo grape that originated in Southern Spain but grows well in Southern Oregon.

In the short term, global warming could spell a competitive advantage. “Climate has allowed us to ripen our fruit better, but in California, it’s pushed them over the top,” Jones says. Ample sunshine and hot temperatures mean more sugar, which becomes alcohol, in the grapes. “They have to remove alcohol to make the wine palatable.” 

— Christina Williams