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Climate Change Is Altering the Chemistry of Wine


A cluster of grapes at the Oakville Experimental Vineyard in Napa Valley, CA. Viticulture experts here and elsewhere are testing new growing practices to make wine grapes more resilient to climate change. Photo credit: Katarina Zimmer / Knowable Magazine

Soon after the devastating Glass Fire sparked in California’s Napa Valley in September 2020, wine chemist Anita Oberholster’s inbox was brimming with hundreds of emails from panicked viticulturists. They wanted to know if they could harvest their grapes without a dreaded effect on their wine: the odious ashtray flavor known as smoke taint.

Oberholster, of the University of California, Davis, could only tell them, “Maybe.”

Industry laboratories were slammed with grape samples to test, with wait times of up to six weeks. Growers didn’t know whether it was worth harvesting their crops. Eight percent of California wine grapes in 2020 were left to rot.

Winemakers are no strangers to the vicissitudes wrought by climate change . Warmer temperatures have been a boon to some in cooler regions who are rejoicing over riper berries — but devastating to others. Scorching heat waves, wildfires , and other climate-driven calamities have ruined harvests in Europe, North America, Australia, and elsewhere.

As 2020 showed, climate change can take […]

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