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Warm summers and wet winters produce superior-quality wine

The mystery surrounding the fluctuating quality of wine vintages may have finally been solved. Researchers have discovered that the weather – notably warm summers and wet winters – significantly influences wine quality.

“Weather drives wine quality and wine taste,” said study first author Andrew Wood of the University of Oxford.

Consistent trend 

By scrutinizing 50 years of wine critic scores and weather data from Bordeaux, the researchers discovered a consistent trend. High-quality wines are produced in years marked by warmer temperatures, abundant winter rainfall, and condensed, earlier growing seasons.

It’s noteworthy that these climatic conditions, favorable for producing superior wine, are expected to prevail with the ongoing climate changes. 

“We found evidence that temperature and precipitation effects occur throughout the year – from bud break, while the grapes are growing and maturing, during harvesting, and even overwinter when the plant is dormant,” said Wood. 

Inconsistent weather, consistent quality

Despite emanating from the same vineyards, vines, and production methods, wines exhibit varied quality due to the annual weather inconsistencies. 

The researchers investigated how these meteorological variations influence wine quality and the potential impact of climate change on this aspect. 

The study significantly extends beyond the growing season, considering the dormant winter period’s effects as well. “Perennial crops like grapes are there all the time, and so things that happen outside of the growing season can also impact the wine,” explained Wood.

Focus of the study

Bordeaux, chosen for its reliance on rainfall for irrigation and its extensive records, serves as an ideal study subject. 

The research team analyzed both regional and localized quality variations, employing models to assess the influence of weather-related factors on wine quality. 

This comprehensive approach allowed for the identification of quality-determining elements, including seasonal length and fluctuations in temperature and precipitation.

Quality over time

A noteworthy finding is the improvement in Bordeaux wine quality scores from 1950 to 2020. This enhancement can be attributed to the region’s gradual warming, technological advancements in winemaking, or the industry’s response to changing consumer preferences. 

“The trend, whether that’s driven by the preferences of wine critics or the general population, is that people generally prefer stronger wines which age for longer and give you richer, more intense flavors, higher sweetness, and lower acidity,” said Wood. 

“And with climate change – generally, we are seeing a trend across the world that with greater warming, wines are getting stronger.”

Study implications 

The study paints a somewhat optimistic picture for the Bordeaux region, where climate-induced weather patterns seemingly favor the production of higher quality wines.

“With the predicted climates of the future, given that we are more likely to see these patterns of warmer weather and less rainfall during the summer and more rainfall during the winter, the wines are likely to continue to get better into the future,” said Wood.

However, this is true only up until the point at which water becomes limited. “The problem in scenarios where it gets really hot is water: if plants don’t have enough, they eventually fail, and when they fail, you lose everything,” explained Wood. 

“But the general idea or consensus is that the wines will continue to get better up to the point where they fail.”

The study is published in the journal iScience.

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