Weather’s Impact on Fine Wine
When it comes to wine-making, the weather plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the final product. From sunlight and temperature to wind and rainfall, a wide range of climatic factors can affect the grapes and ultimately, the wine produced. In this article, we will explore the relationship between wine and weather, from the science behind it to how fluctuating weather patterns have impacted viticulture throughout history.
The Science of Wine and Weather
The influence of the weather on the final wine is highly complex. While warm conditions are necessary for grapes to thrive, too much humidity or extreme weather conditions can negatively impact grape quality. For instance, wind, frost, and dew can all play a part in determining the quality of a harvest. The sirocco wind which comes in from North Africa sometimes reaches France and can adversely affect the French harvest, resulting in a poorer vintage. Similarly, the Zonda winds of Argentina can have a deleterious impact on grapes grown in much of the country.
As an indication of how important weather is in determining wine quality, the Romans prized Falernian wine from 121 BC for decades afterward. This was due to a coalescence of factors that combined, including a particularly hot summer, to produce the finest of Roman wines in memory. Consequently, the climactic conditions in which an individual grape harvest is produced are absolutely vital in determining the quality of the wine.
Wine and Weather throughout History
Perhaps no greater indication of the centrality of weather to wine production is evident than from the fact that viticulture did not become possible until the end of the Pleistocene period. This was the last major Ice Age, and it was not until it gradually receded from about 10,000 BC onwards that Homo sapiens were able to begin cultivating Vitis vinifera in earnest in places like China, Georgia, and Azerbaijan from 8,000 BC or so onwards.
As much as viticulture became a staple of many societies between the sixth and second millennia BC, it was really in the first millennium BC that wine culture became central to the civilization of the Mediterranean. The Roman Warm Period, occurring roughly from 250 BC all the way to about 400 AD, saw unusually warm temperatures develop globally. As a result, the number of regions across southern Europe and the perimeter of the Mediterranean which became conducive to grape cultivation and viticulture increased significantly.
The end of the Roman Warm Period was brought about by the Late Antique Ice Age, which occurred broadly speaking in the fifth and sixth centuries and continuing up residually into the Dark Ages or Early Medieval Period. This saw global temperatures decline precipitously for a period of 150 to 200 years. The impact on viticulture may have been difficult to pinpoint, but it is possible that some of the drift away from a wine-drinking culture in the Late Antique world was due to failing grape harvests brought about by this miniature Ice Age.
Final Thoughts on Wine and Weather
Wine-making is a complex process that involves a wide range of factors, from the type of grape to the fermentation process. However, one of the most crucial factors in determining the quality of wine is the weather. From the warmth and humidity of the vineyard to the winds that blow through it, the weather can make or break a grape harvest. As we have seen throughout history, weather patterns can significantly impact viticulture, from the end of the Pleistocene period to the Roman Warm Period and the Late Antique Ice Age. Whether you are a wine enthusiast or simply interested in the science of weather and wine, understanding the relationship between wine and weather is key to appreciating the complexities of wine-making.
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Gaither, J’nai. 2021. “How Good and Bad Weather Affect Your Wine.” Wine Enthusiast. March 9, 2021. https://www.winemag.com/2021/03/09/what-is-good-vintage/.
Gall, Darren. 2018. “Natural History Part 3. The Opimian Falernian, One Wine to Rule Them All.” Vindochine. July 8, 2018. https://www.vindochine.com/2018/07/08/natural-history-part-3-opimian-falernian-one-wine-rule/.
Wytsma, Ken. 2022. “Winemaking and Climate Change: Lessons from the Little Ice Age, C. 1300–1700.” This Day in Wine History. July 29, 2022. https://thisdayinwinehistory.com/winemaking-and-climate-change-lessons-from-the-little-ice-age/.