Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble: Does global warming spell the end for Champagne?


The Champagne Guide 2011

If you believed all the commentary, you’d have to conclude that the Champagne that we know and love is all but doomed. Global demand is pushing volumes up and quality down. The boundaries of the region are poised to swell into lesser lands. And global warming spells Armageddon for the region that has built a wine style around its cold climate.

From the 1950s to the 1980s the average temperature of Champagne’s growing season was a steady 14.3 degrees Celsius. In the 1990s this increased to 15 degrees Celsius. What of the 2000s? Could it have risen by the same amount again, to 15.7 degrees Celsius? Surely not double, to 16.4 degrees Celsius? Wrong. The latest ten year average in Champagne has shot up to a whopping 16.6 degrees Celsius.

But temperature rise in itself tells only a fraction of the story. The weather is becoming more extreme and more unpredictable. Winters are now longer, wetter and warmer, summers are shorter, hotter and more erratic. There’s more rainfall, changed rainfall patterns and more violent storms. Humidity is on the rise, as are strong winds.

What effect on viticulture? More pests and diseases, more risk of exposure to spring frosts and summer heat, and more danger from severe rot. Ripeness levels in Champagne have risen, in spite of an increase of fifty percent in yields. Acidity has dropped and pH has risen.

Champagne yields have averaged fifteen tonnes per hectare over the past decade. Over the previous thirty years they were less than ten tonnes per hectare. For the technocrats, natural alcohol has jumped from 9.6% to 9.9% over the same period, total acidity has dropped from 13.5g to 11.38g (tartaric) and pH has risen from 3.05 to 3.10. These numbers do not spell good news for Champagne.

Much has been written on the changing face of Champagne and the conclusion has not been optimistic: Champagne as we know it is in dire trouble.

The Champenoise, however, have a different idea…

This is an excerpt from The Champagne Guide 2011. Read more…