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Better Bubbly May Come from England in Future

The historic home of champagne is France but climate change may make growing conditions for the grapes more favorable in England
champagne


An age-old cross-channel rivalry between the English and the French has heated up.
Credit: Roger Nelson via Flickr

Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series looking at how climate change affects the rich and famous. We realize, of course, that billions of people are getting hit - hard - by climate impacts. Many of these are those least able to afford it. The wealthy are not immune either. It's time to see how climate hits Rodeo Drive. Or St. Moritz. Or Champagne. Reporting was done in collaboration with Public Radio International's The World.

SOUTH DOWNS, England – An age-old cross-channel rivalry between the English and the French has heated up.

This time, it's in a battle to produce the world's best sparkling wine - and England appears to be getting some help from our greenhouse gas emissions.

Forty years ago, southern England "could never have envisioned growing Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes successfully," said wine consultant and author Stephen Skelton. 
 

 

But in 2010, South Downs winery Ridgeview Wines won the coveted Decanter World Wine Award for best sparkling wine. The contest is notable for being one of the only international competitions pitting Champagne against sparkling wines.

Climate giveth, climate taketh
There is, of course, a cloud behind this silver lining. What climate change giveth in warming, it also taketh away, in many other ways, as vintners are finding: Summer never really arrived in 2012 in England, and the vintage is a disaster for England's wineries.

I spent two weeks in the wine country of both southern England and Champagne, France, as part of a global reporting effort looking at how climate change will impact the trade of luxury goods and services.

Part I, "English sparkling wine, the new belle of the ball," explores changes underway in England. Part II, "Champagne eyes England," looks at efforts French growers are undertaking to  to breed and graft grape varieties to endure hotter temperatures. 


Editor's note: This is the second part of an occasional series looking at how climate change affects the rich and famous. Billions of people are getting hit - hard - by climate impacts. Often it's those least able to afford it. The wealthy are not immune either. It's time to see how climate hits Rodeo Drive. Or St. Moritz. Or Champagne. Reporting was done in collaboration with Public Radio International's The World.

VERTUS, France – The distance between the sparkling wine renaissance in southern England and Champagne, France is 88 miles as the crow flies. 

Many growers in Champagne will tell you that despite the problems associated with climate change, overall they've benefited from the increased warmth – thus far.

But the French are taking every precaution and sparing no expense in their preparations for the troubles climate change may bring in the future. 
 

 

'Decrease in quality'
"We are afraid," said Eric Duchene, a research scientist with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. "Everywhere in the world there is a kind of optimum temperature for grape growing, and after a certain level, everywhere in the world you have a decrease in quality."

I spent two weeks in the wine country of southern England and France, researching efforts by the Agricultural Institute to breed and graft grape varieties to endure hotter temperatures. 

I also spent time at a Champagne house that has considered buying land in the cooler climes of England – a hedge against those higher temperatures.  

The second part of our two-part video series on changes to Europe's sparkling wine industry, "Champagne growers eye England," examines how climate change is affecting French Champagne. The first part, "English sparkling wine, the new belle of the ball" tours England's Ridgeview Wine Estate, a family-run winery audacious enough to beat Champagne at the only contest in the world to judge sparkling wine and Champagne together.

This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

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