Long hours and a lot of work go into producing a winning wine. But findings presented this week at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle suggest that recent climate changes may have lent vintners a helping hand. Researchers report that the majority of the world's most renowned wine regions have experienced warming during their growing seasons that is related to better overall vintages and more consistency from year to year.

Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University and his colleagues analyzed data from 27 of the top wine-producing regions worldwide from the last 50 years. Although many technological improvements have been made to both grape growing and winemaking over the last few decades, climate is often the wild card in determining year-to-year variations in quality. The scientists studied Sotheby's vintage rating--a 100-point scale used to measure wine quality in which a vintage scoring above 90 is deemed "excellent to superb" and a score under 40 signifies a disaster--and compared the trends to climate records. Overall, they found an average temperature increase of two degrees Celsius for the wine regions and higher vintage ratings for their products. "There were no negative impacts," Jones notes.

The group also used a general circulation model to predict what might be expected to happen in the world's wine locales in the next 50 years and determined that an average additional warming of two degrees C may occur. This increase could further alter which grapes grow best in certain regions. "There is a huge historical and cultural identity associated with wine-producing regions," Jones remarks, but some areas might need to shift to a new type of grape that would flourish under the different conditions. Alternatively, the changes could allow additional wineries to blossom. Already vineyards are on the rise in southern England, a region once thought too cold for winemaking.