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Climate change has an impact on the wine industry. 60 Minutes

Climate change has an impact on the wine industry. 60 Minutes

What are the signs of global climate change? Glaciers are melting more quickly than ever before. Persistent droughts continue to spread. Well, we have another to tell you about – wine, as in what you probably cracked open for Christmas dinner.

Grape farmers have seen the impacts of climate change on their soil, the roots and the yields of grapes.

France, a major center for winemaking for centuries is experiencing higher temperatures and severe weather conditions that have affected vintages and livelihoods. This was especially evident this year.  

France saw its second-largest export industry, France, suffer the worst harvest since 1957.

It’s affecting almost all winegrowing regions that produce dry whites, fruity wines, and fizzy champagne.

All bubblies are called sparkling wines. But champagne is made here and nowhere else – 

These Champagne villages and vineyards are located in northeastern France. Champagne has a mysterious quality that creates an aura of romance. Coco Chanel once said, “I only drink champagne when I’m in love and when it is not.” This “wine for kings” has been produced here for centuries.

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  Christine Sevillan

Lesley Stahl: How long have you been involved in the winemaking and vineyards?

Christine Sevillano – Starting at 1700

Lesley Stahl: 1700. 

Christine Sevillano: Yes.

Christine Sevillano, a 14-year-old woman, took over the family business with its 20 acres of vineyards.  She is the 10th generation.

Christine Sevillano : This is the cellar where my grandfather lived.

Lesley Stahl: Oh.

After surviving the French Revolution as well as two world wars, her family’s Piot-Sevillano suffered its worst year yet in 2021.

Christine Sevillano, We lost 90% our harvest.

Lesley Stahl: 90%?

Christine Sevillano: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: How many bottles did you produce this year compared to a normal one?

Christine Sevillano : In a normal year, I make around 40, 50,000 bottles.

Lesley Stahl: What about this year?

Christine Sevillano, Zero. This is the first time in my winery’s history that we won’t make champagne.

Lesley Stahl: Have you ever bought a single wine from this winery?

Christine Sevillano: Yes. 

Champagne’s harvest was severely damaged by extreme weather and high temperatures. 

Christine Sevillano My father said that he had never seen anything like it in his entire career.

Lesley Stahl: Almost flood like?

Christine Sevillano: Yes.

She said that the worst outbreaks of mildew and heat-related fungus infections occurred in June and Jul.

Christine Sevillano

Lesley Stahl: You attribute this to climate change?

Christine Sevillano (Yes) because it was so extreme. It’s not common. 

Extreme weather this year not only damaged Champagne and its foundation, but also nearly all of France’s wine-producing regions — Burgundy to Bordeaux — where some of France’s finest, most well-known, and most delicious reds and whites are produced.

Lesley Stahl: What grape is this? What’s the matter?

Jacques Lurton: This wine is merlot.

Lesley Stahl: I love merlot.

Jacques Lurton: Merlot is a beautiful, soft-rounded wine.

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  Jacques Lurton

 
Jacques Lurton, the head of a wine family dynasty, runs the Château La Louvière and several other wineries in Bordeaux. He claims that vine disease is increasing in France due to the rising temperatures.

Jacques Lurton – We don’t even have winters anymore. Wintertime usually brings colder weather. These cold conditions can kill the fungus or the disease. Winter is a good time to clean up the situation. Spring frost is the main problem.

In April, spring frost was so severe that winegrowers had to get down on their knees and light candles and bales of straw between their vines as a futile attempt at protecting their young buds.

Jacques Lurton: This is the worst catastrophe we have ever experienced. It is unprecedented. We have had spring frost in certain regions before, but it is the first time that it has been all over France. Because we don’t have strong winters, the buds open up and then are exposed to the spring frost.

Lesley Stahl: This is the crux of it all–

Jacques Lurton

Lesley Stahl: Let’s talk about this year’s amount.

Jacques Lurton: This year in France, an average loss of 30%

Lesley Stahl: 30% yields What about you? What is your percent?

Jacques Lurton: We have been affected upto 40% 

Lesley Stahl: You’re one the largest wine producers of Bordeaux.  I mean 40% loss. That’s huge.

Jacques Lurton says it’s huge.  It’s huge. 

Bordeaux will suffer a loss of approximately $800 million in sales this fiscal year, according to him. 

Lesley Stahl: Is this something that’s happening all over Europe or—or just France?

Greg Jones: No. It’s happening all around Europe, absolutely. 

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  Greg Jones

Greg Jones, a Southern Oregon University research climatologist, has been studying the effects of climate on the growth and harvesting wine grapes for over 25 years. 

Greg Jones: Today, we are seeing more extreme events occuring at greater frequency and causing more damage.

Lesley Stahl says: We see it everywhere. It’s not only in rural areas.  It’s happening in every part of the country.  How can you tell if it’s not normal extreme weather or a general climate change?

Greg Jones: Climate science has an area called attribution science.  Attribution science is the study of how humans play in climate change.  So the idea—

Lesley Stahl: (or who to attribute it too, okay.

Greg Jones: Yes, yes.  Climateologists create models that analyze climate. The models that are being released are showing us that most of these phenomena would not be possible without humans.

Lesley Stahl: Connect what you are saying about climate to the current events in France.

Greg Jones: Yes.  France, as in most of Europe has seen its temperatures rise, so too has the temperature in France.  Summers have become dryer. The wine grapes are extremely sensitive.  They are sensitive to such changes and we have seen it all over the world.  It has been at its epicenter in Europe.

A weather map of Europe for June 2021 – the second warmest June in Europe on record – shows a red band depicting high surface air temperatures stretching across much of the continent.

In June 2021, there were heatwaves across western North America.

Scorching temperatures and drought conditions contributed to wildfires in 2020 around Napa and Sonoma – the center of America’s wine industry where fields were left blackened.

The bush fires of 2019/20 in Australia caused some vineyards to be destroyed and damaged the quality of the grapes. 

2017 saw the lowest harvest in Italy in decades due to spring frost and hailstorms. Northern and central Italy were particularly hard hit, as these are the regions where chianti, prosecco, and barolo are made.   

In Chile and Argentina, the higher temperatures are driving winegrowers higher up to plant their vineyards at higher elevations where temperatures are cooler.

Greg Jones claims that the warmer climate is also changing grapes’ growth cycles.

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Greg Jones: It accelerates the ripening so that we pick earlier. Burgundy’s 2020 picking date was August 20th. For the past 30 years, we averaged around September 15th. For 600 years, we had been averaging the 1st of October at the end September. So you can–

Lesley Stahl: It’s so dramatic.

Greg Jones: This is quite dramatic. 

These parchment pages, which record harvest dates as far back as 1354, were found at the Church of Notre Dame in Burgundy. 

Lesley Stahl: 1354.

Greg Jones: It is a remarkable data record that has allowed us to look at it to better understand the climate back then, how it affected harvests, and what that looks today.

Lesley Stahl: I smile because I think 1300s, I think monks were making wines.

Greg Jones: Exactly.

France’s wine industry is so vital to the economy, the government has scientists working to find ways to adapt and mitigate the changing environment.

One way to adapt is to introduce new grape varieties.

To test if vines from warmer countries can grow here, experimental vineyards were planted to test if they can. The grapes can then be mixed with other french wines like cabernets or merlots. 

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  Nathalie Ollat with correspondent Lesley Stahl

Nathalie Ollat, the director of the project at Bordeaux Science Institute of Vine and Wine, is

Lesley Stahl

Nathalie Olat: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: What do you like from where?

Nathalie Ollat: From Spain to Portugal, from Greece 

Lesley Stahl: How many of them are you actually looking at, exactly?

Nathalie Ollat says: In this experimental vineyard, 52 varieties are being studied. 

They have chosen six of these varieties to be planted in Bordeaux. 

Lesley Stahl: What is your greenhouse?

Nathalie Olat: Yes. This is it. 

Genetic breeding is another way to adapt. 

Lesley Stahl: Are your creating new grape varieties?

Nathalie Ollat: Yes, the idea is to have grapes– new varieties, which can be resistant to disease and also more adapted to climate change condition.

They must not compromise the unique qualities of French wines. Scientists at the institute’s laboratory are studying the genetics and aroma of wine’s color, taste, and aroma.

Lesley Stahl – And that’s what your trying to preserve, even though you introduce new grapes.

Nathalie Olat: Yes. I believe we–we want to change without being changed, I would say.

Lesley Stahl: Yes! Are you confident that you can solve the puzzle and figure out how to combat climate change?

Nathalie Ollat says: With new varieties and new growing practices, I believe we can–we can deal with climate change at least through the middle of the 21st Century.

Lesley Stahl: The century’s middle is only 30 year away.

Nathalie Ollat says: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: Now, you’re seeing how quickly temperatures are rising and saying that it’s possible they will rise to a certain point.

Nathalie Ollat:  That it– it–

Lesley Stahl:  –where you can’t–

Nathalie Ollat:  –It will be much more complicated to keep what we call Bordeaux style and Bordeaux taste.

Despite all the doom, there’s a surprising upside to warming temperatures in wine country.

Lesley Stahl: What is quality?  What about the taste? What is important about wine?  How is climate change affecting this?

Jacques Lurton:  Alors, the climate change is affecting the quality very positively. 

Lesley Stahl: Positively?

Jacques Lurton:  Yes, ex- exactly. We have never seen such a large amount of Bordeaux wines in such good vintages.  

Lesley Stahl: That’s a good explanation. That’s counterintuitive. 

Jacques Lurton  Good, warm conditions can result in good color quality in the– of the skin. We also have the right amount. 

It’s a tragic irony, but the taste improves while the yields shrink for winemakers like Christine Sevillano.  

Lesley Stahl: So, more quality, but fewer grapes. Dramatically fewer grapes.

Christine Sevillano: Yes. It’s crazy.

Lesley Stahl: What if you have another financial year like this? Can you still survive?

Christine Sevillano says: It will be really difficult. It’s really difficult. However, I am confident for next year. I mean, I trust. I must.  

Climate change can have unforeseen benefits for winemakers, but they also have improved taste.

Some winegrowers consider climate change a disaster. But, as we have seen, it has been a boon to others. Higher temperatures have hurt growers from France and Italy, but places that used to be too cold to make quality wines are now producing consistently good wines: England. 

The idea that lukewarm ale is the only drink in England is woefully outdated. 

Today, there is a new industry: English vineyards are producing some of world’s finest wines. This sprawling vineyard, 40 miles from London, has acres upon acres of grapes that are ready for harvest. 

It didn’t exist 15 year ago. However, Great Britain’s wine-producing abilities have been growing along with the rest of the world.

Lesley Stahl: How has climate change affected grapes and wine in this region?

Stephen Skelton: It’s totally revolutionized it.

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  Stephen Skelton

Stephen Skelton is a member of the highly-respected Institute of Masters of Wine. He is a viticulturist and an expert in the science of wine grape production. 

Lesley Stahl

Stephen Skelton: No, it was— it was very, very rare until we realized that you could grow these classic French champagne varieties in, in our climate.

Lesley Stahl: This is Champagne.

Stephen Skelton: Yeah. And they now grow very, very successfully here in–- in the U.K..

The former cottage industry was run by retired farmers and gentleman farmers. It is now one the fastest growing winegrowing regions in the country. 

Lesley Stahl: This is quite a complicated operation.

Stephen Skelton: It’s huge, it’s an enormous winery.

In 2018, the vintage in England proved so abundant that many vineyards had no choice but to buy tanks or vats to hold it all. Others simply threw away the grapes. The winemakers will be producing around 20 million bottles annually by the end this decade. 

Stephen Skelton – The foundation of today’s industry is that we can grow these types of varieties, which we couldn’t grow earlier.

Lesley Stahl: Why couldn’t you do that before?

Stephen Skelton – Because the– it was too cold.

Lesley Stahl: It was just a matter of raising the temperature.

Stephen Skelton: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Does global heating mean that England now has longer days for the grapes? Is that—

Stephen Skelton says: Yes, because we have more days than 85, or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. We are now in the U.K. We are now where Champagne was 30-40 years ago. The climate has changed over the past 30-40 years to the north– northwards.

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Lesley Stahl: The climate right now in England where you and i are sitting is the same climate as it was 40 years ago in France. 

Stephen Skelton: In Champagne.

Lesley Stahl: –In Champagne, France–

Stephen Skelton: In Champagne. Yeah. 

He traces the origins of the industry to 1988.

Stephen Skelton. Next came two Americans, Stuart and Sandy Moss. They purchased Nyetimber Estate, which is well-known today. They were also the first to plant a large commercial vineyard.

Lesley Stahl: How did you feel?

Stephen Skelton – I thought they were crazy. I have to say— 

Lesley Stahl: Ok.

Stephen Skelton said: I thought they were crazy. They were wealthy Americans up in the hills, I thought. He had a fortune, apparently from the dental business. They were crazy, I thought. It took them a while to make their first wine. It took four years for the wine to mature before it was finally tasted. Then it won this major award.

Lesley Stahl: Right away? Four years.

Stephen Skelton, Yes. They won an even greater prize the next year, the 2nd.

Lesley Stahl: Do You think that English sparkling wine will be even better than Champagne’s in a few years?

Stephen Skelton – They produce 300 million bottles each year. The best is still very good. The best is exceptional. But if you put the best ten English sparkling wines up against the best 10 champagnes in the exact same prize category, I guarantee that the English wines will be in the top half.

He opened a 10-year-old bottle to prove his point. 

Stephen Skelton – We’re going professional to open it.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, no pop!

Stephen Skelton: No pop.

Lesley Stahl: Take a look at that.

He says that sparkling wine should age for at least two years before it becomes too bitter.

 

Stephen Skelton – You see, the bubbles are coming out of there.

Lesley Stahl: That’s a great thing. 

Stephen Skelton (Yes, they are small and nice). Then you smell it. It develops a pleasant yeasty aroma. Baking bread – brioche as we call it. That’s a beautiful, stunning bottle of wine.

Winston Churchill once said, “I couldn’t live without champagne.” In victory I deserve it, and in defeat I need.” 

Well, nothing would have pleased him more than to hear that because English bubbly is now so good, the House of Taittinger – one of the most prestigious of French champagne makers – is in England! It now grows 120 acres of grapes, and makes sparkling wine near Canterbury in “The Garden of England.”

Patrick McGrath, a representative of Taittinger in Great Britain persuaded the company here to invest in 2015.

Lesley Stahl: Have your grapes come from France?

Patrick McGrath: Yes. The vines were imported from France as tiny, small vines. The first harvest we got from them was in 2020. The wine will then be released at the close of 2024.

Lesley Stahl: It’s not just the warming that is the problem, but also extreme weather conditions. Too much flooding, too many frost, too hot. What about England?

Patrick McGrath says: Not at this time. We are lucky, you know England is starting to be recognized as a region that is warming, but is still moderately hot compared with central Europe, which is becoming very, very hot.

Lesley Stahl: Do wine lovers all over the world know that great wines come from England? Is it really “ooh lala”? It’s “jolly good?”

Patrick McGrath: I think we’re still at the kind of s—- in the beginning block. Yes. Over the last ten year, English sales have grown substantially from a modest base. 

Taittinger’s goal for 2025 is to produce 300,000. In total, the English wine sector had $220 millions in sales last year. 

20 years ago, the idea of English wine of first quality would have been ridiculed. However, a similar migration took place on the West Coast of America, where pinot and chardonnay grapes have become increasingly popular. They can be found 560 miles north in Willamette Valley, Oregon. 

Greg Jones: Oregon was almost devoid of gr– grapes between the 1950s to 1960s. The reason was that the climates were too cold. We are in a completely different world if we fast forward to today.

Greg Jones, a Southern Oregon University wine climateologist, says that grapes are growing in new and unexpected places.

Greg Jones: Today, we have wineries in Norway, Quebec, and in–in British Columbia. We also have wineries in Tasmania, on the south islands of—- of Chile.

Lesley Stahl: Tasmanian wine.

Greg Jones: Tasmania is a great wine-producing region in Australia.

Lesley Stahl : That’s quite interesting. Tasmania is in the south of Australia.

Greg Jones: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: So, winemaking in the Northern Hemisphere is going north. Are you saying that it’s going south?

Greg Jones: South. Yes, yeah–

Lesley Stahl: In the Southern Hemisphere

Greg Jones: Yes. It’s moving more poleward in both the hemispheres. Chilean and southern Argentina are two examples. And, and parts of– of many parts of northern Europe have started growing grapes.

Lesley Stahl: In real time.

Greg Jones: In realtime

Lesley Stahl says: Wine is a great example of the changes that are occurring due to climate change. 

Greg Jones: Yeah, you can. People are trying out, at northerly latitudes. It’s something that people are doing. 

As a sign of the wine’s acceptance in the United Kingdom, English sparkling wine was given the royal imprimatur. The queen served it at Buckingham Palace. It was even poured at a recent summit on climate change in Scotland. Stephen Skelton, master of wine, is optimistic about the future.

Lesley Stahl: How worried are you and other English winemakers about global warming? It’s intensifying and will result in a decrease in your ability to produce good grapes.

Stephen Skelton (No, I’m not at all worried). I mean, I think the next 40 years will be fascinating. Because we are just at the edge of it becoming commercial. Our yield levels may not be as high as we would like. We l– would love a little more heat.

Lesley Stahl: You might get it. 

Stephen Skelton: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: But eventually.

Stephen Skelton: Who knows what? We will have to start growing bananas and oranges. 

Lesley Stahl: I mean, it’s a serious question. 

Stephen Skelton : Yes, I believe we will deal with whatever’s thrown at.

Some of the winemakers that we met are gaining. Some are struggling. All are experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. 

Greg Jones: The wine grapes are often called “the canary in the coal mine”.

Greg Jones, a climate expert, claims that this is true since the first wine was made in 6 000 B.C. in eastern Europe, then spread to ancient Egypt and Greece, and finally Persia. King Victories were celebrated with wine and the Christian world placed it at the center of the Eucharist. Jones claims that wine history is human historical. 

Greg Jones: Wine has a powerful impact on society. It’s linked to civilizations. It’s also related to history. It’s also related to geography. It’s also related to romanticism. Gastronomy, biology, and chemistry are all related to wine. There are so many things that are connected to it that we can easily tell the story of climate changes through wine.

Richard Bonin produced the film. Associate producer, Mirella Brussani. Broadcast associate, Wren Woodson. Richard Buddenhagen edits.

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