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Climate change is affecting the wine industry – 60 minutes

Climate change is affecting the wine industry – 60 minutes

What are the signs of global climate change? Glaciers are melting faster than ever. Persistent droughts continue to spread. And we have another to tell you about – wine, as in what you might crack open for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. 

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

France, a major centre of winemaking, is experiencing increasing temperatures and extreme weather conditions which have caused damage to vintages and livelihoods. This past year was especially dramatic.  

France suffered its second-worst harvest since 1957, and is now at risk of losing more than $2 billion in sales.

It’s affecting almost all winegrowing regions that produce dry whites, fruity wines, and fizzy champagne, as we reported in December.

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

These villages and vineyards of Champagne are located in northeastern France. Champagne has a mysterious quality that creates an aura of romance. Coco Chanel once said that champagne is only drunk when you are in love. This “wine for kings” has been produced here for centuries.

  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 tenth generation.

Christine Sevillano

Lesley Stahl: Oh.

After surviving the French Revolution, two world wars and her family’s worst year, Piot-Sevillano saw its worst year in 2021.

Christine Sevillano – We lost 90% of the harvest.

Lesley Stahl: 90%?

Christine Sevillano: Yes.

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

Christine Sevillano, A normal year, I create around 40,50,000 bottles.

Lesley Stahl: What about this year?

Christine Sevillano: Zero. It’s the first occasion in the history of my winery, that we won’t make champagne.

Lesley Stahl: Did you buy a single bottle of this winery’s wine?

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 says: And you attribute it to climate change?

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

Extreme weather in France last year caused damage to Champagne and its economy. It also affected nearly every wine-producing region in France, from Burgundy to Bordeaux. This is where the best-tasting whites and reds are produced.

Lesley Stahl: These are what grapes? What is it?

Jacques Lurton says: This is merlot.

Lesley Stahl: I love merlot.

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

  Jacques Lurton

Jacques Lurton, the head of a wine family dynasty, runs the Château La Louvière and several other wineries in Bordeaux. He believes that vine diseases are getting worse in France due to rising temperatures.

Jacques Lurton: It’s almost like we don’t have winters anymore. Wintertime is characterized by colder temperatures. These cold conditions can kill the disease or fungus. You can see that winter usually cleans up the situation. Spring frost is the main problem.

April’s spring frost was so severe, winegrowers were forced to kneel and place bales with hay and candles between vines in an attempt to protect their young buds.

Jacques Lurton says it is the most severe catastrophe we have ever faced. 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. The buds are now able to open because we don’t get these strong winters. They then have to be exposed to the spring frost.

Lesley Stahl: That is the crux –

Jacques Lurton

Lesley Stahl: Tell us about the amount for this year.

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

Lesley Stahl: 30% of yields. What about you? What’s your percent?

Jacques Lurton: We have been affected upto 40% 

Lesley Stahl, So you’re one among the largest Bordeaux wine producers.  40% loss is huge, I mean that.

Jacques Lurton: It is huge.  It’s huge. 

Bordeaux suffered a loss of approximately $800 million in sales last 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. 

  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: We’re seeing more extreme events occurring more often at higher degrees and causing more problems.

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: Attribution science is a field in climate science.  Attribution science is about trying to understand the role of humans in climate change.  So the idea—

Lesley Stahl: -or to whom to attribute it, 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.  The 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.

Australia’s bush fires of 2019/20 caused some vineyards in Australia to be reduced to ashes, while the grapes were damaged by the smoke. 

The lowest harvest in decades was achieved in 2017 in Italy by spring frost, hailstorms, and a heatwave called “Lucifer”. 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.


Greg Jones: This accelerates that ripening until we are picking earlier. Burgundy was picking in 2020 on August 20th. We’ve been averaged for the last 30+ years 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: It’s quite dramatic. 

These parchment pages, which document harvest dates back to 1354, were discovered in the Church of Notre Dame, Burgundy. 

Lesley Stahl: 1354.

Greg Jones: It’s an amazing data record that we were able to examine to better understand how climates affected harvests, and how they affect today’s climates.

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 that scientists are working with the government to find ways to adapt to 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 see if the grapes could be mixed with other french wines. 

  Nathalie Ollat with correspondent Lesley Stahl

Nathalie Ollat directs the project at Bordeaux Science Institute of Vine and Wine.

Lesley Stahl

Nathalie Olat: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: What do you like from where?

Nathalie Ollat – From Spain, Portugal, and Greece 

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

Nathalie Olat: We are currently studying 52 varieties in this experimental vineyard. 

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 route to adaptation. 

Lesley Stahl: Do you really create new grapes, new types of grapes?

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.

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

Lesley Stahl: That’s what you want to preserve, even if you introduce new grapes.

Nathalie Olat: Yes. I believe that we– we want change without changing, I would suggest.

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 fast temperatures are rising. You think it’s possible that they’ll rise above 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 is a surprising upside to warming temperatures in wine country.

Lesley Stahl: What about the quality?  What about the taste? What is important about wine?  How does climate change affect that?

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 number of Bordeaux wines in good vintages.  

Lesley Stahl: Let me explain. 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 is a sad irony that the taste of winemakers like Christine Sevillano improves at the same time as their yields shrink.  

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

Christine Sevillano: Yes. It’s crazy.

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

Christine Sevillano says: It will be really difficult. It’s really difficult. However, I am confident for next year. I mean, that I am trustful. I have to.  

Climate change can have unforeseen benefits for winemakers, but they also enjoy a better taste.

While climate change has been a problem for some winegrowers as we’ve seen it, others have found that climate change has been a boon. While warmer temperatures have hurt growers from France and Italy in recent years, quality wines are being produced in places that have historically been too cold to make them. As we reported in December, the notion that there is no first-rate, velvety, well-balanced wine made in England is outdated.

Today, there is a new industry: English vineyards are producing some of world’s finest wines. This sprawling vineyard is 40 miles outside London and contains wine grapes that are ready to be harvested. 

It didn’t exist 15 year ago. But, Great Britain’s wine-producing success has been rising with the planet.

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

Stephen Skelton says: It’s revolutionized it.

  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’s what they grow in 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 : Oh, it is big, it is a big winery.

In 2018, the vintage in England proved so abundant that some vineyards had no choice but to scramble to purchase tanks and vats to hold it all. Others simply threw away the grapes. Winemakers in this region will be producing an estimated 20,000,000 bottles per year by the end of the 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: Then why didn’t it happen before?

Stephen Skelton: The climate was too cold.

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

Stephen Skelton: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: Does global warming mean that England has more time for its grapes to ripen because it is now warmer? Is that—

Stephen Skelton (Yes, because we have more daylight than 85, 86 degrees Fahrenheit. We are, we’re in the U.K. We’re now in the same place Champagne was 30-40 years ago. The climate has changed in the last 30-40 years, moving northwards.

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–

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Stephen Skelton: In Champagne. Yeah. 

He traces the origins of the industry to 1988.

Stephen Skelton. Then came the Mosses, Stuart Moss and Sandy Moss. They purchased Nyetimber, a well-known estate. They were the first to plant a large commercial winery.

Lesley Stahl: How did you feel?

Stephen Skelton: They were crazy, I thought. I have to say— 

Lesley Stahl: Ok.

Stephen Skelton (Yes, I thought they were crazy). They were Americans from the hills. He made a fortune, apparently from the dental business. They were insane, 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. The second year, they won a bigger prize.

Lesley Stahl: Do you think that English sparkling wines will be better than those grown in Champagne in a few years?

Stephen Skelton – They produce 300 million bottles each year. The best is still very, extremely good. The best is extraordinary. The best sparkling wines in England are outstanding. However, if you put them up against the best champagnes in the same prize category, I guarantee that the English wines would be the top half.

He gave us a taste by opening a 10-year old bottle to prove his point. 

Stephen Skelton: It will be opened professionally.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, no pop!

Stephen Skelton: No pop.

Lesley Stahl: Take a look at that.

He believes that sparkling wine should be aged for at least a year to get the best flavor. What you want is a spritz of fizz on your palate.

How to taste sparkling wine


Stephen Skelton

Lesley Stahl: This is a good thing. 

Stephen Skelton: They’re small and pretty, yes. Then you smell it. You get a lovely yeasty character. Baking bread–brioche, as we refer to it. This is a stunning, beautiful bottle of wine.

Winston Churchill once stated, “I could not survive without champagne.” In victory, I deserve it, but in defeat, I need it!” 

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 the grapes been brought from France?

Patrick McGrath says yes. The vines were brought from France as small, tiny vines. The first harvest we got from them was in 2020. That wine will then be released in 2024.

Lesley Stahl: It’s not just the warming that is the problem, but also extreme weather conditions. You know what I mean, too much flooding, frost, and too hot. Will England not also experience extreme situations like this?

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 hot.

Lesley Stahl: Do wine lovers all over the world know that great wines come from England? Or, in other words, does it no longer “oohla la”? It’s “jolly good?”

Patrick McGrath : I think, I believe in– we are still at the sort s– in our starting block. Yes. The English language has seen a significant increase in sales over the last ten year, even though it was a small market. 

Taittinger’s goal for 2025 is to produce 300,000. In 2020, the English wine industry was worth $220 million. 

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 had almost no gr—- grapes in the 1950s and 1960s. The reason was that the climate was 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 south 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: It’s moving further poleward in both 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: If you want to see a vivid example of climate change in action, then wine is the best option. 

Greg Jones: Yeah, you can. People are doing experiments at northern latitudes. I’m surprised that I didn’t expect to see it in my career. 

The royal imprimatur of England has been given to sparkling wine. It is served at Buckingham Palace by the queen as a sign of its acceptance in the United Kingdom. It was also poured at the recent climate summit in Scotland. Stephen Skelton, master of wine, is optimistic about the future.

Lesley Stahl: Are you and other English vintners concerned that global warming will intensify? Will it push you north beyond your ability grow good grapes?

Stephen Skelton (No, I’m not at all worried). I mean, the next 40-years are going to be fascinating, I believe. We are just at the edge of it becoming commercial. Our yield levels may not be as high as we would like. We would like to have a little more heat, you know.

Lesley Stahl: You might get it. 

Stephen Skelton: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: But eventually.

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

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

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

Some winemakers we met are now enjoying the benefits. Some are struggling. However, all are seeing the message that climate changes is delivering. 

Greg Jones: The wine grapes have been called the “canary” in the coal mine.

Greg Jones, a climatologist, says that this has been true since the first wine was produced 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 asserts that wine history is part of human history. 

Greg Jones: Wine can have a profound 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 this film. Associate producer, Mirella Brussani. Broadcast associate, Wren Woodson. Richard Buddenhagen edited.

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