Sparkling wine: A world turned upside down

The face of sparkling wine could change as global warming takes hold. Hamish Smith investigates

The sparkling wine world of the future will be “turned upside down”, the ‘flying vine doctor’ Richard Smart told the International Sparkling Wine Symposium in December.  For once this wasn’t a tired old platitude – Smart meant it literally. He says the effect of global warming on the traditional sparkling wine regions will send the bubbles industry south, from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere. 

“So far, sparkling wine is an Old World phenomenon – you have not allowed the cheeky New World to have much of an impact,” said Smart at the Denbies Wine Estate-held event. “But sparkling wine is the canary in the cage because it is so sensitive to climate change. The world’s ocean currents are of great importance [to climate] .You guys in the Northern Hemisphere will get hotter than us in the south. So if you want to think about where you would invest to produce sparkling wine – where there will be a stable climate in the next 30-40 years – then you have to invest in the south.” 

Smart cited Darwin, concluding it is not the strongest or most intelligent producers that will survive but those that adapt best. “Traditional regions will need to revise their varietal wine styles – or refuse to admit their wines have changed.”

Ed Carr, group sparkling winemaker of Accolade, also speaking at the symposium, is focused on Tasmania because of its ‘heat degree days’ measure: “The magic number is 1,000, where you are in a cool enough climate but you get full ripeness,” he said. 

Using the same barometer Smart set out the traditional regions and migration options. He said the south west of England has a HDD of 720, so has problems with ripening, the south east of England is 840 – the point at which grapes ripen – and the Champagne region is at 900. 

The next group Smart calls the “Champagne wannabees” of Central Otago (920), Derwent Valley, Tasmania (1,020) and Yarra Valley in Victoria, Australia (1420). Then the warmer zones in Spain, Italy and Australia, the examples being emerging region Franciacorta (1,750), Asti (2,000), Cataluña (2,020), Prosecco (2,020) and Riverina, New South Wales (2,040).

For Smart, New Zealand is best because of its availability of land in a stable, cool climate. But as Prosecco producers might say, warmer-climate sparklers are selling rather well at the moment. Could it be it is not production that is moving but the orientation of our taste buds?

The opening tasting at ISWS offered a gamut of sparkling styles that few knew existed. One that stood out was a Chilean rosé made from the traditional but under-threat País grape, made by Miguel Torres Maczassek. He later told DI: “Today Chile has an historic opportunity to stand out with sparkling wines. The remaining challenge is to have a Denomination of Origin for Chilean sparkling, in order to protect the grower and the vinification method and to ensure the quality of the wine. The idea is give it a name like Spain’s ‘Cava’ or the Italian ‘Prosecco’ or the ‘Champagne’ of France. This category could be built on the País grape – it has quality and authenticity and should be made with the traditional method.”