BERGER: Climate change impact on wine

The hot topic of the day, literally, is the weather and how it's changing.

Summers are generally hotter, winters are colder, and for the foreseeable future climate change will affect a lot of people around the world, mainly for the worse.

That's because contingency plans are expensive and many of the world's economies are shaky. And in many areas of the world, solving problems associated with climate change was never part of many industries' budget considerations.

One of these is the wine industry, where some curious things are happening.

For one thing, regions once considered cold climates for the growing of grapes are now seen not as cold but as moderate. And this has changed the way wine is made.

One example would be East Coast and Midwest states, where consumers are seeing some of the best wines the wineries have ever made. Wines from Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania are now being compared with some of the best wines in America.

Another example is California's Carneros, a once-cool area in southern Napa and Sonoma counties that has a lot of cool-climate grapes, notably chardonnay and pinot noir.

In the last decade, we have seen ripeness levels rise in these wines, and though they remain substantially similar to past years in terms of style, we have seen many wines rise in alcohol, due in part to the rise in average temperatures.

The same goes for such cooler regions as Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, southern San Luis Obispo County, Santa Rita hill in Santa Barbara, and the western Russian River.

But consumers of California wine are now getting a taste of the past with the recent releases of wines from the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages.

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