In a world of acute climatic change, what qualifies as ‘extreme viticulture’ anymore?
It’s a golden marketing term, but, inevitably, the label ‘extreme’ is shedding its authentic meaning. As the climate changes, heat radiates ever-further from the equator, ‘unusual’ weather events become normal, and temperature shifts rewrite old maps of ideal and marginal sites for vineyards. Scientific and technical advances are also making viticulture an option in otherwise climactically inappropriate regions.
As the decade enters its final weeks, we’re considering where we can currently look to for examples of truly extreme viticulture, and where we will be looking in the 2020s. It’s not just the Rugby World Cup which has us excited about Japan – but also regions like Hokkaido Prefecture, where vineyards cling to the mountains through typhoons and typically vine-killing dumps of snow. Or else to the Mosel or Rías Baxias where climbing harnesses are a vital element of vineyard equipment, or to producers harnessing Mother Nature to battle vineyard pests.
The one thing all these winemakers have in common is their determination to make extraordinary wine, irrespective of the physical, mental and financial toll. The defiance and blind faith involved in making wine on the cusp of impossibility is what we find so compelling not just in the winemakers, but in the wines themselves.
As we look to the next decade, we predict that areas which currently seem marginal and climactically innocuous – think the UK, Canada, even the US – will increasingly produce wines which we won’t be able to get enough of.