Viticulture beyond geographical and historical limits

It’s been confirmed that the grapevine travels 300 kilometres farther north every year, beyond the classic limits of 50° north latitude and 40° south latitude. The ongoing emission of CO2 and other gasses have reduced the dispersion of the earth’s heat, a phenomenon called greenhouse effect. Last century the average annual temperature rose by 1°C while this century an increase of over 2°C is predicted.
Analogous phenomena occurred during the Middle Ages, for which reason there are never any certainties with climatic changes, but the experts are predicting desertification in several areas, especially in the Mediterranean Basin, due to the lack of water.
In fact over the past years the grape harvest in Europe has taken place up to three weeks earlier (but not in 2013) with the resulting negative consequences on the quality. For these reasons the French, with Champagne at 50° north latitude, for some years have been planting grapevines in Great Britain (in Kent for example) to safeguard the acidity and the aromatic qualities.
Recently the international press took an interest in Swedish viticulture, which now extends to 30 hectares. On the other side of the ocean the Vikings had already named an area Vinland on the island of Newfoundland. Currently near Malmo Euro-American hybrids (Ortega, Rondo, Regent), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are being grown and they dream of the Nebbiolo of Malmo, while farther up north at 58° latitude they’re hoping to produce the Prosecco of Gotland.
Growing grapes in areas with very cold winters isn’t a novelty. Large areas are planted in the Eastern European countries, in the Great Lakes region and the state of Washington in the U.S., in Canada, etc. There the low temperatures can reach down to -30 / -40°C.
The Vitis vinifera variety rarely withstands temperatures under -18°C. The American hybrids are hardier and the Asian varieties of Vitis amurensis (which hold up down to -40°C) could potentially top that, but the American hybrids are rich in malvidin, anthocyanin diglucoside which correlates to a bitter taste and foxy aroma.
Hybrid grapes have over 150 years of history but Vitis vinifera continues to be the queen of quality even in tropical climates. In the cold winter areas, the varieties of Vinifera can be grown by laying the shoots on the ground before winter and covering them with a layer of soil. The mantle of snow will complete the insulating effect. Or you can grow table grapes in the greenhouse like the Dutch have done for centuries and the Irish do today for wine production.

by MARIO FREGONI – Oiv Honorary President and France Agriculture Lecturer

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