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The 45th Parallel: A World of Change in Winemaking

The 45th Parallel: A World of Change in Winemaking

Vineyards from Bordeaux to Croatia to China to Michigan adjust to a market revolution

Bill Daley | Chicago Tribune

And Michigan winemakers do play up their parallel connection with both Bordeaux and Burgundy. The 2008 issue of Michigan Wine Country, sponsored by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, features a map that shows various lines of latitude running across both the United States and western Europe. The headline? “Latitude + Climate = Classic Grapes.”

Some French winemakers in Bordeaux aren’t convinced that the 45th parallel is a key to success. They believe that every region, every subregion, even various parcels in their own vineyards, are unique and aren’t particularly tied to others—especially a continent away.

“The common point is that they are on that parallel,” said Thomas Duroux, chief executive officer of Chateau Palmer, a well-known third-growth winery in Bordeaux’s Margaux region.

“Maybe there’s something to it, but I don’t know,” he added. “There’s an incredible difference in wines from region to region and there’s good wine and bad wine.”

For Luca Currado, winemaker at the Vietti winery in Castiglione Falletto, a village in the Barolo wine region in Italy, just a few degrees south of the 45th parallel, there is something to the broad band of territory on either side of the line. He’s just as apt to compare his region’s nebbiolo wines to the pinot noirs of Oregon as to Burgundy.

“The style of the 45th parallel is complexity and elegance,” he said. “There are more intelligent wines on the 45th parallel. It’s wine more for the brain than the palate.”

The question now is how long can the 45th parallel remain the wine line? Climate change triggered by global warming is threatening to transform the world’s wine landscape on a massive scale. Many researchers think cooler areas will heat up and warmer areas will turn hot and dry. Gregory Jones, a climate geographer at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Ore., noted in his 2007 report, “Climate Change and the Global Wine Industry,” that the wine industry will have to adapt to changing styles, new varieties, scarcer water supplies and more.

In Barbaresco, Italy, Gaia Gaja is certainly aware of global warming at the world-famous Gaja Family Wine Estates. The winery’s vice president, she notes that the weather is growing hotter and drier in the Piedmont region. Just as her father, Angelo, tested different clones of the nebbiolo grape in the 1970s to find the best plants for the wetter, cool climate conditions of that time (nebbiolo comes from the Italian word for “fog”), so must the winery now look for “new clones that are better than what’s out there,” she said.

Nature will solve crisis

“In 20 years, I’m sure nature will give us a clone that will survive in a drier climate,” Gaja said.

Others aren’t so sure of the impact or the need to act.