Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

When we talk about climate change, we often think about the big issues- sea levels rising, extreme weather, melting polar ice caps. But climate change has small, intimate consequences too. 

It turns out, our warming planet is even affecting the flavor of our wine. 

Here to tell us more are Amanda Levy and Olivia Spaulding from our Possibly Team. We are ready to quit whining about climate change and get some answers. Welcome, Amanda and Olivia! 

Amanda Levy: Hi Megan!

Olivia Spaulding: Hello!

Megan Hall: What does climate change have to do with the flavor of wine? 

Olivia Spaulding: To find out, we talked to Professor Gavin Sacks from Cornell’s Department of Food Science. He says, in general, that climate change has two big impacts on the weather. 

Gavin Sacks: One is that you've got, on the average, warmer temperatures… and the other is, you have less average, more variability, more extremes.

Amanda Levy: And those changes affect the way food grows, including the grapes for wine. 

Megan Hall: Ok, let’s start with warmer temperatures. How does that affect wine grapes and how they taste?

Olivia Spaulding: Well, when the weather gets really hot, the grapes just stop ripening.

Amanda Levy: Will Segui, the general manager of Rivers-Marie Winery in Napa Valley, California. Describes it this way: 

Will Segui: Once you get above 95 degrees, everything just goes on pause... Because it's just like I just went on vacation. I'm not doing anything today.

Megan Hall: How does this affect the flavor of the wine? 

Olivia Spaulding: Will says it makes the alcohol in the wine taste stronger than the grapes. 

Will Segui: Tastes like you... grabbed some grape juice and just poured some vodka in it.

Megan Hall: Gross! 

Amanda Levy: And that’s not all. Remember how we talked about how climate change leads to more extreme weather?

Olivia Spaulding: In California’s wine region, they’re seeing more intense winds, which contribute to forest fires. 

Amanda Levy: Gavin Sacks, the professor from Cornell’s Department of Food Science, says those fires affect wine grapes too...

Gavin Sacks: Grapes grown in the proximity of smoke can absorb smoky compounds. But later during fermentation, the yeast will release those and the resulting wine will end up smelling like an ashtray.

Olivia Spaulding: Will from the Winery in Napa Valley says it tastes that way too... 

Will Segui: Who put their cigarette butt in my bottle of wine?

Megan Hall: Yuck! So what are wineries supposed to do? 

Amanda Levy: Wineries are coping by creating more blended wines where they will mix and match grapes to adjust for damaged flavor development. 

Olivia Spaulding: You can recognize a blend by looking at the label. Instead of the name of the grape, like Merlot, it will say a region, like Napa Valley Red. 

Amanda Levy: Few of us encounter polar bears struggling with climate change, but many of us like to enjoy a glass of wine. And when we do, we now have a first-hand taste of the impact of climate change.

Megan Hall: This is helpful to realize. Thanks for looking into this Amanda and Olivia! That’s it for today. 

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Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.