REIMS (France) • Climate change is a touchy subject in Champagne.
As France prepares to host world leaders for talks next month on how to slow global warming, producers of the country's north-eastern region's famous sparkling wine have seen only benefits from rising temperatures so far.
The 1.2 deg C rise in temperatures in the region over the past 30 years has reduced frost damage. It has also added one degree in the level of alcohol and reduced acidity, making it easier to comply with strict production rules, according to champagne makers group CIVC.
"The Champagne region and Germany are among the northerly vineyards which have managed
to develop thanks to warmer weather," said Mr Jean-Marc Touzard, coordinator of a programme on wine and climate change at French research institute Inra.
"Even if I feel very concerned by climate change, I have to say that for the moment it has had only positive effects for Champagne," said Mr Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of the group that bears his family's name.
Global warming has led to other changes. Harvesting in Champagne has been brought forward by two weeks on average over the past 30 years, sometimes taking place as early as August rather than in September or October in order to keep a lid on sugar levels that can soar in a warm summer.
Scientists say warming must be kept below 2 deg C by the end of the century to stave off floods, droughts and rising sea levels, but reductions of greenhouse gas emissions pledged by countries so far would only limit the rise to about 2.7 deg C.
CIVC director-general Vincent Perrin said producers have ways to deal with global warming, and are already preparing for higher temperatures on experimental vineyards in Chouilly near Epernay.
One solution could be enlarging space between vine rows to allow more room for roots to find water.
However, producers should beware of an increase in extreme weather like storms and dry spells, and a potential increase in disease along with higher temperatures, Mr Touzard said.
"They shouldn't rest on their laurels, (but should) stay alert and look out for new competitors," he said, citing a rise in sparkling wine makers around the world, notably Britain.