Images Courtesy of Kate Dingwall
Priorat, the wine-growing region in Catalonia, Spain, is already a place of extremes. Vineyards are steep and craggy and climb high into the mountains, often reaching gradients of 50%. So when Miguel Torres Maczassek, the head of Familia Torres, started buying almost inhospitable land at the very top of Priorat—the highest slate-soil vineyard in the region—makers in the region thought he was crazy. No one in Priorat plants about 1,800 feet. Grapes won’t ripen that high. He was purchasing plots 2,400 feet into the sky.
Harvesting grapes at Familia Torres’ El Tossals vineyard is more like a hillside scramble than a vineyard walk. Even getting to the vineyard calls for a 15-minute drive up switch-back dirt roads, if you can call them roads at all.
So why is the winery looking at these isolated plots? “In Spain, we have to work fast and work smart to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Maczassek. With shifting climates, lower-elevation vineyards are budding sooner. He hopes that as temperatures continue to rise, these high-reaching vineyards will warm to their potential.
Finding Higher Ground
Across the world, winemakers are starting to feel the burn as average land temperatures rise and hot extremes become glaring and more regular. Producers in Piedmont, the Dolomites, Argentina and California are chasing cool temperatures higher into the hills.
“In the last few years, climate change has led to an anticipation of the phenological phases—the ripening time between veraison and harvest has shortened,” says Andrea Buccella, the production manager of Cesarini Sforza in Trento. “It’s impacting our harvest timing.”