Varieties that thrived in warmer centuries might be the key to heartier harvests.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated May 14, 2019
Credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images

One of the common arguments you hear thrown around in the debate on climate change is that the Earth’s climate runs in cycles. This is, to a point, is true: The climate has gotten warmer and cooler over time (though importantly, this doesn’t preclude humans from being able to alter those cycles). Regardless, the fact that these cycles exist could prove beneficial to wine drinkers as scientists work to revive ancient wine grape varieties that might be better suited to flourish in warmer temperatures.

For decades now, the Spanish winery Bodegas Torres has been working on an ancestral wine project. According to The Atlantic, it began in the ‘80s when winemaker Miguel A. Torres put out a call to local farmers to keep an eye out for any unidentified or unusual vines. At the time, the hope was simply to rediscover and preserve any varieties that may have gotten forgotten over the centuries, but 30 years and 46 grape varieties later, the project—which is now conducted in collaboration with France’s National Agricultural Research Institute—may have a more pressing purpose: Some of these varieties have proven to be more resilient in dry environments, the kind of conditions scientists predict may hit some of Spain’s wine regions in the coming decades thanks to rising average temperatures.

“We had this Climatic Optimum during the Middle Ages, and temperatures were pretty similar to now. Then it cooled down, and now it’s heating up again,” Markus Rienth, a professor of viticulture at Changins, explained to The Atlantic. “That could be a reason those varieties perform better now.” The possibilities also go beyond simply reviving ancient varieties. These resilient lost grapes could also be crossbred with current varieties to potentially create offspring that offer the best of both worlds: beloved taste that can withstand harsher climates

It’s a bit paradoxical to think that a project originally intended to preserve grapes’ past could actually save their future. But then again, climate isn’t the only thing that works in cycles. And thankfully, in the wine world, humans are willing to intervene when called upon.