Video: Wine country is warming up

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/30/2007 7:43:22 PM ET 2007-01-31T00:43:22

There are some real concerns that global warming might cool off the red-hot $15 billion-a-year California wine industry, and maybe even affect the famous wine regions of France — all within the next few decades.

In the vineyards they're only pruning now, but climate change experts like Dr. Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University say it's not too soon to wonder how many great California wine seasons might be left.

"We're looking at a 25- to 50-year horizon where I think the rate of change will become dominant enough to make some significant issues for the industry," Jones says.

Too much heat for too long upsets the delicate balance of sugar and alcohol and acids needed to produce great wine, and there's no disputing that California wine country has been getting hotter.

That's why Brad and Randy Lange now irrigate more frequently over their 7,000 acres of LangeTwins vineyards in Lodi, and why they hope the millions they've just invested to go from grape growers to winemakers won't be wasted.

"I get up in the morning and think about the weather. I go to bed at night and I think about the weather," says Brad Lange.

And about how long the warming weather will allow him to produce grapes good enough for the $12- to $15-a-bottle market they serve.

In terms of climate change, some call wine grapes the canary in the coal mine — that if the quality of the grapes dies, so could the surrounding local industry. Jones says the worst-case scenario could reduce the vast California wine country of Napa and Lodi to the valleys and cooler slivers along the coast — and that climate change is similarly threatening some of the famous wine regions of France and the rest of Europe.

"We're within a couple of degrees of having large-scale areas have to really think about shifting varieties," Jones says.

And changing farming methods, say the Lange twins, which they say their kids will do.

"They're smarter than we are," Randy Lange says. "They'll figure it out."

To keep this fifth-generation family business hot.

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