Spanish Winemakers Go Cooler to Stay in the Game As the temperature – and the wine-producing competition – heats up, Spanish winemakers, Torres wine, have headed for the cooler fields of the Pyrenees Mountains to grow grapes that can withstand changes in climate and the wine industry.
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Spanish Winemakers Go Cooler to Stay in the Game

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Spanish Winemakers Go Cooler to Stay in the Game

Spanish Winemakers Go Cooler to Stay in the Game

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Most of the time when we talk about global warming, we talk about the dire consequences. But higher temperatures will have many effects, not all of them will be catastrophic. This month, we turn to Europe for our series Climate Connections. It's a joint effort with National Geographic.

And today's NPR's Joe Palca travels to Spain - must be nice - where winemakers are heading for the hills.

JOE PALCA: For a while, Pancho Campo of the Spanish Wine Academy had a message no one wanted to hear. He had conducted a climate study of a major wine-growing region called the Penedes, near Barcelona close to the Mediterranean coast.

PANCHO CAMPO: The first thing that we observed is that temperatures have increased an average of 1.5 to 2 degrees.

PALCA: Degrees Celsius, that translates to 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

CAMPO: And that is a lot. Also, we have observed that rainfall patterns have changed. It rains more when it should be dry, and the way it rains is very aggressive.

PALCA: At first, Spanish winemakers ignored his results. The weather's always changing, they said. But in the last year or two, Campo says more have started to listen, and they've realized they are going to have to adapt.

They are thinking about changing the grape varieties that can tolerate more heat. They're altering their watering schedules. And, says Pancho Campo, some are even moving from the traditional wine-growing areas near sea level.

CAMPO: They're going to higher altitudes - a place called Tremp. Higher altitudes, lower temperatures and that's going to be another option.

ALBERT PUCH: When we came here, we do not think about that.

PALCA: Albert Puch works for Torres Wine. Torres is a big player in the industry. We're walking past a long row of pinot noir grapes, about five miles and several hundred feet about the town of Tremp. This is the foothills of the Pyrenees, the mountains that divide Spain from France. Puch says climate change was far from their minds when they started growing pinot noir grapes up here a half a dozen years ago.

PUCH: We weren't just thinking about having that special flavors, of that finesse, that you cannot find in other - in warmer areas. But now, when the scientists they said there's the global warming coming, this state has more - probably more relevance, more importance for us.

PALCA: This is a place of stunning natural beauty. High mountains are to the north, an undulating valley falls away to the south. And it's pleasantly cool, even in the bright morning sun. The landscape is dry and brown. Anything that's green is grapevines. All the ones around here belong to Torres Wine.

The company produces 45 million bottles of wine a year, not just here in Spain at wineries around the world.

PUCH: But I see changing not only in the weather but in the market.

PALCA: Albert Puch says consumers are no longer interested in where a wine comes from, or what year it was produced, only how it tastes.

That's not the way it used to be. For example, in neighboring France, the great wines of Bordeaux are still produced according to strict rules about where the grapes come from. If the climate is bad, if it rains when it should be sunny, then the grapes will be bad and that year's Bordeaux will be indifferent. French winemakers accept the fact that some years will be better than others. Albert Puch says that attitude no longer works for many wine drinkers.

PUCH: We used to be like the French in the past. But it came the new world. It came Chile and Argentina and California and Australia and New Zealand. And they said I want to make just a good wine, with a funny name, and that's it, and a good price. And they ruled the market. If it's a global warming, it's a global market, too.

PALCA: And so Puch and Torres Wine will do what it takes to make a popular wine. If that means moving to cooler vineyards higher up in the mountains, then that's where they'll go. And because it's a global market, you get the feeling that Albert Puch would move to Antarctica or Greenland to make his wines if that's where the climate forces him to.

Joe Palca, NPR News.

SEABROOK: Of course Spain isn't the only place where winemakers are adapting to new conditions. Check out for how the French and other vineyards around the world are adjusting.

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