Climate Change Ripens Prospects For German Winemakers : The Salt While Spanish and Italian growers worry heat will dry out vines, in Germany, warming has made for better Rieslings. And one scientist says they couldn't be making red wine so good otherwise.
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Climate Change Ripens Prospects For German Winemakers

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Climate Change Ripens Prospects For German Winemakers

Climate Change Ripens Prospects For German Winemakers

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right, thousands of politicians and scientists are wrapping up a climate conference in Germany. Maybe on the way out, they'll stop through wine country. And if they do, they'll find new varietals made possible by climate change. Here's NPR's Daniella Cheslow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND MUSIC)

DANIELLA CHESLOW, BYLINE: The annual winemakers parade is underway in the riverside town of Bernkastel-Kues in southern Germany. And it's full of people in costumes from the Middle Ages. Here's the medieval knight with his sword. There's a woman here wearing a fox draped around her neck and drinking out of a black horn. This is a folksy throwback of a parade. But it's also evidence of a winemaking heritage that goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years celebrated in this annual festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

CHESLOW: That heritage is changing. This year was the earliest wine harvest on record. The parade route is in a village nestled between steep hillsides carpeted in vines. One of those plots belongs to your Johannes Selbach.

JOHANNES SELBACH: We've been on the receiving end of the positive effects of the global warming.

CHESLOW: He gets out of the car and walks uphill between his trellises. They're heavy with green, speckled Riesling grapes. He breaks off a cluster and takes a bite.

SELBACH: Try this here.

CHESLOW: That's gentle.

SELBACH: There's sweetness, but there's good acidity and not thick, sweet sugar. And that's why we want to go early.

CHESLOW: By go early, he means picking the grapes a month ahead of schedule. In the past, German winemakers worried their grapes wouldn't ripen enough and would make for a thin, acidic wine. Some of them added sugar to boost the alcohol content. These days, the grapes are naturally sweeter because of the heat. Americans are the biggest market for Selbach's delicate, complex rieslings. And Selbach says he worries about his grapes getting too sweet in the heat, so he's buying land in the shade or on hilltops where they'll ripen slower.

ULRICH FISCHER: (Speaking German).

CHESLOW: That's Ulrich Fischer leading a wine-tasting session. He's drinking pinot noir, a red. That was once rare in Germany.

FISCHER: More sunshine, less rain.

CHESLOW: Fischer, a scientist at the Neustadt wine campus says this year, more than a third of the country's vineyards are planted with red grapes.

FISCHER: We could not achieve a pleasurable and nice decent red wine without climate change.

CHESLOW: He's researching how growers might cope with hotter temperatures - plant higher, keep some leaves on the grapes for shade, irrigate and try other varietals.

HEIKE DARTING: I just have to work a bit here.

CHESLOW: Winemaker Heike Darting does that. She's pouring riesling along with glasses of pinot noir, Portugieser rose and sparkling blanc de noirs - all wines made from red grapes. I meet her at the world's largest wine festival, held in the German town of Bad Duerkheim. The festival takes place each year at the same time, early September. But the grapes - they have their own schedule.

DARTING: We are a little bit stressed out at the moment because our wine harvest started yesterday. Normally, I do the days; my brother does the nights here. And if there's harvest, my brother is harvesting and spending his nights in the cellar instead of being here. So I do nights and days.

CHESLOW: She's on a double shift presenting those red varietals that have become a new focus for the industry. Climate change may benefit Germany's winemakers, but they have to scramble to take advantage.

For NPR News, I'm Daniella Cheslow in Bad Duerkheim.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEIRUT SONG, "LA LLORONA")

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