Friday 24 May 2019

Climate-change boost for wine producers in beer-loving Belgium


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Julia Echikson

Etienne Rigo stands in his sun-baked vineyard in the centre of Belgium, enjoying the fruits of climate change.

Rising temperatures are boosting the wine trade in Europe's northern climes - production has quadrupled in Belgium since 2006, according to government figures.

The amount of land given over to grapes there has risen even faster. But as well as the volume, there's the taste.

"Twenty years ago we had wines that had tastes of citrus, lemon and a bit grapefruit. Today we have wines that are closer to exotic products: lychee, pineapple. This is a notable evolution," Rigo, co-owner of the Domaine de Mellemont winery, tells Reuters.

"We had much lighter wines 20 years ago. Today, we have wines that are fatter, with a longer finish and a much longer persistence."

Twelve years ago, vines covered just 72 hectares of Belgium, a country better known for its beers, data from Belgium's economy ministry show.

Last year, that area had expanded almost fivefold to cover 343 hectares - still minuscule compared to neighbouring France, but a start.

It is part of a clear pattern, according to Wim Thiery, a climate scientist at VUB university in Brussels. "We do clearly see a shift where regions in the Mediterranean which are currently suitable for viticulture will no longer be suitable in the future, or less and less suitable," he said.

"Instead, regions in northern Europe such as Belgium will become suitable in the future for vineyards and for wine growing."

There are downsides. Climate change has generally made weather more erratic which can hurt vineyards, says Thiery.

But most of the changes have been more gradual. Production has climbed, tastes have evolved and the harvests have edged earlier at Domaine de Mellemont, 40km southwest of Brussels.


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