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What happened to wine in the Little Ice Age?

What happened to wine in the Little Ice Age?

Hint: It Has Something to Do with Witches


Climate change is real, and it’s caused by humans. That said, we should look to the past to get a better idea of how changes in temperature have shaped modern wine production.

A Short History Lesson

The 17th century was a period of global crisis. Poor harvests, especially in Northern Europe, led to food shortages, higher taxes, and social unrest. Church officials resulted to scapegoating, and were quick blame witches, Jews, and dancing. Modern historians now know that this timespan coincided with a period of global cooling known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ (at its peak, lasting from the 16th-18th centuries).


The death of winemaking across northern Europe

As for wine production during this time, there weren’t ‘bad years’, but instead ‘bad centuries’. Vineyards had thrived well north of the 50th parallel right through the 1500s. In England, we know of nearly 150 vineyards at the time of Henry VIII’s ascension in 1509. The same goes for northern Germany, and the neighboring Benelux region. Though, by 1700, winemaking in northern Europe was largely a thing of the past.


Present-day climate change

Climate change has come full circle as wine production returns to northern Europe. Take, for example, the warmer summers in southern England, or the fact that average temperatures in Limburg (northeast Belgium, southeast Netherlands) have risen to levels equal to that of Burgundy in the 1970s.


Last, Some Science

So, by 1700, the practice of winemaking across northern Europe was nearly wiped out by changes in climate. But what was the exact cause of the Little Ice Age? While it’s still a matter of debate (theories range from increased volcanic activity, a drop in solar radiation, and a decrease in population), we do know that global temperatures dropped by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on average. We also have detailed crop records from this time, which indicate shortened growing seasons and widespread elimination of certain productions.


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