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New world wines: now from the north

Is global warming to thank for the rise of wines from England, Belgium and Sweden?

GENOELSELDEREN, Belgium — The terrace of the elegant 18th-century chateau offers views over the formal French garden and fields filled with neat rows of vines. 

This idyllic scene could be reminiscent of Bordeaux or the Cotes du Rhone … were it not for all the snow. 

Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen is the biggest and best-known vineyard in Belgium. It is one of a growing number of wineries taking root in parts of northern Europe once considered too chilly to produce drinkable wine. 

“We can compare this region with the Champagne region or Burgundy, or the Chablis,” said Belgian winemaker Joyce Kekko-van Rennes. “If you are in period of warming, we are in a fantastic place for winemaking.” 

The extent to which global warming has encouraged the expansion of winemaking in northern lands better known for their beer is up for debate. 

There is no doubt, however, that it was perfectly possible to toast the arrival of 2010 with some very drinkable English bubbly, Dutch riesling or even Swedish chardonnay. 

“In less than a generation, English wine has gone from being a joke to a serious investment prospect,” wrote The Financial Times’ wine critic Janice Robinson. 

A 2006 report by a group of U.S. scientists found that average growing season temperatures in 27 of the world's top wine regions rose by 1.3 percent in second half of the 20th century, with warming well over 2 percent in parts of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the U.S. west Coast.

In most cases the warming has had a positive impact on wine quality, the study concludes, but it warned that accelerated temperature changes over the next 50 years could wipe out production in parts of Spain, Italy or Australia while boosting grape growing further north.

“It is getting hotter around the Mediterranean, and that’s not good for wine production,” said Ingrid Dahlberg, owner of the Wannborga vineyard on Sweden’s Oland Island, who is working with experts from Spain to develop production from her 5,000 vines.