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Why Scotland can be a top wine-maker... in 80 years

An academic has claimed that climate change could result in Scotland becoming a perfect location for wine production.

We have the robust Lomond Liefraumilch '81, a cheeky little Rannoch Rioja, the Nevis Nouveau is just in and, of course, there is always the ever-popular Chateau Urquhart from the shores of Loch Ness.

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That is, just possibly, a wine list a Scottish sommelier could be rehearsing to a visitor on a tour of Highland vineyards - 80 years hence.

These are the general conclusions of research carried out by a renowned petroleum geologist who is also a most devoted student of wine-making in Britain.

Professor Richard Selley, emeritus professor of geology and a senior research fellow at Imperial College London, knows Scotland well. He spent three summers camping in the Western Isles as a young student working on his PhD thesis on Torridonian sandstone.

Now, as he approaches his retirement, he has embarked on a more convivial piece of scholarship. He has charted all the vineyards of Britain from Roman times onwards.

He said yesterday: "Vines grow on rocks of every age and every type, suggesting that geology is unimportant to viticulture. It is, however, the interplay between geology and climate that matters.

"The Romans had vineyards up as far as Lincolnshire. The temperatures were warmer than today and the Romans were producing wine on an industrial scale. Some vineyards were producing 10 to 15,000 bottles per year, probably vin de pays to keep the legionnaires going on Hadrian's war. Then everything collapsed when the Saxons came in. The Normans brought back viticulture and of course the Christians needed wine for Holy Communion. Then it collapsed again in the "Little Ice Age" of the 17th and 18th centuries when it was restricted to the south-east of England. But now it is advancing north again."

Four years ago Mr Selley published his book The Winelands of Britain: Past, Present & Prospective in which he surveyed the story of British, or rather English, wine relative to climate change. Now he is revising it.

"What I have done is to update this by taking the most recent predictions of the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change for the UK in particular, and the work done on them by the Met Office's research facility. For the south- east of England by 2080 they are talking about a four to five degrees increase in temperatures. In Scotland it is rather less but still significant.

"As the temperature warms up, you move along the spectrum of the grapes that will flourish. At present we can only use cold weather grapes. It is still too cold to use Pinot Noir or Chardonnay effectively even in the south of England. But as the climate warms up you will be able to grow them in southern England, then the north of England and ultimately in Scotland."

But when Mr Selley mapped the different grape varieties with these latest predictions, everything pointed to the south of England actually becoming too hot by 2080 for making wine.

"It will be raisins and palm wine at best down there. But you will be able to grow Riesling quite comfortably on the slopes of Snowdonia and you will be able to grow vines in Scotland as well. The likes of Loch Ness would be ideal. The slopes of the north-west shore of the loch have the same geology as the Cape Province of South Africa. You have a south-east facing slope.

"Vines like slopes because they are well drained and south-east facing ones are best because you get the maximum sunshine.

"The other plus is the loch itself because you get reflected sunlight, radiation bouncing back up to the vineyard."

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