Study predicts growth in UK wine production due to climate change

New research appears to reveal how climate change is likely to boost the potential for wine production in the UK – with conditions set to resemble those in famous wine-growing regions of France and Germany.

Over the past 20 years, climate change has contributed to a growth in UK vineyard acreage – with over 800 vineyards now – and award-winning wine production, as well as a shift in wine style towards sparkling wines.

This latest study, by a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the London School of Economics, Vinescapes Ltd and Weatherquest Ltd, attempted to paint a picture of the sector’s potential over the next 20 years. Drawing on the latest detailed climate projections, the group believes it has developed a cutting-edge capability to model and map the best opportunities for viticulture and winemaking in the UK.

Their conclusions, published on July 8 in the journal OENO Oneshow how the climate of more of England and Wales should become suitable for the reliable cultivation of sparkling wine varietals, and how the potential for producing high quality still wines is rapidly emerging.

UEA lead researcher Professor Steve Dorling, from the School of Environmental Science and forecasting firm Weatherquest Ltd, said: “We have seen viticulture in the UK expand by nearly by 400%, from 761 to 3,800 hectares between 2004 and 2021.

“During this period, global warming has allowed much more reliable yield and quality of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes – these grapes are blended in the production of champagne-style sparkling wine.

“Hot and dry growing seasons in the UK like 2018, with below average disease problems in the vines, led to the production of a record 15.6 million bottles and these growing conditions are already become and should become more common.”

The Climate Resilience in the UK Wine Sector (CREWS-UK) project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council under the UK Climate Resilience Programme. The researchers looked at how often growing conditions in the UK are expected to climatically resemble those seen more recently in the famous sparkling and still wine producing regions of France’s Champagne and Burgundy regions, and in Baden. in Germany.

Their findings highlight that since the 1980s there has already been warming of more than 1°C during the growing season across much of south-east and east England, a change that has been one of the main catalysts for growth and variety change in the UK. viticulture sector during this period.

The study’s lead author, Dr Alistair Nesbitt, of vineyard and vineyard consultancy Vinescapes Ltd, said: “This work is a first in the UK, a unique combination of climate change science, viticulture and wine expertise.

“We have found that significant areas in England and Wales are projected to warm by 2040 by up to an additional 1.4°C during the growing season. This expands the area of ​​suitability of Pinot Noir for the production of sparkling wine, but also new areas will open up in the range of suitability of growing season temperatures for the production of still Pinot Noir and for the cultivation of varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Sémillon and others more resistant to disease. varieties, which are hardly grown in the UK at present.

“Additionally, anyone considering investing in a vineyard in the UK can now benefit from this knowledge through advice on the best locations, both now and under future conditions of climate change.”

The team used the UK Climate Projections 2018 scenarios to assess the future suitability of grape varieties and wine styles in the UK, as well as the potential for investment in viticulture, sector adaptation and resilience on the period 2021-2040.

Regions of East Anglia, Lincolnshire, South Central England, North East Wales and coastal areas of South West England and South Wales are expected to experience the 2018 “conditions” between 2021 and 2040 in 60-75% of the years, which means that the exceptional 2018 vintage will become more common.

Meanwhile, large areas of South East and East England are expected to come into a suitable range for the production of still red Pinot Noir. While Pinot Noir for sparkling wine is already grown successfully in the UK, predicted increases in growing season temperature now indicate a new and growing opportunity for still Pinot Noir production in some areas.

Dr Nesbitt said: “We have shown that in parts of the UK the exceptional 2018 vintage will become the norm, and that the Champagne region grape growing temperatures from 1999 to 2018 are expected to occur in a expanding area of ​​England between 2021 and 2040. . In some years, a few regions of the UK may see growing season climates similar to those that have contributed to the best recent Champagne vintages, as well as increased potential for Burgundy and Baden style still red wines.

However, the researchers warn that significant challenges remain, arguing that the rapidly changing UK climate is forcing the industry to remain nimble and not ‘lock in’ to production that cannot adapt to changing conditions. growing conditions.

Professor Dorling said: “The UK wine sector is going through exciting times, but our findings have underscored the challenge of establishing wine identities and brands, particularly those closely associated with wine varieties and styles, in a climate rapidly evolving.

Additionally, UK weather can still be unpredictable, as demonstrated by the 2012 vintage when much of the UK grape production was lost due to the cool and very wet flowering period. Year-to-year climate variability will persist, including early season frost risk, although longer-term trends are good.

Sustainable investment decisions in vineyards and wineries will also require careful analysis of all risks related to the growing environment and the market.

Dr Nesbitt said: “Through our consultancy services, our teams at Vinescapes and Weatherquest enjoy supporting the sustainable growth of the UK wine sector and we are extremely grateful to WineGB, the industry body, for facilitating everything. the commitment we have had with viticulture. and wine producers throughout the CREWS-UK project.

‘Climate change projections for UK viticulture to 2040: a focus onmproving suitability for Pinot Noir’, Alistair Nesbitt et al, is published in OENO One July 8.

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