Will climate change change wine production?


One of the best headlines ever written in the 1980s was “Kiwis Ruin the Ozone Layer”. It appeared in the Australian Sun newspaper, a Sydney-based headline, the article must be read. At that time, research had just been published that said animal methane affects the ozone layer. Therefore, Australian pop culture and logic followed that because there was a high proportion of cattle compared to the people of New Zealand, they were ruining the ozone layer. The fact that there were more cattle in Australia seemed to get around them. Now, researchers are suggesting that climate change will ruin the vineyards. We ask if we should worry?

Recent reports suggest that these significant climate changes are having an effect on the global wine industry. New figures for the English wine industry show 2016 production at just over 4M bottles, which is below average at 5M bottles. In 2017, the amount is unlikely to increase with the freezing of 2-3 weeks ago. Nonetheless, these numbers would have been astounding 20 years ago with many commentators doubting that the seasons could be hot and long enough to ripen a quantity of grapes to produce such quantities.

Researchers report that extreme weather events caused by climate change are affecting some of the most revered and traditional wine regions such as southern Italy, southern Spain and northern Argentina. At the same time, the northern wine regions, once considered untenable for growing grapes for wine production, are thriving.

A few weeks ago it was widely reported that in 100 years Scotland could produce wines from freshly picked grapes. However, for now England is expected to see significant increases in production with over a million vines in the ground in 2017, Canada, New Zealand and northern China are also gaining in viticulture. Another marginal region – Tasmania – was modeled to have the same climate as the Coonawarra further north by 2100.

A 2016 American academic report indicates that climate change is a major issue for the wine industry, with periods of maturation, water deficits, the frequency of extreme weather events all having negative effects on wine production. But part of it is academic and does not take into account changing choices in consumption style.

The harvests are undoubtedly more and more late in many traditional regions raising the sugars and the resulting alcohols. The increase in alcohol in traditional regions is perhaps not just linked to climate change, but a conscious choice by winegrowers to attract global markets. They choose to pick the grapes later, to find cultivation techniques that have encouraged sugar production, so that marginal areas (e.g. Central Otago, England, Canada, etc.) can become economically viable for the production of sugar. wine grapes. Of course, climate change is facilitating this movement, coincidentally, but it is a combination of ecological and human factors that bring together opportunities.

Some factors of climate change are dramatic, if they are localized. Between 2012 and 2016, some famous old regions of Burgundy and Piedmont (home of Barolo) experienced massive hailstorms affecting between 50 and 90% of the value of the crops. But hail is not unique to these regions, with most wine regions experiencing at least one event per year.

Then there are the bushfires, storms and floods which researchers say, combined with other natural disasters such as earthquakes, create a loss of $ 10 billion.

Of course, we should be concerned on a human level for the people whose livelihoods have been involved in wine production and who are at risk of losing it due to climate change. However, the changes are unlikely to be so rapid that they happen in a single season. In fact, one of the main issues for managers and owners is figuring out and deciding what is just an unfortunate event and what is a long term pattern that equates to climate change.

But for the production of wine per se, then if consumers continue to drink wine, then the world will continue to produce it. We might lose familiar names of regions that become unprofitable and unreasonable to grow grapes for wine production, but where there are losses, new regions will emerge. And we will continue to discover regions once famous for wine production, but which have been lost amid political and economic changes.

Should we be worried? It depends on how much we want to rely on traditional and marginal areas for wine supply. There will be evolution as climate change affects regions, but human intervention will also script new ways and ways of producing wines economically.

Alistair Morrell

News Hospitality & Catering, Wine & Beverage Editor

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