Your wine and climate change

Just when you thought climate change couldn’t get any worse. Ocean acidification, sea-level rise, hurricanes, we know what we’re in for, correct? Well, if you are – like me – a wine enthusiast, you’re in for yet another dissapointment. A word of advice: start stocking up now.

Until recently, the wine industry had greatly benefited from the rising trend in global temperatures: a warmer climate and the delay of the onset of rain accelerates grape maturation, leading to earlier harvests – which are now on average two weeks earlier than 100 years ago! [1] This has not only boosted wine production worldwide, but also increased vintage quality. So, what is all the fuss about?

Well, it now looks like the prosperous wine industry is hitting a record low: according to a report by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), the 2016 (hottest year since records began) global wine production output was only 26 billion litres. This is the lowest production rate on record for the last two decades, and marks a global drop of 5% compared to 2015 [1]. This might not seem significant – indeed, some regions of the globe are not as adversely affected by climate change – however, globally, and over a single year, this is an enormous loss, unprecedented in the wine industry. Current climate projections, suggest that in future, harvest date could come even earlier during the season, further decreasing the harvest size and quality [1]. The situation is, in fact, so drastic that declining wine production was discussed in the COP21 negociations in Paris last year.

Europe change in areas suitable for growing wine grapes through 2050

South Africa change in areas suitable for growing wine grapes through 2050Australia New Zealand areas suitable for growing wine grapes through 2050

Key - change in areas suitable for growing wine grapes through 2050

               

Expected change in areas suitable for growing wine grapes through 2050. Photograph: Conservation International

 

How does climate change alter growing conditions?

The relationship between grape and the local climate influencing its growth is called terroir.  Grapes must be harvested when they are perfectly ripe – with just the right balance of acid, tannins and sugar. The concentration of these components in the grape depends on several environmental conditions, such as humidity, exposure to sunshine, precipitation, etc. As such the quality of the grape – and wine – will be directly affected by any changing long-term weather patterns [2].

Past warming trends have been shown to cause harvest dates to come earlier in the year, but instead of being followed by short periods of drought conditions – which was what traditionally happened – it now coincides with a more rainy period. This would decrease the quality of the grape at harvest, and thus of the wine. With the continual rise in global temperature, harvest dates will come even earlier in the year. This trend is particularly evident in the Northern Hemisphere: harvest dates in France since the 1980’s come earlier and earlier each year. If the temperatures continue to rise, it is likely that the consequences may be tragic for wine growers [3].

 

climate2

How some of your favourite wines could be affected in the future, according to recent climate projections for 2025.

Source: Wine Myths and realities (pg 79)

 

Scientists have recently taken a keen interest in this: as wine reflects changes in climate, it makes for an ideal proxy to study changing climatic conditions in recent millenia. Winemakers keep a thorough record of harvest dates, precipitation, temperature and soil moisture, and other climatic variables for centuries. This is particularly useful to model past climatic trends and has been used in recent literature to further the understanding of climatic stochasticity and its implications for agriculture in general [5]

Are there any solutions to prevent the further collapse of viticulture – save your wine?

Well, bioengineers and viticulturists are focusing their efforts on developing more heat-resistant grape varieties, or more weather tolerant crops to adapt to the changing climate. However, it might take decades before those strains become commercially available, and even then, there is no guarantee that grape production and quality will not be affected.

 

 

References:

[1] Fraga, H. et al., (2016) Modelling climate change impacts on viticultural yield, phenology and stress conditions in Europe. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.13382.

[2] Laget, F. et al., (2008) Climate trends in a specific Mediterranean viticultural area between 1950 and 2006. Journal International des Sciences de la Vigne et du Vin 42(3): 113-123

[3] Fraga, H. et al., (2013) Future scenarios for viticultural zoning in Europe: ensemble projections and uncertainties. International Journal of Biometeorology 57(6): 909 – 925.

[4] Schultz, H. R. (2000). Climate change and viticulture: a European perspective on climatology, carbon dioxide and UV-B effects. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research 6(1): 2-12

Comments
4 Responses to “Your wine and climate change”
  1. Wine note says:

    Thank you for this article !

  2. wineitem says:

    Shocking to know that the climate has a big impact on wines.

    • People often don’t realise how much their everyday life will be affected by climate change, yes, if you think about it, it seems obvious, but with all the climate change scepticism going on nowadays, it is evidence like this that might convince them something is actually going on. Even people who do believe in climate change understand very little about the large-scale of impacts it may have on every part of the society. I have personally talked with some relatively well-educated people who only think climate change will affect the frequency of natural disasters and rainfall in the tropics, and that somehow because they live in a first world country they will be sheltered from the worst of climate change.
      Few people actually realise it will affect nearly everything and every part of our society. This is why information like this is important, additionally, few people understand how the climate influences grape growth and wine production.

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