From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 19, 2011 09:42 AM

Challenges to Wine-making in a Warming World

Perhaps the largest impact of global climate change will be on agriculture, and there is no crop more sensitive to changes in climate than wine grapes. As temperatures rise and average precipitation levels change, the signature wine-making regions such as those in France and California will be forced to adapt. There have been studies conducted analyzing the influence of weather and climate on wine since long before climate change made the headlines. Recently, studies have modeled climate change's effects up to 100 years into the future. The expected impacts are not bad at first, but in the end, they are not good.


In 2005, Gregory Jones, climatologist from the University of Southern Oregon, led a study which found that higher temperatures are good for wine. He examined 27 wine-making regions including France, Spain, Portugal, and parts of California and Washington state. The average growing-season temperature for the past 50 years has gone up 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and even up 4.5 degrees in some areas. In general, the quality of wine rose with the average temperature.

This is because higher temps produce a better quality harvest and faster ripening. It also produces grapes which contain more sugars which translate into more alcohol.

The downside is that regions that were already much warmer than others are already reaching the threshold where higher temperatures do not help. In fact, higher temperatures can cause a reduction in grape quality.

Spain in particular is worried how this will affect its wine industry. The largest winemaker, Bodegas Torres headquartered in Catalonia, is preparing to move its vineyards to keep up. "In the last four years, temperatures have increased 1 degree [Celsius] in the vineyards," says president of the company, Miguel Torres. "The quality has not changed so far. Our concern is for the future. They say the temperature could go up 2 degrees — or 5 degrees. So we are moving vineyards from sea level to central valley, and from central valley to mountain areas."

Different regions will be forced to cope in different ways. Europe has a thousand year tradition of growing wines. Each variety has been perfectly matched to a particular geography, soil, landscape, etc. The wine making culture is so deeply ingrained, that a certain type of wine is expected to come from a specific area. For example, a genuine French Sauvignon Blanc must come from Bordeaux. A genuine Pinot Noir must come from Burgundy.

Newer wine making regions will have an easier time coping because the traditions are not nearly as codified. Plus, unlike Europe which is almost fully developed, there is still room to expand in California, Oregon, Chile, Argentina, and Australia.  Vineyards can move to higher latitudes or up elevation.

Regions in Europe take great pride in the quality of their wine. It is perhaps the challenge to traditional wine culture which may be the most difficult to overcome.

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