It is no surprise that the world is facing many negative consequences of climate change. The damaging effects will impact all of our daily lives, from severe rising ocean levels to habitat loss, all of which can and will lead to irreversible changes globally. One threat, however, which may have escaped much attention is that global warming threatens to cause a wine shortage.
Not the Wine!
Researchers have looked at the regions that are suitable for growing 11 varieties of grapes and it is evident that global warming seems to be affecting not only the soil they grow on but also how these particular grapevines grow and mature.
Morales- Castilla, lead author of the study published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ highlights how the wine shortage, if it comes, will be down to factors such as changes in rainfall as global warming changes weather patterns. Castilla suggests that the rise in temperatures in wine-growing regions is likely to cause damage to these particular grape varieties. at the same time, the warmer temperatures could speed up the ripening process giving the grapes too high sugar content.
What Would Happen with a 2% Temperature Rise?
According to the report, a rise of just 2C puts the annual maximum temperature up by 2.6%. This may sound ideal for those who want that yearly summer glow, but it comes at the price of losing 56% of the land suitable for growing grapes.
The research shows that in the absence of mitigating action, a 2C rise in global temperature – which the world is on track to exceed, would lead to potentially disastrous results for wine-growing regions. Similarly, a 4C increase would wipe out a staggering 85% of vineyard land, resulting in the likely devastation of the majority of vineyards.
The wine-growing areas in some countries may be affected more than others. Countries already in the warmer regions of the world would be less able to take measures to protect themselves. For example, the report projects that the amount of suitable wine-growing land lost could hit 90% for Italy and Spain under the 4C of heating scenario.
So… Just Plant New Varieties?
This is easier said than done since replanting or regrafting vineyards is a complicated and expensive business. However, Morales Castilla acknowledges that it might not be all doom and gloom and that there might be some positive effects that may arise.
“The positive message is that we can still adapt viticulture to climate change – and diversity is a very interesting tool to do that. But the warning … is we should limit warming [as much as] possible, because the more warming we have, the fewer options for adaptation.”
Geoff Kruth, the president of GuildSomm, an international organization for sommeliers, says that there are a number of actions that wineries can take that may lessen the impacts of climate change. are understandably concerned about the uncertainties of climate change. He states that “it’s important to remember that there are dozens human decisions — rootstocks, trellising, the timing of vineyard work, etc. — that have significant impacts on how a vine reacts to a climate.”
In some areas, winemakers are already taking measures that address some of the negative impacts of climate change. Mike Heny, a Virginia based winemaker points out measures that are already being taken. “In Napa, people are removing the primary grape cluster so the secondary one is the one that gets turned into wine so you can push off ripening, which allows for lower potential alcohol and greater physiological maturity so you get greater flavours. People are leaving a bit more canopy, carrying a bigger fruit crop to delay ripening, picking earlier.”
Even in the heart of the French wine industry changes are on the horizon. Champagne is looking at England as a new growing area for sparkling wines. Bordeaux has allowed a number of new grape varieties to be planted. It was previously illegal to plant anything but the five main historic grapes. And in Italy, a new VCR program is working to breed traditional grapes like merlot with hybrids that are hardier and exhibit more resistance to the effects of heat.
However, the key question is how will consumers react to these changes. “A mutt is better than a purebred when the going gets tough,” Heny says. “But people aren’t into drinking the mutt wines as much. At the end of the day, we have to make wines that people love.”