Wine industry must diversify according to climate change report

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that around 85% of wine regions are at risk from climate change. Its conclusion is that wine makers must diversify varieties of grapes used.

Climate change is indisputably ushering in a new age of unfavourable and difficult weather conditions for winemaking regions. And the most beloved vineyards in the world must now choose between diversifying their offerings or only being able to harvest dwindling crops. This is the message from a new report authored by the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Colombia University.

Climate change will lead to wine shortage


The report says that even if the world’s governments adhere to the Paris agreement, which limits greenhouse gas emissions to causing global warming of 2C, the impact on wine as we know it would be huge. Assuming that the Paris agreement is honoured, and the world warms by only 2C, wine growing regions could shrink by 56%.

And that’s the best-case scenario. At present, the world is not on target to comply with the Paris agreement, which was signed in 2015. In 2019, greenhouse gas emissions were 4% more than when the treaty was signed. The United Nations says that current emissions trends mean the world will endure a temperature increase of 3.4C by the end of the century.

The report says that should the globe warm by 4C, then 85% of vineyard viable land would not be able to produce quality wine. This is because wine grapes are hugely sensitive to the changes in temperature and seasonality that climate change is causing.

Unavoidable loss of viable vineyards

Whether the 2C limit is maintained, or the worst case 4C warming is hit, there will be unavoidable losses in land suitable for vineyards. The team behind the report says that this is because of the shifting temperatures which would affect the grapes during their ripening period.

However, the team also says that diversification of grape varieties should be able to reduce losses in a significant way. At a global warming level of 2C and no further attempts to change this, more than half of the current wine-growing regions in the world would no longer be suitable.

But, if wine producers change to grape varieties that can withstand more temperature changes, then just less than a quarter of viable vineyards will be lost. For example, the team suggests that in Burgundy wine growers should replace current grapes such as Pinot Noir with Grenache or Mourvedre as they can withstand higher temperatures. Similarly, in Bordeaux, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon could be replace with the heat loving Mourvedre grape.

Challenges for traditional wine growing regions

The study recognises that these kinds of changes would be difficult in regions steeped in history. It would also affect the legalities surrounding which grapes have to be used in specific regions to qualify as certain wines.

However, change is already happening in some regions. In Bordeaux, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape. Only a few others have been legal to use, including Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. However, in July 2019 this changed when Bordeaux wineries authorised four new red grapes. These were specifically endorsed to tackle rising temperatures in the region and are Arinarnoa, Castets, Touriga Nacional and Marselan.

Further discussions are ongoing throughout Europe regarding new laws to make it easier for traditional wine regions to diversify the grapes they grow. Not only will this mean an enormous culture change for regions that have been growing the same varieties for centuries, but also from consumers who must accept that their favourite wines may change.

Diversification is the way forward for winemakers

The study says that certain cooler regions in New Zealand, the US Pacific Northwest and in Germany could be mostly unscathed under the 2C warming scenario. These regions might become more suitable for varieties including Grenache and Merlot, while grapes that need cooler temperatures could move into brand new wine growing regions further north.

Regions that are currently very hot, such as in Spain, Italy and Australia will face the biggest loss of vineyard land, according to the scientist behind the report. This is because they’re already limited to planting only grapes that can grow in the hottest temperatures.

Under the 4C global warming scenario, diversification and grape swapping will be less affective. The report shows that planting only climate-specific grapes in rapidly heating areas will reduce losses by about a third (from 85% to 58%).

Ultimately, the study concludes that there is much to be done to protect the world’s wine growing regions. And how well any chosen strategy will work will depend upon the winegrowers being able to adapt locally.

How the global wine industry is adapting fast to climate change

There’s no doubt that climate change has been sharply affecting the world’s vineyards over the last decade or so. Its effects have pushed winemakers to look for new wineries and vineyards, as well as planting different varieties of grapes that can withstand higher temperatures.

From the vineyards in South Africa affected by prolonged drought to endlessly nny vineyards in California and Australia, wine growers are seeing clear effects of climate change as temperatures continue to rise year on year.

Weather patterns

Wilder swings in weather are also hugely affecting vines, prompting vineyard owners to make different decisions in terms of grape varieties and shading the grapes with an increased amount of leaf canopy.

Areas that used to be perfect for specific grapes are becoming less viable, with earlier harvests and a lesser quality of wine due to grapes ripening too quickly. In contrast, areas that used to be completely unsuitable for grapes are starting to become viable.

Regional changes

For example, Petaluma Gap in North California has recently been designated as one of the newest viticultural areas in America. This allows winemakers in the area to market the unique characteristic of their product, determined by the geography, climate and soil. Three decades ago, it would have been impossible to grow grapes there.

While vines can tolerate drought and heat relatively well, over the past four years global temperatures have measured their hottest ever. Projections show that this trend is set to continue every year. And, as even small weather changes can affect wines vintage to vintage, this has major ramifications for the industry.

An important Spanish wine producer, Familia Torres, owns wineries in Chile and California, and has also bought land 1,200m high in the Pyrenees as a decisive investment in cooler areas. The average temperatures across their vineyards have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last four decades, and harvest are now ten days earlier than they were 20 years ago.

South African drought

These changes show that climate change is a worldwide challenge for winemakers and not only does it mean viticulture practices should change, greenhouse gas emissions should also be reduced. A severe drought in the Western Cape of South Africa meant a 15% drop in the harvest in May, according to South African officials.

Officials also predict a long-term trend in higher temperatures and dryer harvests. Wanda Augustyn, from VinPro, the representatives of South Africa’s wine producers, said: “In the longer term, producers will have to look at quality, drought-resistant vines which produce more flavour, acidity and intensity, but have lower water needs.”

Moving up north

Vineyards are also concerning the market in Brittany, in the northwest corner of France. Previously this was untenable for winemakers due to too much rain, not enough sunshine and Atlantic winds. Today, vineyards are being planted as far north of Sweden.

It’s a tricky balance for wine producers now, as they need to hit a sweet spot between the changes in weather patterns to enable grapes to grow in optimum conditions. It’s likely that we will see shifts into cooler areas and changes in production techniques to support this.

How climate change could alter the taste of cava

As if there aren’t enough worries surrounding the impact of climate change on our world, it seems that it could also alter the flavour of cava.

New research published in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology shows that conditions will change the way the grapes grow.

Ideal Wine Company cava taste
How might climate change alter the taste of Cava?

Warm and dry

With less rainfall and warmer, drier conditions, the grapes that are used in making cava will become ripe faster. This will alter and impair the Spanish sparkling wine’s aroma, flavour and quality.

Cava is made in a similar way to champagne. The Catalonian sparkler is made with a blend of white grapes that are grown in north east Spain. The grapes are particularly loved for their rich and creamy flavour.

Two grapes varieties studies

The research was conduced between 1998 and 2012 and studied two main grape varieties that are used to make cava. These grapes are Macabeo and Paralleda. A formula was created that copied how the different grapes would grow under conditions altered by climate change.

Assuming that climate change causes moderate warming, then the average temperature during the season when grapes are grown could increase by 3.2 degrees C by 2020. However, if emissions aren’t controlled then the temperature increase rises significantly to 4.4 degrees C over the next three years.

Water deficits in vineyards

The hotter temperatures and dry conditions caused by global warming will likely cause a water deficit in vineyards. This means that more water will be lost through evapotranspiration and won’t nourish the crops.

This reduction in water will change the flavour of the wine. Cava will become more acidic and sugary as the grapes are exposed to higher temperatures as they ripen. It will also become more alcoholic.

Thirst for the fizz

There has been a huge increase in demand for cava and other sparkling wines in the UK recently. HMRC published figures showing an 80 per cent increase in sales of cava and prosecco over the last five years.