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.

Climate change impacts Italian wine production in 2019

A report from Istat, the Italian statistics bureau, shows that Italian wine production fell by 12% in 2019. Wine producers say it’s down to the ongoing effects of extended extreme weather throughout the region, something that is becoming more commonplace across the world.

 

This decrease in wine production is part of a wider issue facing Italian agriculture. The sector as a while fell by 1.3% in 2019, compared with production levels recorded in 2018.

Italian wine production impacted by climate change
With Italian wine production being affected particularly badly, the 12% dip reverses most of the increase (14.3%) that was recorded in 2018. The authors of the Istat report say that the sharp decrease in wine production is “mainly caused by unfavourable weather.”

Most of Europe suffered from heatwaves throughout the summer in 2019, with low rainfall also causing problems. In some regions, too much rain adversely affected not only agriculture, but people’s daily lives.

In July 2019, for example, a freak storm and flash flooding caused a mini tornado near Fiumicino airport. Around the same time, Coldiretti, the country’s major agricultural organisation reported hailstorms that had cost millions of euros worth of damage across Italy. Among the worst hit was Arezzo, where orchards, sunflowers, fields of tobacco and corn were completely destroyed.

High cost of adverse weather conditions in 2019
These events in mid-summer were far from isolated in Italy, which is one of the biggest exporters of wine in the world. The sector suffered through floods, heatwaves and vicious storms throughout 2019. Coldiretti says that the total cost of the adverse weather in Italy is around “14 billion euros.”

The only crop in Italy that picked up in 2019 is olive oil, which increased production by almost a third. This is welcome news given that it was a particularly bad year in 2018. However, turning back to wine, there are fears that jobs will be lost if the downturn continues in 2020.

Of course, the Italian wine industry is also waiting for any fallout from Brexit. The most likely affect of this is that Prosecco could become more expensive for customers in the UK, leading to a downturn in sales. This is a big deal given that the UK is the biggest market for Italian Prosecco, and drinks 35% of all exports each year. Prosecco is made in the north-eastern region of Veneto, and a number of producers in Italy are bracing for the impact Brexit will undoubtedly bring.

With the UK scheduled to leave the EU on 31 January 2020, there will effectively be no trade deals officially in place after that date. It remains to be seen how the Government will negotiate a deal with any other country, including Italy. The date for trade deal completion is scheduled to be 31 December 2020.

Other challenges facing Italian wine producers in 2020 include the chance of 100% tariffs on EU wine threatened by the US Government.

The counterfeit wine trade costs billions every year – new technology launches to combat it

Most wine drinkers are only vaguely aware of the problem of counterfeit wine. It doesn’t tend to impinge on the average drinker. But fake wine is a serious, global problem, and costs the industry billions every year.

According to Maureen Downey, one of the world’s leading experts in counterfeit wine, the fake wine industry costs around $3 billion a year. For example, a wine fraudster called Rudy Kurniawan managed to cost the industry $550 million all by himself. He’s currently serving time in jail, but the fraud continues.

How do you spot counterfeit wine?

Spotting a counterfeit wine is sometimes easy. There may be obvious misspellings on the label, for example. Or the packaging may be clearly inconsistent. Some brands may be replicated with a very slight change to the name, which may not be picked up by the unwary buyer.

Other forms of wine fraud include ‘special bottling’. This is when a real bottle is refilled with a lesser quality wine. This kind of fraud will be harder to carry out from now on, thanks to the launch of a brand-new security protocol by Downey.

She runs Chai Vault, which focuses on tracking down and authenticating suspicious wines. It has now released its latest anti-fraud tech that will help the wine industry and consumers to verify the provenance of a bottle online before they buy.

New technology proves provenance

Interested buyers simply type in the details of the bottle into the Chai Vault system, which activates the inspection protocol. This analyses 90 separate identifiers, ranging from vintage to fill level, bottle shape and the producer. The information goes into the ledger system using blockchain technology, which ensures it can’t be retrospectively altered.

Every time a bottle changes hands, the details are updated as part of the blockchain. For wines that are already on the market, TCM authenticators establish it is genuine. And when that has been confirmed, they fix a clear plastic caplet onto the bottle’s lid. This contains a combination of hologram technology, a QR code and RFID (identification chip).

Downey says that this technology is the “ultimate solution” to combating the never-ending problem of fake wine production. It allows buyers to verify the provenance of the wine they’re interested in before paying a lot of money.

She says in an interview with Wine Searcher: “Consumers need independently verified authentic bottles to have their investments protected.” She goes on to explain that this verification must then carry on into the secondary ownership transfers. For example, every time a bottle is bought and sold, it should be completely verifiable as the real thing.

Accessible and affordable tech for wine industry

The technology is not prohibitively expensive, particularly given how much money it can save buyers by proving provenance. For producers, it costs around the same as a cork. The more producers use it, however, the more the cost falls.

There are also various solutions available for the lower end of the market, away from the very valuable wines. This end of the market only needs a scannable proof of authenticity, and a certain level of tracking through the supply chain. However, there is no need to continue to monitor it into a secondary market, as these wines are bought to be consumed, rather than collected.

Whether the technology will cut the multi-billion problem of wine fraud remains to be seen.

Should you aerate or decant your wine before serving?

Many wine experts will agree that most red wines need to be aerated before they are consumed. This process exposes these wines to the air prior to drinking, usually opening their flavours and letting the wine comfortably settle into their own taste and character. Both a decanter and an aerator will help in this process, but what is the difference between the two and when should you use these techniques? Ideal Wine Company has plenty of tips to guide you through the process.

A decanter and an aerator both serve a similar purpose. They expand the surface area of wine, which allows the air to mingle with it. Whether placing the wine in a larger vessel, a decanter, or forcing air to be circulated throughout it, an aerator, the result is a wine with an expanded aromatic profile and softer tannins.  So, what’s the difference between the two?

Ideal Wine Company decanting or aerating
Should you aerate or decant your wine before serving?

Decanter – the preferred choice for many

Decanters are wide, tall, glass pitchers that are used to serve wine. They give the wine a wide surface area that is exposed to the surrounding air. As the wine mixes with the air, the process results in a reduction in tannins, chemicals which create a drying sensation in the mouth, as well as the development of the bouquet. Through doing this, it is easier to smell and identify the essence of the wine. Uncorking the bottle in advance of serving does not lead to this result, as it will not infuse enough air into the bottle. The wide surface area of the decanter is key to this process. This is the preferred method for many people, as it works slowly. This slow process allows air to mix organically with the wine and can last for hours without spoiling.

Old reds benefit from some amount of decanting. This is because some chemicals and tannins can begin to bind together and create sediment in the bottle after an amount of time in the bottle. This is generally a non-issue in wines that are younger than 10 years. However, after reaching the decade mark, sediment begins to be a concern and decanting can help separate it from the wine.

Aerator – a useful speedy tool

Although the decanter may be the preferred method for allowing wine to breathe, an aerator is still a useful tool. Much like a decanter, it serves the purpose of mingling air with wine. In this method, the wine is poured into a funnel-like device, which infuses air into the wine as it passes from the bottle to the glass. The main benefit of this method is time, as it is a much quicker process. Air is infused as it is poured, which has the benefit of highlighting the bouquet and tannins without the necessity of time.

Young reds often benefit the most from aeration, including Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon.

When should I use these methods?

Not all wines need to be infused with air to be enjoyed. As a rule, plan on decanting or aerating red wines and not white. This is because red wines have a higher tannin profile and will benefit from allowing air to infuse and mellow the tannins. However, there are exceptions. when a white wine is full bodied and dry, such as a White Bordeaux or Alsace, it should be decanted for 30 minutes before serving, being careful not to warm the wine.

Finally, there are some red wine groups that should not be aerated. This includes softer reds, such as Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and lower priced wines.

How will Brexit affect the wine business?

The fall out from Brexit continues to cast economic uncertainty over pretty much every sector in the UK. And the wine business is no different.

For anyone selling or importing wine in the UK, and for those making wine destined for the UK, the exchange rate is the biggest problem of all.

Ideal Wine Company brexit
How will Brexit impact the wine business?

The collapse of Sterling

Sine the Referendum in June 2016, the value of Sterling has nosedived. Right now, it costs 92p to buy a Euro. This is unprecedentedly low for the pound. Morgan Stanley predicts that by the end of this year the pound will be worth the same as the euro and by next year less.

Its previous record low came in December 2008 at the onset of the global financial collapse, and Brexit’s influence looks set to beat this. The pound isn’t doing much better against the US dollar. Historically, it’s the currency strength that shows the world how well a country is doing, which isn’t great news for retailers in the UK.

Europe’s economy growing

While the government carries on its mysterious negotiations for leaving the EU, it seems that Europe’s economy is doing well. With America looking uncertain due to its own political changes, the euro is set to become the world’s leading economy.

The result of all this is that wine prices will definitely rise over the months and years ahead. This comes at a time when the consumer in the UK has less to spend in general, and certainly less on luxury items.

Market niches

This is likely to lead to an increase in the British grown grapes where possible, in order to increase British made wine. However, it will also lead to retailers needing to source wine from niche areas.

 

In whichever direction the Brexit negotiations take the country, and whatever the grounds for leaving the EU eventually show themselves to be, it’s unlikely to improve prospects for anyone in the wine trade over the next 12 months at least. 

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.

Can wine improve creativity?

Wine lovers tend to cast their favourite tipple in a positive light. There have been numerous studies purportedly showing that it can improve everything from the chances of getting dementia to dealing with insomnia (in moderation of course!). A new study shows that wine can even help with creativity.

The research from Austria backs up claims by writers that there is a positive link between creativity and drinking wine.

Ideal Wine Company wine and creativity
Can wine have an impact on creativity?

Scientific proof

Researchers based at the University of Graz have discovered scientific proof that backs up the long-held theory that wine can help writer’s block. The study, by Dr Mathias Benedek, was published in Consciousness & Cognition, and looked at the effects of minimal alcohol on creative thinking.

The research reports findings from 89 people who were asked to solve creativity measuring tasks after drinking alcohol. Some of the participants were given actual alcohol, and some drank alcohol free servings. Neither group were told whether they were drinking alcohol or not.

Mild intoxication

Each person who was drinking alcohol was required to reach a level of mild intoxication. This equates to a blood alcohol level of 0.03% (out of every 100ml of blood there is a measurement of 30mg of alcohol). This is less than half the limit on drink driving in England, by way of example.

When they had reached the required limit, they were asked to carry out word association tasks. For example, they would be asked to find a link between apparently unrelated words. The study found that the participants who had been drinking alcohol could reach the answers faster.

Creative thinking tasks

Those that were drinking alcohol were also found to perform better (albeit only slightly) during tasks that measured creative thinking. For example, they were asked to come up with as many uses for a specific object as they could.

However, the study also showed that too much alcohol can limit ‘cognitive control’ and essentially loosen the focus of attention. This can then allow problems to be solved.

The report ends with a caution that the results are not a reason to drink excessively if you’re struggling to complete your novel! Dr Benedek said: “Beneficial effects are likely restricted to very modest amounts of alcohol, whereas excessive alcohol consumption typically impairs creative productivity.”

French wine harvest likely to be at historic low

Plenty has been written about the adverse weather conditions during the spring and early summer of 2017, and their likely effect on wine harvests. Officials are now in a position to estimate the damage done to French wine production.

Experts have predicted that the wine harvest from 2017 will fall to ‘historic lows’ because of the frosts during the early spring. The French wine harvest for this year is predicted to fall by 17%, down to between 37m hectolitres (the equivalent to 4.9 billion bottles) and 38.2 million hectolitres. The figures for 2016 stood at 45.5 million hectolitres.

Ideal Wine Company french harvest
French wine production has been impacted this year due to poor harvests.

Lower than average

This would make the 2017 vintage a historic low and a full 16% lower than the average over five years. It will be worse than the vintage from 1991, which was also hit hard by frosts and bad weather.

What will this mean for buying certain French wines? The poor harvest could mean that specific wines are more difficult to track down, and therefore more expensive. The poor harvest is compounded by the fact that, for some regions, it’s the second year in a row when the vineyards have been badly affected by frost and hail.

Bordeaux production cut by half

A recent report shows that the production of Bordeaux this year could be hugely impacted, with a likely 50% fall in production.

Some estates used their extensive resources to mitigate the weather with frost avoidance techniques, such as circulating the air over vineyards with helicopters. And it’s not all doom and gloom with some on the Right Bank reporting positive flowering and ripening. It’s expected also that the Champagne harvest will increase by 8% this year, and while this is positive news it’s still 9% down on the 2012-2016 average.

Frost and hailstorms

Among the worst affected by frost are the Côte de Nuits and some parts of Chablis, while hail decimated parts of Fleurie. Over in Alsace, it looks like production will fall by 30% when compared to 2016, with the Gewurztramine variety hit hardest thanks to the fact that it buds early.

Hard frosts also damaged vineyards in both the Hérault and Aude regions, with production falling by 6%. Similarly, production has been cut by 10-40% in some parts of the Loire, but overall this region’s growers are in luck as production is set to rise by 7% over 2016, as last year suffered from frosts too.

Early summer weather was hotter than average, which has brought the growing season across the whole country ahead of the normal pace, something that could help the grapes that have survived to fully ripen.

Beer taking a backseat for millennials

Craft beers and IPAs have had a resurgence over the last few years, thanks at least in part to the taste of the millennial generation. This group of consumers is frequently used as ‘tastemakers’ in many industries and nowhere more so than with the drinks industry.

However, in 2017 it seems their tastes in alcohol are finally changing, moving away from beer towards wine and spirits. According to a recent report from Goldman Sachs, the future looks brighter for whisky and wine, and less so for beer brewers.

The report focuses primarily on the American market, but its findings have certainly been taken on board across the global industry. It explicitly cites millennial tastes as the reason for the shift away from beer to wine and spirits and goes on to say that this is the major factor behind the slowdown of the beer industry.

Ideal Wine Company beer vs wine
Beer is no longer more popular than wine for millennials.

Declines expected in beer industry

Goldman Sachs has laid out that it expects volume declines across the beer industry, driven mostly by mainstream brands like Miller Lite, Coors Light and Budweiser. In particular, the report states that the recent slowdown in the beer industry will escalate over the next two years. This includes a rapid slowdown of the previously extremely popular craft beer sector.

So, the move away from beer has boosted sales of wine and spirits. The market in the US for wine is expected to expand by 1.1% to around 330 million cases sold by the end of 2017. Spirits look set to rise about 2.5% to 228 million cases sold.

The growth of wine sales is due mainly to California wines that are selling above $10, as well as the ever-expanding sparkling wine sector. This latter segment is expected to rise a whopping 8% to sell a record 22 million cases in 2017.

Market changes driven by millennials

Taking the millennial generation as those currently younger than 32, this is the consumer sector that is changing the drinks market. This generation are drinking less than previous groups did by their stage in life.

The next generation up (35 to 44-year-olds) are choosing to drink spirits and wine rather than beer. It certainly looks like this is a continuing trend both in the USA and the rest of Europe, as beer continues to take a back seat.

Global warming changing wine production in Europe

Some people may still refuse to take the threat of global warming seriously, but the signs are increasingly apparent that our climate is changing. We’re all aware that at some unspecified point in the future, rising sea levels and general temperature changes will fundamentally alter our way of life. But did you know that wine is already being affected?

Rising temperatures, uncertain winters and unexpected weather patterns are all disrupting the production of wine across the Mediterranean. Ultimately, it’s threatening the amount of wine that’s being made, and therefore exported.

Ideal Wine Company global warming
Global Warming is being said to change wine production within Europe

Productivity loss

A recent report backs this up, showing data that points to increased temperatures in the Mediterranean. These higher temperatures are resulting in productivity losses in the wine industry. The report uses Cyprus as an example.

While manual agricultural grape picking is generally done in temperatures of up to 36C on the Greek island, researchers found that even higher temperatures in the summer has directly led to losses in results.

This is down to the elevated stress levels affecting the workers due to the heat. The need for an increased amount of breaks due to the extreme temperatures also led to a 15 per cent decrease in the actual work time being completed by workers.

Vineyards destroyed across Europe

Along with rising summer temperatures, random hail storms and late frosts have decimated crops in Spain and France. It’s likely that this year’s output will be significantly lower from these areas, due to the destruction of budding wine crops.

The soil’s balance is key to the taste of the wine, as vines are very sensitive to changes in the weather and the environment surrounding them. So, even vines that have escaped the late wintery conditions of Q2 2017 could still be adversely affected when it comes to the taste of the wine they make.

Positive news in England

While the Med might be struggling, global warming seems to be helping out in unexpected ways for UK vineyard owners. Crops are flourishing and the market is rocketing, with an ever-increasing number of vineyards opening in the south of England.

Sales of sparkling wine from England have risen fast, due to the fact that the country has experienced eight of the hottest years on record since 2002. These temperature increases mean that the South East of England is almost the same as Champagne when it comes to heat levels.

Who knows, in a few generations it may be that England is the frontrunner in wine production, leaving the Mediterranean in its wake!