The warming wine regions
Changes in climate are bringing earlier harvests and friendlier growing conditions for French wines. (BBC)
Napa Valley’s premium wine production could be cut in half in the next 30 years, according to a recent study by Stanford University.
The culprit is the world’s warming climate, which could render 50% of the land currently used to grow pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon grapes unsuitable. This troubling forecast is being echoed in wine regions worldwide.
As greenhouse gases turn up the heat on our planet, the world wine map is changing. High-value grapes are grown within a narrow climate window, Stanford earth scientist Noah Diffenbaugh said, making them more sensitive to temperature variations than standard crops.
In Tuscany, a Florence University study found that climate change will result in both increased temperatures and increased rain intensity, which could damage such wines as Chianti, Barolo, Brunello and Amarone. In Australia, drought attributed to climate change has already affected wine production in recent years.
There are some wine regions, however, which stand to gain from global warming. In Europe, rising temperatures will shift wine country to the north, extending its reach into Scandinavian countries, Florence agronomist Simone Orlandini told MSNBC. In England, wineries are already experiencing the benefits. Last year, even as overall wine consumption decreased in England, consumption of domestic wine went up by more than 70%, the Economist reported. (This map provides a glimpse into the future of British wine.) Changes in climate are bringing earlier harvests and friendlier growing conditions for French varietals. In the US, wine production is expected to increase in cool, coastal areas and high desert regions. In Australia, production is expected to increase in Tasmania due to its island climate, and in Chile and Argentina, production may shift to high desert regions, mountain foothills and coastal areas.
But classic regions are by no means prepared to abandon wine, their star industry. This year, Spain hosted the third annual Climate Change and Wine Conference, which featured former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as its VIP guest speaker. Industry professionals from Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, the UK, the US, South Africa, Chile and Brazil attended the conference with the goal of facing climate challenges head-on.
It’s no surprise that winemakers are taking climate threats seriously. In California, for instance, the wine industry in Napa County alone is worth $9.5 billion and employs more people than any other industry. Wine tourism makes up 80% of Napa’s tourism. So, the valley has far more to lose than just its reputation as a primer wine producer.
To combat losses, scientists advise wine producers to start adapting as soon as possible. The Stanford climate study provides recommendations for viticulture techniques that increase plants’ tolerance for severe heat.
Such recommendations may provide little solace, though, in Old World regions, like Bordeaux or Burgundy, where generations of winemakers have worked hard to perfect their world-famous varietals over the centuries. Wine lovers would do well to visit these areas before the vines begin to change. Because in a matter of decades, the world’s wine geography may look a lot different than it does today.