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
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.
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.