How Will Climate Change Impact the Winemaking Industry?

By Ally Romero.

As a particularly sensitive agricultural product, wine is a good marker for the effects climate change will have on rural traditions that have been in place for centuries. One interesting perspective of these changes is offered in a recent New York Times article by Eric Asimov, Asimov, Eric, How Climate Change Impacts Wine, The New York Times, available at:

One undeniable change is that the wine map is growing. Winemakers are now able to grow grapes in areas that were once considered too cold for fine wine. A great example of this is in England. Thirty years ago, an English sparkling wine did not exist. Today, England is home to a warmer climate and a booming sparkling wine industry. The soil was not a constraint. In fact, the chalky-white soil found in England is almost identical to the soils of the Champagne region of France and has been present in England for centuries. Now that the climate has warmed, winemakers are able to actually take advantage of the soil, and companies like Taittinger and Vranken-Pommery Monopole have invested in English vineyards. In fact, producers are now able to plant vineyards at altitudes that were once inhospitable to growing wine grapes. At higher altitudes, heat lasts for shorter periods of time, and temperatures at night tend to be colder compared to lower altitudes. In Spain, producers are planting vineyards at altitudes of 3,000 – 4,000 feet, whereas twenty-five years ago that would have been an impossibility. 

Climate change is not all beneficial for the wine industry, though. In some regions, producers are having to rethink the type of grapes that they or their family have grown for centuries and switch to varieties that will thrive in the changing climate. This process has already begun in some areas. For example, in Bordeaux (a region known for its cabernet sauvignon) wine makers have been looking at seven additional grapes to determine if they can help mitigate the effects of climate change. They will be used in small quantities only and closely monitored to account for their effectiveness. Further, climate change has made weather more unpredictable than ever before. Even the most experienced farmers no longer know what to expect. Producers note that hail has posed threats, unprecedented rain is now occurring in the summer, while winters have been dry. Moreover, increased moisture in the summer has caused vine pests to reproduce rapidly, creating four cycles of pests a year rather than the traditional two. In California, access to water is not always guaranteed, a challenge exacerbated by more frequent droughts. This has forced growers to consider either putting their existing grapevines on drought-resistant rootstocks, or using other grapes entirely.

In a nutshell, climate change is profoundly changing the wine industry. Some climate effects are widening the market and allowing new regions to benefit from producing more and better wine. Other changes are threatening the vitality of grapes that have thrived for centuries. For winegrowers, however, there is probably one overall lesson: success in the wine industry no longer seems dependent on how experienced a farmer is or how long a family has been in the business. Instead, the ability to adapt to changing conditions may be more important than ever to surviving and succeeding in the wine industry. In the Burgundy region, for example, producers have installed a system aimed at preventing the formation of hailstones by which particles of heated silver iodide are shot in the direction of storm clouds. Some farmers are covering their vines in bird netting to protect against the changes. Others have begun to employ environmentally friendly tactics in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. California growers have started training owls and falcons to control pests, eliminating the need to use harsh pesticides. Incorporating innovative solutions like those listed above may be the key to achieving prosperity. 

Business is inherently rooted in competitiveness, so on the one hand it makes sense that in order to succeed, one needs to continuously work to modify and improve one’s product. However, on the other hand, it’s interesting to note that this need for adjustment is now embedded in climate change. While this might be a fairly new concept in the wine industry, the laws of success in business will not waiver. As time progresses, climate change will continue to impact the wine making process and serve as a differentiator between those who can adjust and succeed and those who cannot.  


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