Climate change, grape cultivation, and the wine industry: the effects of the changing climate, and the opportunities that come with it.
Wine production is a multi-billion-dollar industry, projected to be worth more than 440 billion USD by 2027. Yet the growth of production will undoubtedly be affected by climate change: the wine map is changing. This means that, in just a few short years, we can expect premium-quality wines from previously uninhabitable countries, while other regions might experience a serious decline in wine production. It is, of course, an unusual side-effect of climate change.
The changes expected in the global wine map by 2050. Many areas (red) that are suitable for wine making today will be replaced by more Northern areas (blue). Only the regions in green are the ones that are wine-producing areas now and will continue to be so in 2050. Source: https://www.lifegate.com/app/uploads/wine-growing-map-e1501061593480.jpg
Climate change causes warming in some areas, cooling in others, altered precipitation distribution and an increase in heat extremes. This affects grapes and wine as well. Grapes provide food for wildlife, support biodiversity, and contribute across their ecosystems in many other ways.
In regard to climate change, one of the biggest issues facing wine grapes is their need for consistent temperatures. The grape's growth cycle begins around 10 degrees Celcius; rainfall, and the appropriate duration of drier times, is also very important. These play a huge part in budburst, flowering, and ripening. The flavour of the wine is also altered by climate change – grapes that are experiencing a cooler climate produce wines with a higher level of acidity, and are thus low in sugar, while warmer temperatures cause lower acidity and higher levels of sugar, contributing to a higher level of alcohol content.
Le Tour de Vin
In recent years, the world’s biggest wine-producing countries are facing a big problem: global warming is causing a shift in temperatures that is already starting to alter the wine map. It is also important to note that premium wine grapes need very specific conditions in order to produce the quality of wine that is expected from them. As of today, the top wine–making countries are led by Italy, France, and Spain.
Top 10 wine producing countries in the world. Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/240638/wine-production-in-selected-countries-and-regions/
To see just how premium wine regions are affected by the changing climate, let’s take a look at a few of the most well-known wine–producing areas. In Europe, places such as Bordeaux or Spain may become unable to support current grape species as the region warms – forcing winemakers need to plant grapes that can tolerate this temperature change. Other researchers argue that the loss of the Gulf Stream could contribute to the cooling of these regions over time, to the exact opposite effect. Even amidst climate change, its impacts are unclear.
The trends in Bordeaux show that winemakers are trying to adapt to the changes by diversifying grape production and introducing new types of grapes. By 2100, the United States could lose more that 80% of its vineyards. Some areas, like California, are threatened by floods, while Oregon and others face earthquakes. Australia may be completely unsuitable for wine production as soon as 2060, while simultaneously being vulnerable to floods and earthquakes.
Countries of the Global South are also in great danger of drying up, flooding, and being overrun by insect and disease. Farmers in Chile and Argentina are being forced to move their entire vineyards to higher altitudes to ensure a more balanced ripening of wine grapes. In the meantime, vineyards facing South or South-East are now being replanted on North-facing hillsides due to the higher temperatures — grapes have slowly been getting so much sunlight that overripening has become a serious issue.
As I proposed in the first blog of this series, climate change also poses some hidden opportunities to those countries and grape varieties that have been neglected before. In more Northern areas, such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, or Norway — where it was previously unthinkable to grow grapes — hybrid grapes are being grown that can adapt to the cooler climate. Previously, when someone mentioned a Polish chardonnay or an English sparkling wine, the usual reaction was a smirk and maybe some raised eyebrows. Now that the wine map is expanding, these wines have almost become delicacies.
As for the ‘original’ wine producing countries, some experts recommend adaptation measures, such as planting misters that could cool grape vines, installing irrigation to conserve water, or adding additional shade.
Still, do not fear losing your favourite French, Italian, Spanish, or South American wine. At least not yet… Winemakers in these areas are quickly adapting to the rapidly changing circumstances. The intersection of climate change and viticulture is a perfect demonstration of some serious effects of climate change at an individual and industrial level. By emphasising the importance of combating climate change and adapting to the factors that have already changed, we can see a somewhat more promising road ahead of us. But this road is very long and, of course, we must not forget the severity of the subject. We must take action locally and globally to tackle climate change as a whole, and reach our common goal of a better and more sustainable future.
Finally, as a Hungarian myself, I cannot leave my country and its historic relation to wine out of the palate. Thus, accompany me in revising how Hungary’s wine regions — and specifically the most famous one, Tokaj — will be affected by climate change, in the third and final post of this blog series.
"Animals eating wine grapes: Five most wanted - Decanter." https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/animals-eating-wine-grapes-five-most-wanted-279255/.
Mozell, Michelle Renée, and Liz Thach. ‘The Impact of Climate Change on the Global Wine Industry: Challenges & Solutions’. Wine Economics and Policy 3, no. 2 (1 0 2014): 81–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wep.2014.08.001.
"How Climate Change Impacts Wine - The New York Times." https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/14/dining/drinks/climate-change-wine.html.
Global change in areas suitable for wine grapes (through 2050)
Holdren, John P. ’Global Climate Change and the Wine Industry: Challenges & Options’. Vinexpo 2019. https://vinedc-static.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2019/03/Holdren-at-Vinexpo-NY_16x9_03-04-19_rev1.pdf