As time marches on, we are becoming more keenly aware of the effects of climate change. Agriculture in especially, is susceptible to the effects of a warming planet. Because of their ultra-sensitivity to weather conditions, wine grapes may be harbingers for the rest of our planet’s crops. These cherished orbs of sweetness, rendering us complex flavors of fanciful imbibe, are being affected by temperature change much more than other harvests. These crops, as we are learning, are quite dramatically affected by their environment and weather.
According to a recent study, by the year 2100, the regions of the earth that are responsible for current wine grape production could be reduced by as much as 56%. That leaves only 44% of earth’s farmlands able to sustain quality wine grapes. This figure is considered true if global temperatures increase by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by that time. If temperatures rise by as much as 7.2 degrees, then we will only be left with 15% of our precious earth that can grow acceptable wine grapes.
Today, grape yields can vary as much as 32% or even more from season to season. In addition to yield, the quality of the grape can also be changed. There is a certain interaction and symmetry between climate and soil that contributes to the quality of grapes. Varietals that have been stable and reliable for decades or even centuries are becoming more difficult in maintaining their consistency in regards to their specific character throughout many wine growing regions of the world.
Wine grape growers are attempting to adapt to the changes brought about by longer and hotter summers, regular droughts and shorter winters. Sudden, heavy and unexpected rainfalls, long and destructive brush and forest fire seasons, damaging hailstorms, and extended frosts that stretch into mid and late spring are some of the effects of climate change. Where the typical year to year moderate climate variations of the past presented a challenge to this sensitive crop, It is becoming increasingly daunting to grow that perfect grape varietal in a much more harsh world.
Ironically, some farmers can benefit from the weather changes by keeping one step ahead of anticipated climate changes. This is a somewhat positive side to this otherwise concerning phenomena of climate change. Since the 1990s we have seen regions where superior vintages that were previously difficult for growers, are now offering opportunities, in some cases, to produce consistently exceptional wines due to warmer and longer grape growing seasons. Such areas include Germany’s Rhine and Mosel Valleys, the French region of Burgundy and the Italian Barolo district. Some previously unsuitably cooler growing regions in the north or with heavy fog and cloud cover are now discovering a pioneering opportunity to join the wine growing regions of the world. England, previously entirely unknown for its wines due to cloudy, foggy and cool weather conditions, is beginning to enter and wine sector.
As the weather changes and the opportunity for grape growing expands to previously unfamiliar territory, this could somewhat offset the negative aspects of climate change on the established and famous grape regions of the world. Yet the significant changes in these established growing territories will increasingly stress the time-honored veterans of the industry.