Climate change inevitably has an impact on the world of wine. Damage caused by rising temperatures, loss of soil fertility and the disruption of ecosystems are just some of the problems facing winemakers. On World Environment Day 2021 we want to look at the changes ahead for winemaking, and how climate change will create new regions that will benefit from global warming and, conversely, how it may negatively impact regions that have historically been the best wine producers.
Displacement of Vineyards and Destruction of Ecosystems
According to the study Climate change, wine and conservation, one of the main problems – rising temperatures, will impose a systematic displacement of vineyards to more northern latitudes, which will result in a radical change of the current wine-growing areas. The world’s major wine-growing areas, such as Tuscany, Burgundy and Australia, could see their arable land reduced by up to 73% in the near future, forcing them to move their vineyards to previously uncultivated areas.
The consequence of this impact on biodiversity could lead to the destruction of native plant species and the displacement and even extinction of local animals that have always lived undisturbed in the area. The landscape could also be destroyed by the use of fences and the use of chemicals. Other areas at risk include the Rocky Mountains on the US-Canadian border and the plains of western Russia.
Northern Europe Will Benefit
The warming of historically cooler areas will encourage vine growing and winemaking in the northernmost parts of Europe, allowing agricultural activities that were previously unthinkable. Rising temperatures have already changed the world of wine by facilitating increased wine production in England, and we can see similar changes in other European countries, such as Sweden. There, the warmer seasons are already becoming increasingly longer, making it easier for winegrowers to improve the quality of their product, which is increasingly appreciated both domestically and abroad.
In the region of Malmö, one of Sweden’s largest cities, we can find vineyards that now enjoy summers a month longer than half a century ago, such as Hällåkra, where more than 20,000 vines are grown on an area of about 6 hectares of land. At these latitudes, the temperature increase has been higher than the global average, and Nordic viticulture is becoming a serious commercial alternative when until recently it was considered little more than a hobby for retirees.
The South Will Suffer in the Coming Years
According to several studies published in recent years, the competitive advantage of Spanish vineyards could be at stake in the coming years due to climate change. These changes include higher temperatures, mainly in the southern half of the peninsula, and lower rainfall, making it necessary to implement measures to adapt vineyards to withstand bioclimatic movement, increased heat waves and longer droughts (as is already happening in California).
High Temperatures: a Danger for Water Sources
And not only that. A rise in temperature of just 1.5°C could mean a disruption of current viticultural practices and a deterioration in wine quality. Rising temperatures will also pose a real threat to freshwater sources, as wine producers will be forced to cool their vines more frequently to compensate for the dehydration caused by excessive heat and low rainfall.
Excessive heat, in addition to a lack of adequate water, causes a mismatch between the ripening of the skin and the pulp, resulting in tougher grapes. In some cases, the increase in temperatures will cause grape harvests to be brought forward in order to avoid this type of problem.
Experts predict that climate change and the loss of biodiversity could bring the harvest forward by 10 days earlier than normal, which could lead to a reduction in the concentration of anthocyanins, an increase in pH and changes in the colour of the wine.
Is there a Solution?
Of course, the vineyard is just one example, but the same can be applied to other crops. Biodiversity loss is a problem that affects us all.
Such a serious and complex problem, with so many actors involved, can be difficult to solve, but collective measures can be taken to limit the damage. For example, winegrowers and environmental agencies should jointly plan any expansion of vineyards to avoid biologically rich areas. The use of other grape varieties with similar characteristics but more resistant to climate change could also be considered, and we can raise consumer awareness, encouraging them to choose wineries that produce wine in an environmentally friendly way.
Change starts with us. There is still time. It’s time to protect the environment and biodiversity.
Translated by Chelsea Cummings from Raúl Pérez’ original Spanish article: El impacto del cambio climático en el mundo del vino.