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Wine production in a warming world: Winners and losers

Understanding the interplay between climate change and wine production is increasingly becoming a focal point of scientific inquiry, given the susceptibility of viticulture to climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall. 

A comprehensive review, collecting insights from over 250 studies conducted over the past two decades, has recently mapped out the shifting landscape of winegrowing regions under the influence of climate change. 

The dual nature of climate change 

This study, conducted by a multidisciplinary team of experts in climate dynamics and viticulture led by the University of Bordeaux, examines the impact of climate change on wine production by taking into account temperature variations, precipitation changes, humidity shifts, solar radiation adjustments, and CO2 concentration fluctuations.

The synthesis of this extensive literature highlights the dual nature of climate change as both a threat and an opportunity for wine production. 

Rising temperatures disrupt the balance 

Traditionally, winegrowing regions have thrived in mid-latitude areas, where conditions were neither too hot for grape ripening nor too moist for diseases. However, rising temperatures, a major characteristic of climate change, are currently disrupting this balance. 

They not only hasten vine development and grape ripening, leading to earlier harvests – about two to three weeks sooner than four decades ago – but also alter grape composition. This can result in wines with lower acidity, higher alcohol content, and modified aromatic profiles.

Major reconfiguration of viable wine production regions 

The scientists predict a major reconfiguration of viable winegrowing landscapes. “The suitability of current winegrowing areas is changing, and there will be winners and losers,” wrote the researchers.

“New winegrowing regions will appear in previously unsuitable areas, including expanding into upslope regions and natural areas, raising issues for environmental preservation.”

Regions currently celebrated for their wine production, such as parts of Spain, Italy, Greece, and southern California, might face challenges in maintaining high-quality wine production under economically sustainable conditions if global warming surpasses 2°C. This is primarily due to the anticipated increase in drought conditions and heatwaves. 

Conversely, regions located in northern France, the United States (Washington and Oregon), Canada (British Columbia), and Tasmania in Australia might see an improvement in wine production quality or even emerge as new winegrowing territories, including Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Emerging diseases and extreme weather

The study also warns of emerging diseases, pests, and the likelihood of extreme weather events becoming more common. 

“The emergence of new pests and diseases and the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall and possibly hail, also challenge wine production in some regions,” wrote the researchers. “In contrast, other areas might benefit from reduced pest and disease pressure.”

Adaptation remains possible

Despite the challenges that arise from climate change, adaptation remains possible for regions where global warming remains below 2°C. Strategies like adopting drought-resistant grape varieties, optimizing vineyard management to conserve soil moisture, and adapting vineyard designs could mitigate some impacts of climate change. 

These adaptation measures, however, are contingent upon local conditions and the economic viability of the vineyards.

Wine production in a warning world

The findings reaffirm the urgent threat climate change poses to traditional vineyards, while stressing the dangers of surpassing the  2°C threshold. Beyond this point, significant adaptations will be necessary globally to sustain wine production. 

The study serves as a call to action for the wine industry, urging a shift towards more sustainable practices and a reconsideration of viticultural strategies in light of a warming world.

Maintaining quality is a priority in wine production

“The most important aspect of wine production is the finished product. All adaptations to climate change must preserve the economic sustainability of production through maintaining adequate yields and quality that meet consumer demands,” wrote the study authors. 

“Working with the market and the consumers can be the biggest challenge, and sometimes highly effective adaptation options remain unused because of market constraints (for example new hybrid varieties and genetically modified varieties).”

“Marketing wine by the region of origin and not by the variety is a route to consumer’s acceptance of the use of less-known varieties, which might potentially be better adapted to the changing climate.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Reviews Earth & Environment.


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