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Increasing temperatures bad for wine

April 30, 2013  By David Manly

Apr. 30, 2013 – The potential global effects of climate change in the next 40 years could alter countless aspects of our lives, but none more so than our ability to grow and produce food. These rapid variations could be trouble for growers of a sensitive agricultural commodity – the grape – and by extension, wine production.

Lee Hannah, of the Betty and Gordon Moore Center at Conservation International in Arlington, Virginia, has been looking into the effects of climate change on such fragile ecosystems.

“Wine grape growing is really sensitive to climate change, and vineyards seek out ideal microclimates and soils,” he says. “So when climate begins to change, that has a big impact on where wine grapes are grown.”

As climate change begins to affect the Earth more and more, current regions where wine is grown will be struggling, and wine will therefore have to be grown in more moderate and previously uncultivated land, adds Hannah. Or, different species of grapes may quickly become more prevalent if they are more resistant to the hot and desiccant conditions.

According to the study, Hannah and his fellow researchers say that by the year 2050, suitable wine producing regions will decrease anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent. However, the market forces and supply and demand will ultimately determine how much this decline will have on wine production.

“If demand is relatively unchanged, there may be shifts in production from existing areas to new areas, and from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere,” says Hannah. “But if demand increases sharply, for instance if the middle class in China becomes a major consumer of European-style wines, then all bets are off. In that setting, even areas with marginal conditions for growing wine grapes may find that wine production is profitable.”

To sustain the needed levels of production to meet the possible increase in demand, vineyards might expand into newly suitable areas with high biodiversity or adopt novel farming practices that would further stress limited water resources. While irrigation or cooling grapes on the vine practices could allow the grapes to thrive, it also would cause increased complications for native fish and other wildlife by reducing flows in streams and rivers.

In order to prevent such potentially damaging scenarios, actions would have to be taken against climate change, says Hannah. The wine industry could also work with conservation groups to minimize the impact on wildlife and water in areas of vineyard expansion as much as possible. For example, some vineyards in the Cape wine region of South Africa participate in the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative from the World Wildlife Fund. More information on their sustainability practices can be found here.

Additionally, Hannah says that the next step in his research is to tackle other crops that could potentially be affected by climate change, such as coffee a cocoa. But the best way to make sure that wine remains available is to be a savvy consumer.

“Just enjoy your wine, but ask your retailer for wildlife-friendly wine! If they don’t know what that is, you’re asking just helped create market pressure for eco-friendly wine.”

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