Climate Change Shifting Wine Industry To Once Unsuitable Regions
April 9, 2013

Climate Change Shifting Wine Industry To Once Unsuitable Regions

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

If one thing is certain in today´s world, it´s that we are facing a growing threat from climate change. And in a recent Gallup Poll, it has been shown that at least 58 percent of Americans are concerned with global warming.

As the world is gripped by warming temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme storms and record droughts, as well as loss of biodiversity and food shortages, one new study could potentially add more concern to an already stressed issue.

Climate change has undoubtedly left a negative impact on agriculture and the food industry. But now the wine-making industry may soon be forever altered because of rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns in grape-growing regions around the Mediterranean.

Regions like southern France and Tuscany, Italy are becoming less suitable for producing quality crops for wine-making, according to the study, which was published in the Monday issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study found that while traditional wine-making regions will suffer from global warming, other areas will become sustainable for grape-growing vineyards, including central and eastern England. Britain´s wine industry has enjoyed a substantial growth in recent years, and growers in the south east of the nation are reporting earlier harvests due to temperature increases.

Other long-relied-upon vineyards, such as those in South Africa, Chile and Australia are also facing the threat of climate change, as well as key regions in Portugal, Spain, and even California.

According to the study, suitable grape-growing habitats may decline by 68 percent in Mediterranean Europe by 2050 and by 73 percent in Australian regions that have, in the past, enjoyed Mediterranean-style climate. While these areas will be greatly affected negatively, other regions, such as those in northern Europe and western North America will surge; and grape-growing habitats in New Zealand will more than double.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a rise in temperature of 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit per decade is projected over the next 20 years, based on greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current levels would cause even further warming, leading to many more climatic shifts during this century, according to data from the United Nations.

“Redistribution in wine production may occur within continents, moving from declining traditional wine-growing regions to areas of novel suitability,” the study authors wrote. “At higher latitudes and elevations, areas not currently suitable for viticulture are projected to become more suitable [in the coming years].”

For the study, Dr. Lee Hannah of Conservation International and colleagues used 17 climate models to estimate changes in suitability for viticulture and the impact on water use and natural habitat.

"The numbers that came back were so mind-boggling," said Hannah, who also conducted the study with the assistance of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Not only will the displacement of vineyards and wineries affect local economies, but native wildlife will also be negatively affected. Some grape growers may decide to stay put, but will likely need to resort to specialized irrigation techniques to maintain sustainable production levels. However, such measures could also place a major strain on freshwater conservation in these regions.

In the future, it is “going to become more expensive to grow wine in those regions," Hannah said, as cited by HuffPost's Rachel Tepper.

Wine is very susceptible to changes in climate and temperature, he added. Climate changes affect terroir, or the environmental conditions in which grapes are grown. In turn, these changes affect the taste of wine.

In a shocking twist, winemakers from New Jersey last year held their own against much more established wines from France during a storied tasting ceremony.

But could that be the sign of the times? Could New Jersey become the next Sonoma or Napa Valley?

Hannah and colleagues suggest that the shifting climate will undoubtedly leave some areas once suitable for wine-making ℠out in the cold,´ while other once unsuitable regions will become the new norm for viticulture. They suggest that areas near Yellowstone and the mountains of central China will become the next great grape-growing regions. While a shift to these regions could be significant for regional economies, it could also be detrimental to local wildlife. In China, areas expected to have improved terroir could place a major burden on giant panda habitats.

"Future conservation efforts for the giant panda need to incorporate consideration of viticulture as a potential land use and viticultural suitability trends in response to climate change," the study noted, adding that wildlife habitat will not be affected by just climate change itself.

"It's likely that the indirect impacts of the agriculture sector adapting to climate change as crops begin to move ... will be bigger on wildlife than the direct effects of climate change," said study coauthor Dr. Rebecca Shaw, a senior scientist at EDF. "That, particularly in places like China, is going to have implications for wildlife."

Any shift in viticulture will significantly boost the demand for wine. As it stands, global wine production dropped six percent to 265 million gallons of wine produced in 2012, the lowest production level the wine industry has seen in at least 37 years, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV).

According to Bloomberg, one wine expert, Bertrand Girard of Groupe Val d´Orbieu, had noted in October that the world would face a wine shortage equivalent to 1.3 billion bottles of wine.