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The Effects of Climate Change on Wine

Winemaking begins with growing grapes. Like any crop, grapes need certain climatic conditions – temperature, air pressure, humidity, soil, rainfall, sunshine, etc – to grow well. As wine production is a play between the winemaker’s choices and terroir, it comes as no surprise that changing weather patterns and climate change will directly affect (and have already begun to affect) the wine industry. Here’s a few ways how:

  • Annually, global temperatures are on the rise. These warmer temperatures mean grapes ripen faster; early ripening affects the vintage’s growth, colour, aroma and sugar content
  • In particular, riper grapes mean higher sugar content, which in winemaking means higher alcohol content (something consumers may not want, or which may not suit certain varietals)
  • As a result, growers have already had to start picking earlier and earlier than they used to – this is a logistical challenge as the entire season is shortened

With temperatures on the rise, grapes ripen faster in the vineyard and thus have a higher sugar content, forcing many growers to pick early 

  • Rainfall patterns have also become unpredictble with climate change; increased rainfall causes soil erosion (particularly harmful during ripening season); conversely, dry spells/droughts during the spring budding season can be detrimental to the crop.
  • We are also seeing an increase in extreme weather events – unpredictability increases risk at every level for growers; unexpected frost for example, changes the fruit and thus the wine’s tannins, aroma and flavour profile.
  • As a result of rising temperatures, many winemakers are moving to cooler climates – this can be seen in Australia’s increasing shift towards Tasmanian vineyards; in the Northern Hemisphere, many producers are looking further north.
  • In time, this could entirely change what we have always viewed as suitable and premier wine regions. Naturally, this has an economic trickle down effect for these regions, from production to tourism; it could also benefit new regions which once couldn’t produce wine… at least for a time!
  • If picking earlier becomes unrealistic for winemakers, they will need to look towards new technology or switching to different varietals; here in Australia, we may see some hot climate revivals such as cultivars native to Spain and Italy, and wines with a higher alcohol content (ABV).

As fluctuations temperatures and extreme weather events become increasingly common, winemakers will have to adapt through new technology and processes and/or through exploring new regions and varieties

As is often the case with effects of climate change, the immediacy does not seem pressing, for the consumer at least. But over time, the inevitable shifts which winemakers and viticulturists are already coping with will become apparent. As wine drinkers, the main this we can do to support the industry is to be aware of the issues and potential consequences, and more than anything, to be open to trying to wines, varietals and producers which may adapt and arise as a result of climate change.

One method for combatting the effects of climate change is to plant different grapes. Read more in Alternative Varieties in Australia.

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