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Global Warming Poses Threat to Wine Making

Guest Post By: Kate Harveston

image: Otago Daily Times

At this point, all but the staunchest of global warming deniers have come around. Even when you know something is happening, it can be difficult to take action. Sometimes it has to hit you in the face. Sometimes, it has to hit you in the drink.

As history’s most over-dissected generation, millennials have any number of barroom factoids at their disposal, but one of the best has to do with the way today’s youth consume wine. Millennials drank 42 percent of the wine sold in in the USA in 2015. Cheers, friends. If you want to keep that habit alive, you’d better write Congress in a hurry, because rising temps are bad for grapes.

Not Just About the Grapes

Grapes are particular little things, it’s true. They require just the right amount of moisture, which is why the best wine comes from rolling hills where water can quickly drain from root systems. Too much, and the wine won’t have flavor. Too little, and the grapes will die.

Keeping the vines happy is a delicate dance, but it’s one that winemakers have mastered over the years through the help of dedicated work crews. It is the people in these teams that suffer when it gets hot out, and when temperatures rise, workers need more time to get out of the heat and rest.

Recent reports show that the increase in temperature isn’t just hurting the development of crops — it’s also affecting the productivity levels of outdoor workers in hotter countries. Dehydration and sun exposure can have grave consequences on the temperatures that many winemaking regions experience.

Researchers analyzed productivity levels of manual grape-picking workers in Cyprus to study the impact of heat on labor and found a labor loss of up to 27% in hotter temperatures. With the wine industry making up so much of the world’s GDP, this could result in huge losses worldwide.

Changing the Way We Harvest

Grape picking in the Beaujolais, France

Getting back to the topic of grapes, a change in temperature impacts the way the fruit matures and when it is ready for harvest. The increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit that we’ve experienced in winemaking parts of the world in the last sixty years has enacted changes in when grapes are ready to harvest and even shifted the regions favorable for production.

When grown in a warmer climate, grapes produce different flavor profiles. While the results can be more consistent, they will also tend to be higher in sugar and alcohol. For winemakers, who are invested in ages-old vines that produce a particular type of wine, that’s a problem.

The Silver Lining

But not all the evidence points to doom and gloom. Yes, global warming will force the winemaking industry to undergo many changes. Yes, some winemakers will see their profits dashed and be compelled to consider relocation, but the world will not go without wine. Some wine might even improve.

If you’re a fan of French wine, you might even consider banding up with climate-change naysayers. Traditionally esteemed French varietals like Bordeaux and Burgundy are expected to overproduce and harvest sooner than usual.

Then again, you wouldn’t lower yourself to that level. Also, many of the California grapes that have won market share over from these traditional French staples in the last forty years could suffer the worst. The state’s premium winemaking regions of Napa and Sonoma could even be threatened by prolonged periods of drought and extreme winters.

Napa Valley Harvest, Mumm

A Changing Global Market?

Where will wine production move if the world’s prominent producers fall off? Some experts have suggested that China or Canada could be poised to move in and take over the industry. Try explaining that to your uncle with a thousand-bottle cellar. Feel like driving a Prius now?

Zoom out, and it’s no surprise that what impacts the wine industry impacts agriculture on a global scale. Some crops are less sensitive than grapes, but some are more sensitive. As things warm up, the fruits and vegetables we can put on the table might change. The global agricultural community could look very different fifty years from now.

Examples like this remind us just how impactful climate change is in our daily lives. It doesn’t just lead to stories on the news and cartoons about Al Gore. Unless we change things for the better, we could all be drinking Canadian wine. Maybe it’ll come in a velvet bag, like Crown Royal.

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