Winemakers around the world are voicing their concerns following predictions that 2007 is set to be the warmest year on record, along with a potential recurrence of the El Niño phenomenon.

‘It is imperative that we begin to address the issue of global warming by defining and implementing long-term solutions,’ Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci told decanter.com. ‘We need to do this before we see the equivalent of shrinking snowcap on Mt. Kilimanjaro in our vineyards.’

Frank Mitolo, of Mitolo Wines in Australia’s McLaren Vale, describes the situation as, ‘one of the scariest periods in history in terms of weather patterns and the impact on our agriculture.’

‘It is quite a wake-up call to anyone believing that global warming isn’t their concern,’ said Mitolo. ‘Even if it’s not on your doorstep, at the very least it’s still going to tiptoe up and make itself felt on your supermarket shopping bill.”

Meanwhile, winemakers along the eastern Pacific Rim, including those in Chile and California, are bracing themselves for the rains and unstable weather patterns caused by the unusually warm oceanic currents of El Niño, an ocean-atmosphere phenomenon causing major temperature and rainfall fluctuations.

Winemaking consultant Paul Hobbs, who works in both California and Chile, is more worried about El Niño than global warming.

‘My greatest concern is El Nino and the added precipitation and instability it can bring,’ he said. ‘Strong El Nino years are usually problematic vintages (because of the rain) and also because they tend to be cooler.’

TJ Evans of the Chilean Córpora group said that El Nino combined with high temperatures would be a ‘grim scenario’ needing careful planning in the vineyard to avoid high-alcohol, sweet or defective wines.

Though global warming is causing widespread concern in the global winemaking community, many urge caution.

‘The ability of scientists to predict changes in the weather (albeit much better than before) is still not that impressive,’ said Professor Dr Ron Jackson. ‘There are still too many unknown or poorly understood variables in global warming equations to permit precision in any predictions.’

‘My personal feeling is that the effects [of global warming] on wine will be more indirect than direct – by disrupting agriculture in the poorer countries, with resulting consequences on world trade and economy.’

Nonetheless, Francisco Baettig, of Chilean winery Errázuriz, urges a wider engagement with the issue.

‘For me [global warming] is a very big issue,’ he said. ‘The effects are showing that the problem is real and that it will affect agriculture, wine production included, as well as people’s way of life. We should all take this thing seriously.’

Written by Peter Richards