A new study released this week by researchers at the University of Texas suggests that areas suitable for viticulture will decrease between 25% and 73% in major wine producing regions by 2050 – directly impacting countless fine wine regions across the globe.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to combine impact of global warming on wine regions with wider environmental concerns – through things such as increased irrigation creating potential freshwater conservation issues.
‘Vineyards have long-lasting effects on habitat quality and may significantly impact freshwater resources,’ reads the study, going on to look at potential impact using 17 climate models to estimate changes in suitability for viticulture.
By 2050, the study suggests that suitable grape growing areas in Mediterranean Europe could drop by 68%, and in parts of Australia by 73%. Existing premium wine-growing regions in Chile – Maipo, Cachapoal and Colchagua – will be equally hard hit as the strain on the water resources in the country is already high, with 95% of the area currently used for vine growing already under water stress, the highest of any of the Mediterranean-climate wine-growing region. Maipo Valley is expected to see 20% less rainfall by 2050. New Zealand’s suitable area, in contrast, will more than double by 2050, as will parts of northern Europe.
In North America, areas due to become more suitable for wine growing include existing national parks such as Yellowstone, or Yukon Territory in Canada, leading to potential conservation issues. Equally in China, some of the land likely to become most suitable for high-quality viticulture over the next few decades is currently in the same mountains that provide habitat for the giant panda. ‘Future conservation efforts need to incorporate consideration of viticulture,’ say the study’s authors.
The study also looks at suggested adaptation measures such as vine orientation and trellising practices that can greatly reduce water demands. Philippe Bascaules, director at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook in Napa has been looking into various canopy management programmes to lower the sugar levels in the grapes. In 2012 he also held off irrigating until the end of growing season rather than the more usual period of July. ‘Long-term irrigation is not sustainable, and ideally we would like to stop it altogether. But so far we have found that smaller amounts of water at the end of the season helped keep the grapes from over-concentrating and so meant lower alcohol in the final wine’, Bascaules told Decanter.com. ‘It’s an experiment right now, seeing which parameters work best’.
Written by Jane Anson