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With increasing numbers of natural disasters, increasing average surface temperature of the earth over the past century, and significant changes in precipitation climate change has become a very prevalent topic, especially in recent years. In today's article, Konvi is presenting an interview with Justin Knock the Director of Wine of the Oeno group, the award-winning luxury wine partner of Konvi, who is answering the most relevant questions about climate change. Justin has been the judge at the Decanter World Wine Awards since 2005, and the Regional Chair for Australia (along with Huon Hooke) since 2020. He has also judged at the IWC, the South African Top 100, and the inaugural Margaret River Wine Show.
The wine industry has been acutely aware of climate change for at least the last two decades, and it is one of the leading topics of conversation when engaging in conversation with wine producers on any level. There is plenty of research at a global level indicating that the world’s most important wine regions face significant challenges in maintaining their recognized styles and quality levels over the next 20-30 years as the impacts of climate change ramp up with higher average temperatures. There is a multitude of problems this presents.
Warmer winters lead to weaker dormancy of vines, so they can begin growing earlier in the season making them susceptible to frost. Warm winters are less effective at killing off viruses and diseases, so disease pressure can be much higher during the following growing season. Warmer seasons also accelerate sugar ripeness ahead of phenological maturity, so wines can be less well-balanced. Or worse, the grapes ripen during the hottest parts of summer rather than during the milder temperatures of Autumn. Droughts are becoming deeper and more prolonged, often exacerbated by lower snowfall in the Alps, Pyrenees, and California, for example. Much discussion centers on finding cooler areas within established regions, and this means higher elevations, or closer to the sea, or at higher latitudes or one site with cooler aspects (north-facing slopes in the northern hemisphere, and south-facing slopes in the southern hemisphere). Even classic regions like Bordeaux are permitting the experimental planting of varieties associated with much warmer climates such as Albariño, Touriga Nacioñal, and Mourvedre. There is almost too much to discuss but I would say that climate change is the single most important production issue in the wine industry this century.
As described above with Bordeaux and experimental plantings. Champagne houses buying land and planting vines in England for high-quality sparkling wine. Merlot is being abandoned in many areas and being replanted with later-ripening Cabernet Franc. Barolo and Barbaresco producers in southern Piedmont buying land and estates in Alto Piemonte, which is further north, more elevated, and wooded. Cava producers in Catalunya planting in much higher areas west of Barcelona. Producers planting varieties like Assyrtiko, Fiano, and other grape varieties associated with the Mediterranean in regions that are established with classic French varieties such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon such as McLaren Vale or the Swartland in South Africa. Producers in the Veneto moving away from Burgundian-style trellises to traditional pergola methods which provide more shade and elevation. Domaines in Burgundy buy land in the Haut Côtes where land is cheaper, at higher elevations, and cooler. The list goes on and on.
Northern hemisphere regions are already warm and dry, and quite continental. Portugal and Spain are good examples. Parts of South Africa and Australia that are far from the coast and without higher elevations will suffer. The central valley of California is reliant on snowmelt for irrigation, and the Riverland region of South Australia is also reliant on river water for irrigation.
Regions that are already cool-climate. England, Germany, parts of eastern Europe, Washington, Canada, the Finger Lakes in New York state, and new regions in mountainous areas not necessarily associated with wine such as Mexico, Turkey, and regions around the Alps in Europe.
Keep an eye on classic regions with the potential to mitigate climate changes through some of the elements above where elevation and aspect can be improved. This would include Burgundy, Piedmont, parts of Tuscany, the Mosel in Germany, northern California, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Tasmania. Keep an eye on top producers moving into other regions completely.
While climate change will most definitely have a significant impact on wine production and industry in general, it will also pose an opportunity for certain regions around the globe that have been affected by cool climates. To get ahead of this individuals can implement various strategies such as wine portfolio diversification to ensure that their exposure is minimized as much as possible.