Wine and Climate Change

Well, since I included a little bit about climate change in the Mid-March News updates post, I’ve been reading a lot more.

First off, we have an update regarding the ways in which climate change is messing with ripening timing and how that is throwing winemakers off, and impacting flavors in the wine.  This raises costs associated with harvest and fermentation as well as overall issues with losing grapes in the process:

The old process of staggered harvesting times for red and white grape varieties was efficient, allowing the winery’s capacity to be used in sequence for different varieties. Now that different varieties are ripening at the same time, vineyards and wineries will have to make tough choices about which grapes to prioritise, and which ones to leave until later, resulting in inferior wine. Alternatively, they could take the expensive decision to increase production capacity by investing in more infrastructure such as fermenters and stainless steel tanks.

But the solution this crew proposes is deeply disturbing.  Spray some chemicals that slow ripening:

By spraying these compounds onto vines and grapes shortly before ripening, auxins can potentially be used to influence the timing of this process and therefore harvest date. They are already used in other horticultural crops, such as to control fruit drop in apples and pears.

Applying very small amounts of auxin can delay grape ripening, and therefore harvest timing, by up to four weeks (Davies et al., 2015, J Ag Food Chem 63: 2137-2144). This treatment works for red and white varieties in hot or cool climates, and is safe, cheap and easy to apply.

EEEEEK.  I don’t know about you, but I am completely uninterested in chemically impacting ripening and what they may do to wine flavors, our bodies, and the world.  No thanks.  Let’s fix the climate change thing instead.

2018 as a growing season was brutal in Virginia because of all the rain (and that was likely a byproduct of human impact on climate), and it was apparently similar worldwide:

In 2018, we saw many wine regions including the Northern Rhone, Austria and Alsace having their earliest harvest in decades. Many regions experienced unusually warm weather and much less rainfall, which resulted in very early ripening with ample sugars. Many producers are hailing 2018 as an outstanding vintage. In contrast, when growing conditions are unusually cool, the grapes will struggle to ripen and may not have sufficient sugar levels, resulting in undesirably high acidity.

So what did the Germans do to check this out? They did an experiment to check on the impact of increase CO2 on grapes in a controlled environment.  Their findings:

Most only think of increasing temperatures affecting vineyards and our wines. But, it’s the increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels showing the largest impact on vineyards and the actual grapevines. To test future conditions, researchers at Hochschule Geisenheim University in Germany have spent years focusing on crop production using a simulated ecosystem.

They built ventilators into rows of riesling and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Half of the ventilators were blowing normal air while the others were blowing air with increased CO2. They raised the concentration of the CO2 about 20 percent to reach levels expected worldwide by 2050. The results were substantial. The CO2 vines seemed to develop extra sugar in the grapes making them bigger and juicer.

The research also showed the grapevines were soaking up much more water than a normal crop, depleting deep underground reserves. Because of this, the surrounding ecosystems were affected by moths. The moths living in the vineyard were reproducing faster, resulting in more grape eating larvae for growers to combat. With all that being said, the grapes seem to taste normal.

More pests to fight off that eat up our beloved vines before they can produce the grapes – which will likely lead to more pesticides to kill them off, harming the ecosystem in incalculable ways.  And the grapes themselves soak up more water (which should dilute the taste of the wine significantly) and cause harm to the ecosystem around them through that by altering the overall balance.

Another article points out that rising sugar content is changing our wind, but there are strategies that are less intrusive to address the issues:

Winemakers are already implementing strategies to mitigate impacts of climate change, such as the use of wind machines and heaters to prevent colder air from freezing grapes, new techniques to managing vine rows, and drones as well as owls and falcons to manage threats from new pests. Vintners are also changing the timing of pruning and harvesting grapes, by incorporating staggered harvesting times rather than uniform harvests. Also, during periods of high temperatures and solar radiation, vintners can increase shade by reducing the amount of grapevine canopies they trim, thus slowing grape maturation.

Also, changing the orientation of vine rows and planting on north-facing slopes and in low-lying zones are other adaptation measures that vintners are implementing to reduce the amount of heat and sunlight hitting the grapes. Moreover, adding irrigation systems, such as the recycled-water system introduced by farmers in Australia, and making improvements to the soil drainage in vineyards helps mitigate the impacts of increasingly intense and intermittent rains, as well as reduce the water footprint of the wine industry. Winemakers are also incorporating renewable energies such as solar panels and solar-powered weather stations, and experimenting with drought-resistant wines and dry-farming to reduce the amount of water used.

Most likely climate change will alter where we can plant varietals.  I think you know I’m not partial to genetically engineered varietals like chardonel and chambourcin that are more adaptable to climate – they just aren’t interesting like a good malbec, chenin, roussane, petit manseng, cab franc, or petit verdot.  But if these changes to practice can protect the vines from the worst of climate change, then that will help stem the effects while we elect leaders who understand science.

So the scientists out there are saying that as global warming comes, we have chemical solutions and patterns of planting solutions, and we need to accept new growing zones, higher sugar and acidity, and lots of changes to vineyard practices or genetically modified grapes (that I don’t really like).  I do like the way some Virginia wineries are really examining current terroir and what will work here, and adapting their growing for that, accepting what the earth under them produces.  I’m quite worried that 2019 may be another rainy yucky mess that results in lots of rose, but that remains to be seen.  And remember, petit verdot and tannat did very well in this growing season as long as you took care of them!

Climate change sucked enough already.  Don’t mess with my wine!

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