The implications of climate change on wine production & trade

Recently I took a vacation to Portugal to escape the demands of student life. The plan was for me and two of my best friends to tour three vineyards in the greater Lisbon area. I was still on my first glass of wine when our tour guide at Adega Mãe started talking about the impacts of climate change on wine production. I had just started our course, Transnational Law in Theory and Practice: Climate Change, and it had become apparent that there was no escaping the subject matter, so I grabbed my second glass of wine and started taking notes.

My tour guide explaining the impact of climate change on Portugese wines.

How wine production is affected by climate change

All agricultural activity is dependent upon and interconnected to climate and weather; grapes are no exception. As such, any shift in climate and weather patterns is bound to affect grapes and the subsequent production of wine.

This is important because wine composition is largely dependent on mesoclimate, the climate of a vineyard, and microclimate, the environment of a small restricted space such as a row of vines. Moreover, premium wine production occurs only within very narrow climate ranges. While studies have indicated that initial climate change could prove beneficial for some wine growing regions, excessive climate change is predicted to be disastrous. One study published in 2013 predicted that by 2050, two-thirds of today’s wine regions may no longer have climates suitable for the grapes they grow now.

Source: Jones, G. (2006), Past and Future Impacts on Climate Change on Wine Quality, available at: http://academyofwinebusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Jones-G.pdf.

Effects specific to the EU

The EU is the world leader in wine production, producing over 17 billions liters of wine per year — almost half the global total. The effects of climate change on the EU could be quite large. The loss of the Gulf Stream would chill Bordeaux and parts of Spain, forcing a replanting toward cooler climate grapes. While other regions may experience rising temperatures and increased water availability, making it difficult for grapes to even survive.

Today, Alsace is experiencing a shortening of the growing season and a shift of harvest from October to September. Tuscany׳s Chianti region is finding grapes ripening far too early forcing a shift in varieties. Pinot noir production is waning. Not to mention, the rise of salinity in freshwater tables is creating irrigation problems.

Effects Specific to the US

Matters are not better in the US. The US, the world’s second largest wine producer, accounts for ten percent of global production. In California, warming temperatures and a reduction in fresh water in the next half century may lead to an enormous loss of land suitable for grape production, especially in Napa and Santa Barbara. And by 2100, the US may lose up to 81% of its premium winegrape acreage.

What is being done?

Currently, the wine industry is valued at US$300 billion.

Wine is more than one of life’s greatest pleasures, it’s a business. Accordingly, various actors ranging from governments to vineyard owners to climatologists are working to respond to the challenges brought on by climate change.

Adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change

As mentioned above, the effects of climate change are already being felt in several wine regions. To mitigate these effects, it is necessary for the wine industry to invest in strategies and practices that will allow the continued production of high quality wines at economically acceptable yields. As a dedicated student, I traveled to Spain to speak with some of the winemakers in the region.

On my trip, I learned that there have been numerous efforts to research mitigation techniques. For example, the Life Programme, managed by the European Commission, contributes to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental and climate policy and legislation by co-financing projects with European value add. A recent project sponsored by the LIFE Programme assessed climate vulnerability in EU wine producing areas focusing on adaptation and mitigation techniques for different vineyards representative of the climatic diversity of the European wine growing regions. The research recommended various mitigation techniques, which include relocating grapes to higher-altitude properties where temperatures are cooler, reducing sun exposure by planting on north-facing slopes (south-facing in the Southern Hemisphere), planting the vines in shallow soil to reduce water consumption, introducing controlled irrigation, modifying grape blends, and harvesting earlier.

Studies like these are crucial because winegrowers need access to timely, targeted research about current and future climatic conditions in order to stay competitive. Here, Miguel Torres, Head of Spain’s oldest family-owned winery and climate change advocate, discusses the importance of adapting to climate change:

After watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Miguel Torres became convinced that he needed to do something to raise awareness in his industry of the dangers of a warming world. Now his winery experiments with growing grapes at different temperatures to see how grapes and wine might be affected by climate change. Source: YouTube

Maintaining a sustainable framework for wine production

In addition to adapting to climate change, the wine industry is taking steps to reduce its own personal contribution to climate change. For example, in October the 14th General Assembly of the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) met in Brazil. The OIV, an intergovernmental organization of a scientific and technical nature, includes 46 members states, which account for 85% of global wine production, as well as 10 non-governmental international organizations that participate as observers. The OIV has adopted new environmental resolutions, including the General Principles of Sustainable Vitiviniculture (Resolution OIV-CST 518–2016), with the objective of defining the scope and application of sustainable production and to provide general sustainability principles applicable to all vitivinicultural products.

Examples of Certified Sustainable Wine Labels Source: http://winefolly.com/

At the regional and state level, we are seeing similar commitments. To name a few:

  • California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program
  • New Zealand’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program
  • Australia’s Sustaining Success Program
  • South Africa’s Integrated Production of Wine System

How this will impact wine law

The impacts of climate change raise several regulatory considerations. The EU, where wine laws tend to be strict, will feel these effects the most.

The EU provides a framework of minimum standards for wine production, making it possible for individual Member States to enact stricter standards in their national regulatory scheme. At the EU level, there are designated wine growing zones. These zones differ in terms of climate and regulate required grape maturity at harvest and allowed levels of chaptalisation. Changes in climate will affect where different varietals can be grown, thus changes in regulations are needed to accommodate the adding and deleting of grape varieties in particular zones. Moreover, individual Member States will need to adapt to accommodate regulations of quality classes and national certifications.

Take Burgundy, France for instance — in Burgundy, winemakers grow pinot noir as their red grape. If pinot noir is no longer optimal in Burgundy, under current laws, winemakers will not be able to switch their vineyard to different red grapes. Thus, either the laws will have to evolve or Burgundy will no longer be able to sell red wine.

Broader implications on trade

In a similar vein, international trade agreements will be affected. Trade agreements utilize certain definitions and indicators to characterize wine. For example, geographical indications are used to identify wine as originating in a territory, region, or locality where a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of the wine is attributed to its geographic origin. Trade agreements also go to great lengths to detail accepted winemaking practices, e.g. irrigation techniques, the use of reverse osmosis, the addition of sugar.

The impacts of climate change and the accompanying methods to mitigate these impacts may create a need to reevaluate existing trade terms. This is a big deal because negotiating trade agreements is hard. Case in point - it took 23 years for the US and EU to agree on geographical indications and winemaking practices in the US-EU Agreement of Trade in Wine (2006).

Article 5 of the US-EU Agreement of Trade in Wine (2006).

Conclusion

For many, climate change doesn’t feel relatable; it’s too abstract. All the documentaries with glaciers, and charts, and even Leonardo DiCaprio were never enough to capture my attention…but wine, wine is important to me. My research suggests that various institutional actors are working to slow down and mitigate the impacts of climate change on wine production. And even with our best efforts, it will be necessary for regulatory frameworks to respond if we are to continue to enjoy the wines we know and love.


Thank you for reading. Feel free to use the comments section to ask me any questions about this blog, reducing your wine carbon footprint, or if you need European winery recommendations. Cheers!

Additional Sources:

  • Ashenfelter O. and Storchmann, K. (2015), The Economics of Wine, Weather, and Climate Change, available at: http://reep.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/01/07/reep.rev018.abstract.
  • EU-27 Wine Annual Report and Statistics (2015), available at: http://1.usa.gov/1GZKJDE.
  • Furer, D. (2006) Why the Wine Industry Should Care About Global Warming? winebusiness.com., available at: http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/index.cfm?go=getArticalSignIn &dataId=43868.
  • Hannah, L., Roehrdanz, P., Ikegami, M., Shepard, A., Shaw, R., Tabor, G., Zhi, L.,Marquet, P., and Hijmans, R. (2013), Climate change, wine, and conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PNAS, 110(17), 6907–6912.
  • Johnson, R. (2014), The U.S. Wine Industry and Selected Trade Issues with the European Union, available at: https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=759378.
  • Jones, G. (2006), Past and Future Impacts on Climate Change on Wine Quality, available at: http://academyofwinebusiness.com.
  • Kirkpatrick, N. (2011), Will Global Warming Affect the Wine Industry?, available at: http://www.mnn.com/food/beverages/stories/will-global-warming-affect-the-wine-industry.
  • Mcquaid, J. (2011), What Rising Temperatures May Mean for World’s Wine Industry, available at: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/what_global_warming_may_mean_for_worlds_wine_industry/2478/.
  • Mozell, M. R. and Thach, L. (2014), The impact of climate change on the global wine industry: Challenges & solutions. Wine Economics and Policy, 3(2):81–89.