CLIMATE CHANGE & VITICULTURE

Wine enterprises throughout the world are threatened by rising temperatures, decreased rainfall, weather extremes and unpredictability, and increasing carbon dioxide and evaporation rates. Wine grapes are grown in narrow climate ranges and under specific conditions, so they “…are amongst the most sensitive agricultural products to changes in climatic conditions…” Apparently, “As little as a two-degree centigrade increase in average temperature can have a dramatic effect on what varieties can best be ripened where, the quality of grape that can be achieved, and the yields that can be produced…” Uncertainty in climate change projections, and the degree of its impact, threatens ecological and corporate aspects of the wine industry’s complex value chain. Fortunately, many wine enterprises are implementing a number of structural, physical, social, and institutional transformations to adapt to the changing conditions. Furthermore, due to an inherent sense of stewardship trending in the wine industry, growers and wine companies are initiating mitigation strategies. Despite the lack of certainty in climate projections, decision makers in the industry plan for a warmer climate, undertake incremental and transformational actions, and invest in strategies and innovations to mitigate and adapt to climate change.     

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In this study, I will focus on the Southeastern Australian Wine sector which has grown to be the most prominent in the country. The wine industry is increasingly important to the country’s economy, because it “…generates billions in overall sales and directly employs tens of thousands of people…”. Furthermore, Australian regions producing wine, especially in the Southeast, are predicted to experience the consequences of climate change as early as 2030, threatening grape quality and yields. The six main climate impacts on viticulture are: changes to mean temperature, changes to extreme high temperatures, changes to extreme low temperatures, changes to the timing and amount of rainfall, changes to the quality and quantity of water, and changes to the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses.

Data collected from the past provides evidence of temperature rise, for example, “…from 1950 to 1999, the growing season temperature in Hunter Valley (New South Wales) rose by 0.77°C, in Barossa Valley (South Australia) by 0.20°C and in Margaret River (Western Australia) by 0.17°C”. This alarming change in temperature motivates present research that can be utilized by decision makers planning for the future. Different models put forth varying temperature change projections; nonetheless, a reliable source sponsored by the Government of South Australia hypothesizes that “For most of Australia, the expected change for 2030 is in the order of  0.6°C to 1.5°C”. This study was published in 2009, so over a much shorter span of time, from 2009-2030, the country is predicted to experience a greater increase in temperature than previous years (above). I realize these are two different sources with varying methods of observing and collecting temperature data, but this provides a rough estimate that reinforces the growing urgency and need for response to temperature rises.

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These maps provide a visual demonstration of the best and worst case scenarios of temperature rise. Evidently, coastal areas are less affected by climate change; however, even the coolest 10th percentile with a low emissions scenario estimates a .3°C -1°C rise by 2030 and .6°C -1.5°C degree rise by 2050, which can negatively affect the sensitive wine grape. As destructive a change as estimated by the warmest 90th percentile with a high emissions scenario would be devastating to nearly all varieties of wine grape. Although there is no way of knowing the exact temperature rise, warming will have an inevitable impact on what varieties can be ripened where, and if adaptive actions are not implemented, certain vintages risk being completely wiped out. Higher latitudes and inland regions are particularly vulnerable to this warming, so there is a greater sense of urgency for wine grape growers and wine producers sourcing from those regions to take action. Furthermore, growers and producers already operating under extremely warm or cool conditions are especially susceptible to change because they run a greater risk of exceeding temperature thresholds for high to premium quality wine.

In the short term, certain vintages can benefit from a temperature rise, but once the optimum temperature threshold is exceeded further down the road, the quality and price will decline. Different premium wine grapes have corresponding temperature-sensitivity relationships and suitable climates, so the proportion of wine grape variety differs from region to region.

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 This figure illustrates the proportions of wine grape variety growth in nine different regions. This information should be considered when determining the degree of impact temperature has on each region. The maps below depict a potential scenario for climate change for 2050 stimulated by OzClim based on a number of climate models.

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Climate change has an inarguable effect on viticulture across all regions of Australia, namely the Southeast. The main climate impacts concerning viticulture are rising mean temperature, increasing number of days with temperature extremes, decreasing precipitation levels and changing precipitation patterns, and increasing evapotranspiration rates, ultimately caused by a rise in GHGs. To achieve competitive advantage, a response to the changing conditions is necessary. An enterprise must undertake a balanced proportion of adaptive, mitigative, and governable actions. Furthermore, adaptive actions should be incremental as well as transformative in nature. Incremental actions alone are not enough, thus enterprises are forced to collaborate to place the industry in a position to undertake transformative actions. If an enterprise acknowledges the power, legitimacy, urgency, and proximity of climate change, it is more likely to implement these actions, developing a sustaining business model by decreasing vulnerability to climate change. This enterprise will ultimately surpass those failing to respond appropriately to climate change.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

Miroslava Sovíková

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