The Influence of Climate Change on Vineyards – Adapting to New Realities


Climate change alters the nature of wine-growing worldwide, from destructive wildfires to polar vortexes and torrential rainfalls. In this episode, we speak with viticulturists and winemakers — including a family from New York’s Finger Lakes — to see how they adapt to these new realities. The Interesting Info about Climate Change on Vineyards.

Wine-making is long, but the work doesn’t start when the grapes enter the barrel. It begins in the vineyard, which means preparing each year for a harvest. For the Finger Lakes, that’s often done by surviving a frigid winter (like the one we experienced last year) and ensuring the vines are healthy for the next growing season.

Those efforts are necessary because the potential for wine is there each year, waiting to be pressed into bottles. For this reason, climatic changes can significantly affect the quality of a vintage.

Warmer temperatures can cause several issues for vineyards, from shifting the timing of all the phenological stages (budding, flowering, and ripening) to causing the vine to produce more giant grapes with higher sugar levels. Additionally, higher temperatures can lead to a higher rate of water stress in the plant, which is not ideal for thriving vineyards.

Climate change also impacts the soil, which makes grapes thrive. For example, sand and clay grounds are more drought-prone than limestone or loamy soils. These conditions can cause the vine to have difficulty absorbing nutrients, which leads to poor grape health and yields.

Drier conditions can also impact how a grape tastes. A drier atmosphere can lead to less fruity, more bitter wines, and it can reduce the ability of the grape to absorb oxygen during fermentation, which causes oxidation and can make the wine taste less acidic.

The effects of climate change are a reality for every region that grows grapes to make wine. It is estimated that, by the end of the century, a third of the land that can grow premium grapes could be lost in regions most critical to wine production.

This could be due to changing weather patterns reducing the number of days suitable for viticulture or resulting from rising temperatures. The latter will have the most significant impact. The higher temperatures will cause all the phenological states to occur earlier – from bud break to blooming and fruit set – which makes it very difficult to control and manage a vineyard under these conditions.

Wine producers respond to these challenges by establishing vineyards in new areas with better-growing conditions. Additionally, they are working on new grape varieties that can better cope with high temperatures and increased rainfall. But these adaptations will come at a cost, increasing the price of wine and possibly pushing smaller, marginally profitable, or unprofitable wineries out of business. In addition, it will require investment in water and land conservation to ensure that vineyards can continue to thrive in their new homes.

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