Ali Lowrey is a PhD candidate at the School of Chemical Sciences at the University of Auckland
Although our wine industry is responding well to climate change, it could become too hot to grow some grape varieties – but this opens up the possibility of growing others previously thought unsuitable.
Comment: Sea levels and global temperatures are rising, as are alcohol percentages in wine. The first two are well recognized as being the effects of dreadful climate change. The third is not so well known but when you look at what global warming means for commercial wine production, the glass already seems half empty.
Of course, there are many other crucial industries where the effects of climate change will be more detrimental to human existence than alcohol production. You might be thinking, “Why should I care about the fate of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir?”
Although wine is not essential to human survival, it remains a massive industry where the livelihoods of many people would be affected if it no longer existed.
What could climate change mean?
The industry could lose the ability to grow grapes in places where grapes have been growing for centuries, and the warmer climate will change the wine we know and love. According to the COP26 2C warming scenario, Spain is expected to lose around 65% of its vineyard area. Italy, Greece, and specifically France, could become completely inhospitable to grape production by 2050. Most parts of Australia have only about 25 years left to grow wine as they are now. .
What will climate change wine look like?
Climate change will alter the way grapes are grown and the way a wine is made. With increasing temperatures, the grapes will become more ripe. So the wines might be less acidic (think a crisp Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that might not be so fresh anymore). They will also generally have more sugar and body because the grapes on the vine will be exposed to warmer climates, which encourages sugar to build up in the grape. When you have higher sugar grapes, the yeast during fermentation will produce more ethanol production. Wines currently contain around 12.5% alcohol, but we will see many more wines over 14%. More “cooked” flavors are on the way – some red wines will have flavors of cooked plums, baking spices, prunes and savory notes. There will be less of the fresh, bright red cherry and raspberry flavors that I really like in a young New Zealand pinot noir.
All is not bad
Changes to wine production will become a balance of gains and losses. We may come to a point where it is too hot to grow a certain variety of grape, but this opens up the possibility of growing another that previously would not have been suitable. The UK now makes really decent sparkling wine. What will New Zealand be heading towards? Unfortunately, this is bad news for Pinot Noir lovers, as it is the grape variety most at risk of extinction. Later varieties will be the way forward: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Monastrell.
What is the New Zealand wine industry doing about it?
Our wine industry is doing a good job of fighting climate change. Wine emits less greenhouse gases than dairy, sheep and cattle farming, but there is a carbon cost associated with fertilizers, cellar electricity, packaging and freight. New Zealand Wine has released the 2022 Sustainability Report in time for Earth Day, where he said 46% of registered New Zealand vineyards were reducing herbicide use, and 58% were implementing specific initiatives to minimize their carbon footprint. The industry has also set a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, and more than 10% of all New Zealand wineries hold organic certification.
What can you do?
Buy local – next time you’re celebrating and thinking about buying Möet, why not try some local sparkling wine? There is a new initiative called “Méthode Marlborough” and an amazing champagne type wine is being made.
Also pay attention to New Zealand sustainable viticulture logo on the back of a wine label.
The environmental sustainability and longevity of one of our biggest export industries is something everyone should care about, whether you are a wine drinker or not. As we enter an environment where climate change initiatives are at the forefront of successful sustainability, let’s look at the New Zealand wine industry as a glass half full.