Would you miss it?
Give me wine to wash me clean of the weather-stains of cares. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. - Anon
A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world. - Anon
What is wine?
- Wine is a drink made from grapes which have been fermented with yeast.
- Fruits grow in clusters commonly know as bunches; colour may vary from dark purple, to reds, to greens.
- Grapes are the fruit of woody deciduous vines of the plants in Vitis genus.
- Vitis vinifera accounts for the vast majority of wine. Wine grapes are now grown on every continent except Antarctica.
- There are somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 cultivars of grape. Growers have created these for the purposes of taste, resistance to disease and suitability for various physical factors in the environment.
- Grapes are about 75-80% water. They are high in sugars (glucose, fructose and sucrose) in varying degrees. They also contain amino acids, minerals (mostly potassium), a variety of vitamins, and phytochemicals such as phenols, polyphenols, resveratrol and carotenoids.
- The second year after planting vines should start producing fruit, and after three years, you can expect up to 7 kg of fruit per vine.
- Vitis spp. grow best in two relatively narrow bands between latitudes 30 and 50 degrees in the northern and southern hemispheres. They do best with a temperature range of 13-21°C during the growing season.
- Deep rich moist loamy soils that are well drained yet have good water holding capacity are well suited to their growth but they will tolerate other soil conditions, if the most appropriate of the varieties of grapes is selected. Given the wide range of locations at which grapes are grown, irrigation may be required.
- Pollination occurs through actual contact between male and female parts of the flower which is self-fertile. Wind and insect pollinators may also assist.
- Wine making requires yeast to ferment the sugars produced by the grapes into alcohol. These might be "wild" yeasts, naturally occurring on or around the grapes, or selected yeast specifically introduced into the process.
Wine as a global commodity
The total world area under vine covered 7.4 million hectares in 2020, remaining largely the same as the previous year.
|Production (ML) 20201
|% Change from 2019 production
Factors which threaten the production of wine
Terroir describes the environmental factors of an indigenous geographical location. It delineates the different environmental factors of a locale that contribute to the flavour and character of a product. It originated in the wine-making industry. The terroir for wine involves temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind/airflow, minerality of water, altitude, aspect, slope, light exposure, and soil composition. There is no one terroir that suits every situation and every type of grape in every vineyard. But in general, we have an idea of the ideal climate aspects of terroir.
Wine growers everywhere would be ecstatic with adequate precipitation and warmth to grow the vine and ripen the fruit, with no weather extremes (like frost, hail and heat waves) and disease. During the dormant period, this would equate to enough soil-replenishing rainfall and a cool to cold winter, without vine-killing low temperatures but with enough chilling to ensure bud fruitfulness the following year. The spring would be free from wide temperature swings and frost, and have enough precipitation to feed vegetative growth. During flowering, the weather would be cloud-free with moderately high temperatures and high photosynthetic potential to allow the flowers to fully set into fruit. The summer growth stage would be dry, with heat accumulation to meet the needs of the variety and few heat stress events. The ripening period would be dry with a slow truncation of the season toward fall, with moderately high daytime temperatures and progressively cooler nights.2
According to current climate research, global warming will increase occurrences of extreme weather and change the predictability of seasonal patterns we have come to rely on.
Temperature is probably the most studied physical factor affecting the growth and development of grapes.
Without cultivar turnover, our results predict major global gains and losses in future winegrowing regions. Under a 2 °C warming scenario, 51% of all areas we identified as climatically suitable for winegrowing under our 0 °C reference scenario would be lost. At 4 °C, losses reach 77%.3
Precipitation is another consideration. In some parts of the world (e.g. California in the USA, almost everywhere in Australia) grape growing would not be possible without irrigation. In other areas, irrigation was frowned upon/illegal as there were strict legal guidelines as to how grapes were allowed to be managed to keep their accreditation credentials intact. In France, where irrigation was formerly banned, climate change has influenced the INAO, the Institut nationale de l’origine et de la qualité (formerly called Institut nationale des appellations d’origine), to decide that water systems can be used in certain circumstances due to developing scarcity of rainfall and unreliability of seasonal patterns.4
Localized case studies are a good way to explore some of the potential change.
Case study - Burgundy (France)
The Bourgogne (Burgundy) region in central France is world renowned as a wine growing district producing some of the most esteemed and expensive wines in the world. It is particularly known for its pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.
Wine has been made in the region for centuries and there are 700 years of records of annual harvest times. Hence, it has been possible to ascertain that the historical harvest period has been moved up two weeks due to warming temperatures.
In March 2021, the month of March was anomalously warm, breaking many high temperature records. This accelerated the start of the growing season for grapevines. This was followed in April by record breaking frosts, which severely damaged the tender young growth on the vines. The region lost approximately 50% of its multimillion dollar harvest. According to researchers associated with World Weather Attribution
We found that although climate change made the temperatures of the observed event less cold than they would have been without the burning of fossil fuels over the last centuries, the fact that climate change has also led to an earlier start of the growing season means that frost damage in young leaves has become more likely due to human-induced climate change. 5
Update: Production will vary between grape varieties and regions but is likely to fall by between 24% and 30% overall versus last year, said Agreste, the statistics arm of France’s agriculture ministry.6 And a fire has been burning out extensive areas in the southwest of France.7
Case study - Victoria (Australia)
Wine is big business in Australia. There are over 2000 wine businesses in Australia, producing over 1 billion litres of wine annually. Two-thirds of wine sales are exports. Victoria is the southernmost mainland state of Australia. It is the smallest mainland state and the most densely populated. The state encompasses a range of climates and geographical features - temperate grasslands and woodlands in coastal and central regions, alpine areas in the north-east and large areas of semi desert in the north-west.
Grapes are grown across numerous regions of the state as can be seen in the diagram on the left. Irrigation is commonly used in grape growing in Victoria, particularly in the regions in the north-west of the state as they are situated close to the Murray river - the largest river in Australia. Surrounding areas both to the north and south are semi desert.
The Victorian State Government released a Climate Science Report in 2019. The 48 page report can be accessed at https://www.climatechange.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0029/442964/Victorias-Climate-Science-Report-2019.pdf
The main findings of that report are summarised in the diagram labelled Victoria's climate change projections.
Wine Australia (a government backed body) has produced regional snapshots of historical climate conditions in the designated growing areas. Temperatures are up and rainfall is going down across the board which will will have a marked influence on grape growing.
Wine Australia has also published Australia’s Wine Future: A Climate Atlas which indicates past and future climatic conditions and their influence on winegrape growing.
Not a major threat as grapes are self fertile and do not rely on pollinating agents.
Pests and diseases
Partial list of organisms which attack Vitis vinifera
|Suck sap from leaves. Also maybe vectors of microbial diseases.
|Damage grapes by contamination with cottony egg sacs, larvae, adults, and honeydew supporting sooty mold. Also virus vector.
|Root rot nematodes
|The worms feed on roots, disrupting uptake of nutrients and water, thus interfering with plant growth.
|Twospotted spider mite
|The leaves wilt, then fall off and fruits fail to thrive.
|Grapevine bud mites
|Leaves show bumps on top side, blemishes underneath. May prevent flowering.
|Leaf lesions are yellowish and oily or angular, yellow to reddish and brown and limited by the veins. Infected young grapes appear grayish when infected and become covered with a downy felt of spores.
|Yellowish spots on the upper leaf surface. Then white, webby mycelium on the lower leaf surface.
|Patches of soft brown tissue develop resulting in the death of the infected plant part. Gray, velvety appearance of infected fruit.
|Leaves become spotty then torn. The fruits become dry and wrinkled during a dry period and during a wet period, they rot.
|Causes galls to grow on the trunk and branches
|Grapevine fanleaf virus:
|The leaves are under-developed, deformed in that they resemble a fan.
|Crows, sparrows, starlings
|Partial or full consumption of fruit crop
|Rabbits, rats, possums
|Partial or full consumption of fruit crop
Climate change can alter the balance between plants and those organisms that prey on them. e.g.
- Increased humidity due to unseasonal rain increases the chances of fungal diseases taking hold.
- Damage to trunks due to frost can increase the incidence of crown gall disease.
What can we do about it?
Since the 1950s, agricultural systems have experienced gradual systematic changes in average climate conditions including unprecedented multi-decadal warming, increased inter-annual variability of the Earth's surface temperatures, changes in average precipitation, greater weather variability, and more extreme weather conditions.8
Solutions involve scientific, technical, social, legal and economic factors to varying degrees.
Quantity vs quality
Not only do we have problems about the amount of wine that can be produced, we also need to consider the quality of wines available. There are strong traditional ties to various varieties and brands, built up over generations. But the harsh reality is that consumers and makers may not be able to continue their time honoured practices in the face of a changing, potentially damaging environment. Business as usual will just not cut it.
Mitigation and resilience responses
One example of innovation in the wine industry.
In France, a modified canopy management practice is being trialled. Photovoltaic panels have been installed in a vineyard over growing vines. Controller units can change the orientation of the panels using Artificial Intelligence programming to control the amount of shading of the vines by the panels in accordance with the prevailing weather. In the event of climatic extremes – droughts, heatwaves, hail, heavy rain, severe frost, etc – the AI controls the panels which in turn protect the vines.9
Other responses to the threat to wine include
- Increased irrigation efficiency (where permitted)
- Modified irrigation practices in response to heatwaves and frosts (where permitted)
- Vineyard management practices aimed at retaining soil moisture
- Use of alternative varieties and/or rootstocks
- Establishment of vineyards in cooler regions and/or sourcing cooler climate fruit
- Delayed pruning practices to manipulate harvest dates.
- Use of new technologies in the wine growing/making industry
Pest management can be improved by changing from carpet bombing style eradication to more sophisticated techniques such as
- selective pesticides and timings of spraying to minimise the impacts of pesticide harm to soil biota10
- better management techniques such fine tuning picking times, more sophisticated monitoring techniques
- biological control which involves deliberate release of pests/diseases specific to the pest of the grape vines11, 12
As grape plants are commonly propagated by using cuttings, all plants in a given planting may be clones ie genetically identical and chosen for resistant to a a certain pest or tolerant of a certain sub-optimal physical condition. This can be a disaster though if conditions change and this genotype does not suit the plants to the new prevailing conditions. It is possible to introduce diversity into plantations by using conventional breeding techniques to produce variability into the genetics of the crop plants. In this case, seedlings are used rather than vegetative clones.
One approach that is being pursued vigorously is bioengineering of the V. vinifera genotype. While faster than conventional crossbreeding programs, this could result in patents being registered on new genotypes generated in labs with all the issues associated with ownership, costs and management. These issues are often underestimated in the rush to find a technofix. See13,14 This is often detrimental to small scale growers, and can result in bitter long-term legal turmoil.
All this change depends on research, education, plus stakeholder involvement in grower, industry and consumer groups.
The economic, environmental and social aspects of sustainable wine production are inextricably intertwined. Wine associations and government at all levels must do more to support the needs of all producers and be mindful of innovations leading to changes in consumption patterns if the industry is to become sustainable in the long-term.15
And there are those of us who see global climate warming as requiring high level government environment intervention to rescue the whole earth.
- Consider who you vote into power in your country
- Consider your own consumption patterns and who you buy from
- Consider the future and what you want it to look like
Acknowledgement of issues not covered on this page
The social effects of change for small farm-holders, the politics of the producer countries, exploitation of manual workers, biodiversity loss due to land use
Information starting points for more information about societal aspects of wine.
Bonus: The journey from plant to commodity
Please note there are many variations in the actual process. Only major steps are included.
- Climate-Ready Crops: The Pros and Cons
- Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply"