Wine Time – The Changing Climate

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For the many of us whose livelihood is connected directly to the land and what it produces, we have known for some time that climate change is a reality.

We are experiencing it now, and have been for a number of years. The intensity and frequency of major weather events are the obvious indicators, while there are also subtle seasonal changes occurring that are a constant reminder. Whether you believe man-made climate change is responsible or believe it is an inherent part of the Earth’s natural cycle, the impacts affect us in many ways – including our food production. For us in the wine industry, the impact is significant, and grape growers need to take account of the changing climate in their planning.

Recent vintages in the Hunter Valley has seen big challenges come harvest time, particularly for the red varieties. More often than not, a major rain event has occurred prior to harvest, that has damaged the fruit quality to such an extent it has not been harvested. It is a gut wrenching sight to witness  acres and acres of fruit left on the vine – the cost to harvest far outweighs the likelihood of the fruit being of a usable quality.

Many grape growers have to rethink the varietals they are growing and make some difficult decisions about removing varietals that are no longer consistent performers and unable to tolerate the volatile weather conditions.  The varietal selection is based not just on what suits the growing conditions, but wine drinking trends must also be a significant factor. It is a costly exercise, but a necessary one for future viability.

Around the world we may see wine growing regions moving in a northerly direction. Places such as Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom may well be the Burgundy, Napa Valley and Rhone regions of the future. Already in the United Kingdom, although not well known as a wine region, there is a growing industry producing quality wines, both still and sparkling and it’s winning globally recognised awards.   

The wine industry in Canada has been growing healthily over the past few decades. While traditionally known for its “Ice Wine”, table wines are also of good quality and have a strong position in the wine world.

It’s a little way off, but Sweden is also in its embryonic stages of developing wine commercially. There are small wineries selling domestically, but the climate outlook is attracting a growing number to the industry. Each one degree increase in temperature equates to one to two weeks of additional growing season – something that will definitely help grape production in climates like Sweden.

It seems that traditions will have to change, along with the changing climate.

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