How does global warming affect wine?

Stradina sterrata in una vigna con una nube di terra sollevata

The issue of climate change and global warming has significantly affected the world of wine for some time now. Let’s explore the specific challenges related to rising temperatures and how global warming affects wine.

What is global warming and why does it affect crops?

Before delving into the connection between wine and global warming, it’s important to note that this climate condition has been causing significant disruptions across various sectors, including food and tourism, and has created serious challenges within the wine industry. When we talk about global warming, we are referring to the set of environmental alterations responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent rise in global temperatures.

The French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) provides a concerning projection: if average temperatures were to rise by an additional 2 degrees, by 2050, 56% of the current wine-producing regions worldwide could disappear.

 

Climate change and wine industry

Starting with cultivation techniques, grapevines require ample sunlight and warmth to produce excellent wine. However, when temperatures become excessively high, it leads to a loss of acidity, increased sugar content, and negatively affects fruity aromas.

Many renowned wine-producing regions are at risk of becoming unsuitable for grape cultivation, while previously unexplored areas may take their place. The outburst of English wines in recent years is a clear example. In a country not particularly known for producing fine wines, there are now over five hundred vineyards capable of offering numerous grape varieties.

Climate and suitable cultivation regions are not the only factors undergoing change. The taste of wine is also evolving due to varying environmental conditions and soil composition. Consequently, even if vineyards were relocated northward, it would be extremely challenging to replicate the same flavors that have always characterized certain wines and aromas, such as the velvety and structured taste of Boroli’s Barolo or the full-bodied aroma of Piedmontese Nebbiolo wines in general.

The keyword in the relation between climate change and the wine industry is terroir. From the French language, this term encompasses all environmental factors that can influence the taste of wine (from the geographic area to soil composition, as well as climate conditions). The elements grouped under this name are rapidly changing: higher temperatures result in sweeter and more alcoholic wines. Similarly, wine production in colder countries is increasing, while Mediterranean grape varieties are becoming increasingly challenging to manage.

This presents a problem on two fronts: on one hand, historical wineries may need to reinvent themselves and adjust the flavors of their wines based on new environmental conditions (as seen in certain Bordeaux productions in France); on the other hand, winemakers can choose to move to new destinations to practice this ancient craft, adapting to different cultivation terrains. However, this latter option is not feasible when the bond with the territory is not only tied to the taste of wine but also to the history that connects the cellar, producers, and landscape – virtuous realities rich in traditions, such as the Boroli estate.

How climate change is altering the chemistry of wine?

There are numerous repercussions of global warming on wines, starting with the production process. But how is climate change altering the chemistry of wine? The plants suffer, yields are lower than in the past, and grape clusters are more prone to sunburn. Grapes grow in suboptimal conditions, with the side exposed to the sun drying out while the opposite side fails to ripen properly, resulting in unripe berries.

In this uncertain climate, in response to increasingly difficult consequences to manage, there has been an attempt to preserve traditions, territories, and wines themselves by making small adjustments to traditional production methods. In this context, it is necessary to talk about early harvests. This is a direct consequence of the recent increase in temperatures: with a warmer climate, grapes ripen earlier, although not uniformly, thus necessitating harvesting and processing them in shorter time frames than before. This solution can lead to some complications: early harvests can compromise the proper accumulation of secondary compounds that contribute to the array of aromas characterizing a quality wine.

Learn more about harvesting techniques and timing in our article: “What month is the grape harvest“.

Techniques to mitigate the impact of global warming on Italian wine production

To better cope with the impact of global warming on wine production, there are several measures that could be helpful, one of which is definitely canopy management.

Neglecting the vine’s leaves is a must in climatic conditions like the ones we are experiencing. To deal with the increasingly frequent sunburn on grapes, it is necessary to reconsider how much foliage to maintain in order to provide proper shading. In the past, much of the canopy was often removed to allow the fruits to receive as much sun as possible. However, nowadays it is advisable to leave a very extensive leaf wall to protect and shade the grape clusters.

Another commonly adopted solution to reduce the impact of global warming on wine production is the use of an agronomic technique called “cover cropping,” which helps naturally control weed growth and regulate vine vigor. There are also alternative methods that can complement other solutions, such as cover crops, which reduce erosion risk, increase biodiversity, and protect the soil from the sun, thereby maintaining temperature control.

Additionally, kaolin (a powder derived from the rock of the same name) can be used to reflect light and maintain a lower and more consistent temperature on grape clusters and leaves.

Lastly, the use of natural algae is of fundamental importance in combating certain fungal diseases of the vine and providing support for plant development.

There are many options to effectively respond to global warming and its impact on wine production, without ever neglecting the importance of preserving the naturalness of the product to ensure excellent plant growth and a balanced and characteristic aroma.

Tenacity and adaptability are the essential resources to guarantee quality, to continue telling a story of uniqueness and excellence, year after year.

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