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| 03/24/16

Better French wine from global warming


Climate change may produce better French wine and produce it more often? That is the enjoyably surprising conclusion of climate scientists in a paper published this week in Nature Climate Change.

In many of the world’s cooler wine-growing regions such as France, years that have produced higher quality wines have typically been associated with the conditions that lead to earlier ripening and thus earlier harvest dates—those years that experience warmer temperatures with above-average early–season rainfall and late season droughts. This ensures that the grape plant has sufficient heat and moisture to grow and mature early in the year, while the dry conditions later on encourage the plant to focus less on vegetative growth and invest more in fruit development. However, if there are warmer temperatures accompanied by heavy summer downpours, the rainfall can reduce the heat that helps the fruit develop.

The researchers tracked more than 400 years’ worth of harvest data from western Europe, and combined this information with wine quality ratings of vintages over the past century. They found a strong overall trend towards substantially earlier harvests. Since 1980, warming temperatures have meant hotter summers but even without an accompanying drought, winemakers are harvesting their crop early. Grapes no longer need both warmer temperatures and drought.

“The relationship between harvest timing and drought has broken down,” say the researchers. This is because now even robust summer rains are not enough to reduce the heat needed to produce better grapes.

Taken together, this all means that harvests are happening much earlier than historically, and these early harvests are happening more often. This does not mean that all wine-producing regions will be better off. California for example may experience greater temperature extremes than France.

In 2013, PICS helped fund the production of agricultural adaptation advisories for BC’s key farming regions, including forecasts and recommendations for the Okanagan valley, one of Canada’s two main wine producing regions. Working alongside farmers to produce the assessments, researchers concluded that increased temperatures and extreme heat events are more likely but manageable for grape growers. Heavy downpours are also more likely, and these random and infrequent events are much harder on crops. An expected increase in known pest and disease outbreaks will be manageable up to a point, but the arrival of new types of pests and disease poses a problem due to uncertainty, as do changes to the growing-season length. Warmer spring temperatures can encourage earlier ‘bud break’ when in BC there is still a high risk of frost. However, overall, the shift in conditions may benefit soft fruits and grapes and improve their suitability

Solutions identified out of this research include the need to develop an effective collective monitoring, surveillance and response systems for pests and diseases, along with investment in water storage and infrastructure for the drier, hot summers ahead.

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