Climate Change Could Force Winemakers to Seek New Varieties of Grapes

The article below was published by Jan Wesner Childs, at, on January 31, 2020:

Winemakers might have to adjust what kind of grapes they grow, and wine drinkers which tastes they prefer, as warmer temperatures worldwide put grapes in the bull’s-eye of climate change, according to a new study.

“It’s going to be very hard, given the amount of warming we’ve already committed to … for many regions to continue growing the exact varieties they’ve grown in the past,” Elizabeth Wolkovich, one of the study’s authors and an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, told the Harvard Gazette. “But what we’re interested in talking about is how much more diversity of grape varieties do we have, and could we potentially be using that diversity to adapt to climate change?”

The study, published Monday in the online journal PNAS, found that growers could mitigate the impacts of climate change by switching to different varieties of grapes. But that also means that a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon could taste different, or that wine aficionados might have to adjust to drinking less familiar types of wine.

“By shifting grape varieties as the climate warms, we can blunt much of the impact of climate change in many wine-growing regions,” Benjamin Cook, also an author of the study and a climate scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told in an email Tuesday. “That said, such an adaptation has some limitations, and really works best if we avoid the worst-case warming scenarios that are possible.”

Earth’s record-setting heat is already affecting wine production around the world.

The wine harvest on the Greek Island of Santorini, for example, was down 30% last year with local winemakers and vineyard owners attributing the decline to rising temperatures. Winemakers in France are also grappling with heat, drought and extreme weather conditions.

“In pretty much every wine-growing region of the world, we are seeing warming temperatures with wine grapes responding by speeding up their development, ripening faster and leading to earlier harvests,” Cook said.

Besides the social traditions wine holds throughout the world, it’s also big business. The U.S. became the world’s No. 1 consumer of wine in 2013, topping 329 million cases, according to Wine Spectator. Worldwide, wine was a $302 billion industry in 2017, according to MarketWatch, and expected to grow to $423 billion by the end of 2023.

The types of grapes used to make wine are especially sensitive to changes in weather and vintners have spent generations selecting just the right grapes to thrive in local climate conditions. Hotter temperatures can not only impact how grapes grow, but also how they taste and the amount of alcohol they produce in wine.

“Different grape varieties have different optimal climates for producing the highest-quality wine,” Cook said. “With climate change, this can mean that the environment which was previously suitable for certain types of grapes becomes too warm to produce high-quality grapes and thus high-value wine.”

Last year was the second-hottest ever recorded on Earth, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO anticipates that average global temperatures could rise as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Warmer temperatures in turn affect other weather events, including rain and drought.

“Certainly the warmest wine-growing regions will likely be the hardest, because these areas are already growing the hottest grape varieties, including the Mediterranean, Southern California, and Australia,” Cook said. “Even a little bit of warming in these areas is likely to impose a significant stress on the grapes.”