Global warming is one of the most important issues affecting the world today. Most of the world’s climatologists agree that the planet is warming and will continue to do so as more greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere.
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) declares that while global warming has been happening naturally for centuries, most of the global warming experienced since the 1950s can be attributed to the greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by human activities (Webb, Whetton, & Barlow, 2008).
Over the last three decades, scientists, policy makers, and governments have acknowledged that this phenomenon has many adverse effects on the Earth. These effects include a rise in sea levels, heat waves, flooding, droughts, proliferation of diseases, and the destruction of biodiversity.
Global warming has had a significant impact on the agricultural sector since plants are affected by environmental conditions. One of the plants that have been significantly affected by this phenomenon is wine grapes, which are the raw material for wine production. Researchers reveal that grapes are some of the most climate sensitive fruits in the agricultural industry (Smart, 2006).
Wine makers have come to the realization that they must acknowledge the impacts that climate change has on their industry and proceed to react appropriately to these changes.
This paper will consider the ways in which the wine industry can adjust to the global warming phenomenon and continue producing high quality wines for the market. The paper will also discuss ways in which wine makers can reduce their own contributions to global warming.
Wine Grapes and the Climate
All agricultural products thrive under certain ideal climatic conditions that might be unique to the particular product. Jones (2012) reiterates that “climate is a pervasive factor in the success of all agricultural systems” and it influences aspects such as the suitability of certain crops to certain regions (p.284). Wine grapes are unique from most agricultural products in that they require very precise climate conditions to produce optimally.
To begin with, vineyards are able to thrive in very limited geographical regions with most vineyards being found within the narrow latitude range of 300 to 500 on both sides of the equator. Outside of this range, vineyards do not flourish and it is uneconomical to engage in commercial cultivation of wine grapes.
In addition to this, vineyards are susceptible to weather changes. Unlike many plants, which are equipped to adapt to a wide range of weather conditions, grapes have a low threshold for extreme weather. Extremes such as frost, freeze, or heat wave have a negative impact on the plants.
Smart (2006) explains that the wine sector will be affected by changing weather conditions more than other crops since there is only a small average temperature difference between the present day wine regions making even slight shifts in global temperatures important for the sector. The weather changes caused by global warming therefore have an impact on the life cycle of grape development.
Possible Issues Arising due to Global Warming
Wine makers face a number of issues because of global warming. The number of wine varieties available today is significantly reduced because of global warming. The varieties of grapes used for winemaking influence the quality and taste of wine produced. Various wine makers therefore specialize in certain varieties to produce high quality wine.
Changes in average temperatures will restrict the varieties of grapes that can be produced in vineyards in specific geographical regions. Specifically, global warming may lead to the destruction of certain premium wines found in specific geographical locations.
Lasink (2004) notes that there are concerns that it the global temperatures continue to rise, the wine industry will be adversely affected. Wine makers will be forced to plant grape varieties that can withstand the higher temperatures or otherwise move their vineyards to higher latitudes where the temperatures are cooler.
The various flavours of wine are formed within the final weeks before the grapes are harvested. In these crucial weeks, the flavouring compounds in the grapes emerge and the sugars develop fully.
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Lasink (2004) reveals that this process is highly weather-dependent; if the weather is too hot, the wine will not be well flavoured and if the weather is not hot enough, the grape will not ripen completely. As global warming occurs, the ideal weather conditions for ripening will not be present. This will result in reduced production as most grapes will not ripen sufficiently.
Many wine makers specialize in certain brand of wines, which have a unique taste that is recognizable to the consumers. The close relationship between quality wine production and climate is based on the concept of ‘terroir’.
Webb et al. (2008) explain that the concept of ‘terroir’ involves “matching premium winegrape varieties to particular combinations of climate, landscape, and soils to produce unique wines of particular styles. The terroirs will be affected if there is a change in the local climate of a particular wine growing region. Subsequently, this alteration in terroirs will affect the grape quality.
The climatic changes are likely to change the vegetative cycle of the grapevine. This could affect the organoleptic properties of grapes leading to the production of wines with new tastes (Sampedro & Sanchez, 2010). Such a phenomenon would have a negative impact on vintage wines that have a distinctive taste.
Studies indicate that traditional wine producing areas such as Bordeaus in France and Tuscany in Italy will experience sharp declines in grape production in thirty years due to global warming (Goldenberg, 2013). Wine makers highlight that grape varieties such as gewurztraminer, noir, and pinot prefer cool temperatures while blanc, merlot, sauvignon and chardonnay flourish in intermediate to warm temperatures (Lasink, 2004).
A few varieties including cabernet, zinfandel and sauvignon like hot temperatures. For each grape variety, the climatic conditions have to be within a narrow range in order for superb crops to be harvested. The rising temperatures are already making it hard for some wine regions to produce their vintage wines using the traditional grapes.
There is an intrinsic link between wine quality and the specific climatic conditions of a geographical region (Webb, et al., 2008). While defining wine quality is an inherently subjective concept, it can be quantified using vintage ratings used by renowned global wine publications such as Sotheby’s or regional vicultural organization quality scales (Holland & Barry, 2010).
The wines that score highly on this quality scales are generally associated with low frost damage in mild winters, early budburst, and development during warm springs. Results from a contemporary Australian study on the impact of projected climate changes on different wine growing regions and varieties indicated that in most regions, wine grapes are grown at either optimum or above optimum temperatures (Webb et al., 2008).
Global warming will therefore have a negative impact on wine grape quality on these regions as it will make the regions too warm for the production of high-quality wines of any type.
Climate change may favour the production of low quality wine varieties. Temperature rises caused by global warming may encourage the production of high quality grapes that have a relatively high sugar levels. Lower temperatures during the ripening stage may encourage relatively high acid level grapes, which are or a lower quality.
Wine makers will not obtain the premium price for these wines since the highest quality wines are produced from grapes that have an ideal balance between sugar levels and acid levels (Holland & Barry, 2010). There will be a decline in the industry as some wine makers will move out of wine production due to reduced profits.
Global warming might lead to the destruction of some of the distinctive wine styles attributed to some specific geographical regions in the world. These specific characteristics of wines are a factor of the season duration experienced by the wine grapes. Global warming will compress the duration between budburst and harvesting therefore leading to earlier harvest days.
A long study on phenology in the France region of Bordeaux found that the harvest in 1997 was 13 days earlier than in 1952 (Holland & Barry, 2010). This phenomenon was attributed to the warming trends experienced in the region over the previous 5 decades.
As this warming trend continues, it can be expected that ripening will occur under increasingly warmer conditions. This will lead to a distortion in the specific characteristics of wines produced in some regions, which are well known for their distinctive wine styles.
There is a possibility that global warming will lead to the destruction of certain varieties of wine grapes. As has been noted, different varieties of grapes thrive best under certain weather conditions. In most cases, warmer temperatures are ideal for winegrape cultivation. Lasink (2004) explains that at the present, some wine makers are experiencing great harvests and outstanding wine qualities.
This phenomenon is attributed to the rising temperatures, which increase the quality of premium wines. However, while warm weather has led to the increase in production for some wine grapes, it might have an adverse effect on other varieties. Galbreath (2011) warns that if temperatures increase beyond a certain threshold level, some entire vintages will be wiped out.
Global warming will result in the scarcity of water in some areas. As a result of the warming of the climate system there have been increases in the frequency of warm spells, heavy rainfall, and heat waves in many regions on the planet.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the average rainfall levels will decrease in the coming years and there will be a rise in the number of droughts in some geographical locations (Sampedro & Sanchez, 2010). As it currently stands, the wine industry relies on vast quantities of water to operate.
Grapes require a large amount of water and Colman and Paster (2007) document that these plants can consume between 1.2 and 2.5 megalitres per hectare. For this large water demand to be met, the local aquifers should have substantial amounts of water in their reserve.
Alternatively, there should be adequate rainfall in the area. As global warming becomes for severe over the years, it is possible that some wine growing regions will experience prolonged drought. This will lead to a scarcity of water leading to poor yields.
Wine production in Australia is currently being affected by the extreme climate conditions caused by global warming. Galbreath (2011) reveals that most of the premium wines in Australia have been sourced from northern European grape varieties such as Shiraz, Blanc, and Chardonnay.
These grape varieties are intolerant to prolonged dry spells. They have therefore been deleteriously impacted on by the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and prolonged droughts in many grape-growing regions in the country attributed to global warming.
Wine grape vines are prone to the negative effects of global warming since these plants are perennial. As perennial plants with a productive life of more than 50 years, they will be exposed to the climate changes that occur during their lifespan.
Most varieties of grape vines will be unable to cope with the significant climate variations that occur to them (Jones, 2012). Wine makers will therefore suffer since they will have to make adjustments that might involve getting rid of entire vineyards before the capital investments made on the plants has been recovered.
The chemical fertilizers used in vineyards are a main contributor to climate change. Currently, grapes require significant amounts of agrichemicals (between 50 and 100kg per ton) (Colman & Paster, 2007). This agrichemical usage can be expected to increase as global warming, which is accompanied by the increase in pest and diseases, continues to occur.
With the increase in global temperatures, vineyards will suffer from more pest and disease attacks. Global warming will increase the quantity of chemicals needed to prevent diseases and pests from overwhelming the vineyards. The overuse of agrichemicals will lead to greater environmental degradation. Pesticides and other chemical fertilizers will contaminate the subterranean waters leading to further greater pollution.
Possible Responses and Recommendations
Traditionally, the greenhouse gas emissions from the production and distribution of wine have occurred with little restrictions. However, the global warming phenomenon has forced wine makers to consider their carbon footprints. Research shows that grapes yield a relatively low output of greenhouse gases per hectare compared to many other crops (Colman & Paster, 2007).
While the wine industry has a relatively low carbon footprint compared to other crops, there are still ways through which the carbon emissions can be lowered. Wineries can reduce their GHG emissions by shifting to renewable energy sources. Energy consumption currently contributes 60-75% of the overall GHG emissions in wineries (Galbreath, 2011).
Most wine makers use fossil fuel based energy sources to power their operations. Fossil fuels are the greatest contributors to the global warming problem facing the world. Any reduction in fossil fuel usage will have a positive impact on the climatic conditions. Galbreath (2011) suggests that wineries should use alternative energy supplies such as solar, geothermal, and wind to significantly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
Transportation makes the greatest contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the wine supply chain. Colman and Paster (2007) illustrate that the transportation impact begins with the delivery of agrichemicals, barrels, and bottles. However, this impact is highest during the transportation of the finished wine product to the consumers.
The mode of transportation used determines the level of GHG emissions produced by a unit of wine. Container shipping is the most efficient since it has an emission factor of 13.17 grams of CO2 per ton of cargo per km transported. On the other hand, air cargo produces 570 grams of CO2 per ton of cargo per km, which means it has an emission factor of over 43 times that of container shipping.
Utilizing a mode of transportation that has a low emission factor is therefore key to reducing the greenhouse emissions caused by wine transportation. Winemakers should therefore refrain from using air cargo, even though this transportation mode is able to deliver the product to any destination within a matter of hours.
The carbon emission level is also impacted by whether the wine is bottled at the source or near the consumer. Colman and Paster (2007) reveal that the climate impact of transporting the bottles to the customer from the source is higher than if the wineries ship in bulk and bottle the wine closer to the consumer.
If this technique is implemented, the quantity of non-product being moved from source to destination will be significantly reduced. This will effectively reduce the emissions caused by transportation by between 33 and 50%.
Some of the effects of climate change cannot be avoided and wine makers will have to adapt themselves to the new climatic conditions. Wine makers can engage in variety substitution as an adaptation strategy for the climate change being experienced.
The shift based on viticulture suitability will ensure that the wine makers are able to preserve their current infrastructure and continue making wine in the current locations even as the climate changes. This method is viable in cooler climates where the current grape varieties used for wine production can be substituted with varieties that do well in warmer temperatures.
If this is done, Webb et al. (2006) predict that a positive impact from global warming could be realized for some wine-grape varieties. Some wine makers in countries such as Australia and Italy have started planting new varieties to accommodate the changing weather conditions.
In Australia, wine makers areas experiencing higher temperatures have started planting heat resistant varieties such as the Spanish Tempranillo, which is suited to hot climates (Galbreath, 2011).
Wine makers can avoid the adverse effects of global warming by shifting production to regions with the suitable weather conditions. In Spain, some of the major wine companies have already started to prepare for the effects of global warming on their current vineyards by purchasing land at elevated and cooler regions so that they can shift production in the future (Holland & Barry, 2010).
While such a solution might work for a few wine makers, it is unfeasible for most players in the industry. The capital requirements of such a response make it inappropriate for most vineyard owners. It will therefore be necessary to include responses that mitigate global changes or ensure that the wine grapes are able to withstand the climatic changes being experienced.
Controlling water usage in vineyards will have an impact on the GHG emissions of the wine industry. Efficient water usage will reduce the carbon emissions by wine makers since as it currently stands, a significant amount of energy is used for pumping water to the crops in most vineyards which do not rely on natural rainfall for their water. A number of innovative techniques have been used to try minimizing the water usage of vineyards.
Many wine grape producers have employed irrigation methods that minimize water loss (Galbreath, 2011). By using methods such as drip irrigation, vineyards have ensured that the available water is used in the optimal way. In addition to this, some vineyards have built shades to shield the plants from intense heat. This method reduces water usage by limiting transpiration levels.
Another adaptation technique will be shifting to grape varieties that do not require high volumes of water. As the effects of global warming become more prevalent, it will be desirable to use grape varieties that can survive with limited water supplies.
Varieties such as Aglianico and Fiano, which thrive in warmer climates such as those, found in northern Africa and southern Italy could be used as substitutes when cooler regions begin to warm (Whetton & Webb, 2007). This approach will ensure that the vineyards are able to survive with limited water supplies.
Organic growing practices
Organic viticulture can be used to reduce the carbon emissions of vineyards. One implementation of organic agriculture in wine grape production is biodynamic viticulture, which involves maintaining a small number of different animals on the property to provide natural fertilizers and turn the soil (Colman & Paster, 2007).
This natural method ensures that the vineyard is free from pests without using chemicals. When organic viticulture is implemented, fertilizer used in the vineyard is drastically reduced. The pollution and GHG emissions associated with agrichemical use are dramatically reduced when organic farming is practiced.
There is a general acceptance that global warming is happening and it is having some impacts all over the world. This paper set out to address the impacts of global warming on the wine industry and highlight how wine makers can react to this phenomenon in order to continue producing high quality wines.
The paper began by noting that wine grapes are prone to the effects of global warming since they are some of the most climate sensitive fruits. It then proceeded to discuss the various problems that wine makers will face because of global warming.
The paper noted that climate change will reduce the optimum harvest window for high quality wines, shift the suitable locations for some varieties of wine grapes, and impose greater challenges in managing water resources. Global warming will also lead to the destruction of some wine grape varieties and this will be detrimental to the wine industry.
While climate change mitigation strategies are preferable, adaptive actions may be necessary where the climate changes have already begun to affect wine production. The paper has declared that wine makers will have to be prepared for all potential impacts of global warming to the industry.
Some of the ways in which they can respond to climate change is by shifting to geographical locations that have conducive weather for grape production, using wine grape varieties that are suited for the new climatic conditions, and looking for more efficient ways to utilize the available water resources.
If the responses articulated in this paper are followed by the wine industry, wine makers will be able to continue producing consistently high quality wines into the future and reduce the rate of climate change by reducing the carbon emissions by the industry.
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