Climate Change Means Idaho And New Zealand Could Be The Next Big Wine Regions: Study

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By Roxanne Palmer | April 9, 2013 1:32 AM EST

A good bottle of Bordeaux could become scarce by 2050, thanks to global warming.

New research projects that in the coming decades, climate change will shrink the amount of land available for wine production at the same time that a growing and more affluent world population clamors for more and finer vintages. This tension could wreak substantial havoc on biodiversity hotspots and suck up fresh water resources, scientists wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Viticulture is highly sensitive to temperature and moisture. Mediterranean regions have historically dominate wine production because they are reliably cool and wet in the winter, and warm and dry in the summer. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of California, Davis, and other institutions used computer modeling to predict the impact of climate change on wine production in the near future.

One model predicts that the area of land suitable for viticulture in major wine producing regions will drop between 25 percent and 73 percent; a more conservative model predicts a decrease of between 19 and 62 percent. By the more gloomy model, California could see a 60 percent decline in the area suitable for wine production; the Mediterranean could see a 68 percent drop.

Some areas are likely to see a big boom in wine production thanks to a warming climate: the Rocky Mountains, New Zealand, and Northern Europe. By 2050, you might be more likely to see a glass of wine from Yellowstone or Finland than from Provence.

But this expansion of vineyards could introduce an agriculture boom that conservationists haven’t prepared for.

“Climate change may cause establishment of vineyards at higher elevations that will increase impacts on upland ecosystems and may lead to conversion of natural vegetation as production shifts to higher latitudes in areas such as western North America,” the authors wrote.

In the Western U.S. and Canada, for example, there is a substantial effort called Yellowstone to Yukon that is aiming to link up preserved habitat for wide-ranging animals like wolves, pronghorns and grizzly bears. Conservationists and agencies may have to act quickly to buy up land that could become a hotspot for wine production in the next few decades.

Another concern is how the climate squeeze on wine production will impact water use both in current viticulture regions and in the new ones. A warming world isn’t very kind to wine grapes.

“Attempts to maintain wine grape productivity and quality in the face of warming may be associated with increased water use for irrigation and to cool grapes through misting or sprinkling, creating potential for freshwater conservation impacts,” the authors wrote.

There’s already movement within the wine industry to plan for the future. In South Africa, both conservationists and vintners are collaborating on a biodiversity initiative that will allow vineyards to expand without compromising important conservation areas. Horticulture research that could yield wine grapes with better climate tolerance might also allow regions to adapt to warming temperatures. Improved cooling techniques like more efficient misting devices could help reduce water use.

And purists may have to break the habit of attaching a special importance to a vintage’s geographic origin – after all, a Helsinki red or a Christchurch chardonnay may end up tasting better than the best France has to offer in 2050. Bottoms up!

SOURCE: Hannah et al. “Climate change, wine, and conservation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published online 8 April 2013.

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