Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have some good news for winemakers and wine lovers. Delicate wine grapes are highly susceptible to changes in temperature, which means that rising temperatures associated with climate change threaten worldwide wine production. According to a news release from UBC regarding the study, 51% of current wine growing regions would be wiped out if global temperatures rise by an average of 2 degrees Celsius.
However, new research from UBC—published today online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—demonstrates that shifting grapes for more drought and heat tolerant varieties may help winemakers move forward in a changing climate. Elizabeth Wolkovich, senior author and professor of conservation sciences, told UBC reporters, “these aren’t painless shifts to make, but they can ease winegrowers’ transitions to a new and warmer world.”
The team studied the 11 most popular wine grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chasselas, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Trebbiano. They built models of cultivation timing using three different warming scenarios (0, 2, and 4 degrees of warming). Then, they used climate change projections to see where each of the 11 varieties could survive in the future.
According to the study, losses in any scenario are unavoidable. However, if wine growers switch varieties that can tolerate the changing climate, only 24% of winegrowing areas would be lost. An example given by Wolkovich in the UBC news release suggests “growers in regions such as Bordeaux may swap our Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for Mourvedre.”
The study shows that cooler winegrowing regions—Germany, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest in the United States—would not be as heavily impacted as other regions. The research suggests that they may even be more suitable for warmer varieties such as merlot and grenache. Areas already limited to warmer types—such as Italy, Spain, and Australia—would experience the most substantial losses since they are already hot.
Wolkovich and the research team acknowledge that these shifts are not without cultural, legal, and financial challenges. Some of the legal conversations have started regarding legislation that would allow growers to switch varieties. However, Wolkovich says, “Growers still must learn to grow these new varieties. That’s a big hurdle in some regions that have grown the same varieties for hundreds and hundreds of years.”