Degrees of variation in grape composition and wine flavor is nothing to write home about. However, severe or uncommon climate conditions can completely change the end product.
This is how climate change has become in recent times a major issue and talking point globally for the wine industry. Grapevines are responsive to their surrounding environment and seasonal variation; hence why climate is a key controlling factor in grape and wine production. Permanent climate changes could be detrimental to the suitability of certain grape varieties to a particular region.
Furthermore, lower grape yields can be expected in areas getting hotter and drier. This reality has raised concern regarding the repercussions climate change could have on viniculture.
Effects of Climate Change on Wine Production
Temperature increases, lack of water, altered precipitations will all challenge a healthy growing of wine in most regions. The advent of global warming is expected to prompt abnormal conditions according to climate models. Environmental factors will cause significant stress on the plan, which can affect the grapes, ultimately diminishing the quality of the wine. The effects of high temperatures, altered precipitations and lack of water include:
- Elevated sugar content. Higher temperatures will accelerate sugar production in the grape, thus leading to a higher sugar content and alcohol content. If you are not acquainted with sugar production in grapes check this.
- Lower acidity. High temperatures and abnormal conditions favor degradation of malic acid and uptake of potassium in the vines. In other words, wines will lose acidity, flavor, and preservation potential.
- Alteration of a wine’s taste profile. Considering all the aforementioned effects, it is logical to conclude that climatic changes influence synthesis of aromatic compounds.
- Loss of intensity and color. High temperature swings also affect phenolic compounds such as anthocyanins and tannings which help give wine its color and its dryness. Reduced phenolic compound presence will impinge on the grape quality.
- Soil erosion and degradation. Altered precipitations with heavy rainfalls will likely increase soil erosion, and lack of rainfall may result in drought conditions. Both of these situations hinder the proper growing of grapes.
How Does Climate Change Impact the Management of a Vineyard?
Climatic changes not only affect yield and quality, they can also modify the whole cycle of growing grapes. Higher temperatures will result in budding, flowering, grape set, and maturing happening earlier. This alteration of phenology (growing cycle) demands tweaks in the whole management schedule of the vineyard.
Warmer temperatures prompting shifts in grape phenology amplify the impact of climate change. Currently, with an overall increase in the average temperatures, grapes are harvested two weeks earlier than compared to 1960-1980 period. According to current climate patterns, there could be a continuous rise in temperature resulting in even earlier harvests.
Climate change could possibly influence the impact of pests and diseases, such as parasites or fungi (mildew) on plants. Climatic modifications could cause geographical shift in the distribution of insects or fungi, resulting in issues for regions where they were absent so far. Higher infestation with parasites or diseases won’t be directly related to environmental conditions but it will certainly be aggravated by an increased susceptibility of the plant. Climatic stressors do impinge on the plant’s immune response. The aggravated infestation would lead to either higher intensity work on the vineyard or more pesticide use.
There is no doubt that global temperatures will rise in the coming decades, but the big question for vintners going forward is by just how much. Investing in the future and creating more ecological practices will do wonders to mitigate and even stop harmful climatic effects. Increased flexibility and adaptability for winegrowers will be necessary in the years to come for the industry.
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