Cousins, Provence, wine-making, and climate change

I’m back in Aberdeen after an amazing trip to France for my sister’s wedding. We landed in Aberdeen last night to heavy snow! I’m feeling very tired today and think I need a holiday to recover from my holiday 🙂

I got these nice photos of the cousins together yesterday:




As we drove back through Provence yesterday, past field after field of grape vines, I couldn’t help but wonder about the wine industry and how it will survive climate change. We are looking at a minimum warming of 2°C by the end of this century but it could be up to 4°C if we continue on our current trajectory. A change of 2°C is an optimistic outcome and requires large emission reductions from us which we have so far failed to achieve. And it won’t stop there, it will just get noticeably warmer and warmer with each decade after that unless we do something about it now. The wines we so love from the southern regions of France are unlikely to survive in their current form. Farmers will need to adapt, to change the varieties they grow and harvest at different times. The best wine growing regions are probably going to move poleward.

I did a quick search to see what was in the literature and here’s what I found:

The entire range of grape growing climate zones is about 10° C globally; for some grapes, such as Pinot noir, the range is an even narrower 2 °C (Santisi, 2011). The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the general shift of warmer temperatures poleward will lead to a “huge shake-up in the geographic distribution of wine production (Lallanilla, 2013)” in the next half century (Hannah et al., 2013). The practical and economic would be monumental. Premium wine producing regions would shift poleward. “Many quality wine growing regions now on the margin for secure wine production will become safe and other regions will be able to expand their grape selection (Tate, 2001).” Some areas would cease production all together (Kay, 2006 and Tate, 2001). According to Tate (2001), the consequence of this warming will be the ability of Vitis vinifera to “thrive in more poleward locations than it does today,” with some areas now perfect for a given cultivar ceasing to be so.

From the same source, climate change will also alter the chemistry of grapes and thus their flavour.

Additionally, it is surmised that a rise in CO2 will change wine quality. According to Schultz (2010), a rise in CO2 coupled to a lift in temperature and a shift in relative humidity may increase biomass, increased sugar (thus alcohol), and a decrease in acid levels all of which will affect grape aroma and flavor. Tate (2001)states, that rising CO2 will cause faster growth and, therefore, higher sugar concentrations and thicker skin development (thus higher tannin levels). Therefore, it is a certainty that a change in climate, no matter how small, will shift grape chemistry for winegrapes currently in place.

Wine is not necessary for our survival but it would be a tragedy if we lost these wine growing regions, which, in many instances, were producing wine long before we became dependent on fossil fuels. Wine has been made in Provence for at least the last 2,600 years. Our apathy when it comes to climate change is a punch in the face to all the wine-makers of the region from the past. They developed an industry which has lasted thousands of years and which is now at risk because of our own greed and selfishness. I don’t even drink wine but I was still able to appreciate the beauty of the Provence wine-growing region with its grape vines, the tradition of wine-making, the tourism it must bring, and the income generated for the people who live there and produce the wine.

14 responses to “Cousins, Provence, wine-making, and climate change”

  1. You take wonderful photographs, and have a good sense of composition, proportion, and space. Did you use your iPhone for all of the Provence pictures?

  2. I love the photos of the “cousins”. An extended family is a great way to experience what you (as one of 4) and I (as one of 5) had growing up. My 2 girls and their 2 cousins have lots of fun memories of times spent together, that they all share.
    Your time in S France must have been wonderful. 🙂 But, like you, I am very concerned that we humans collectively continue to cause global warming and other problems. While it may be possible to grow some sort of wine in hotter temperatures (after all SA produces excellent wines in very hot temperatures) that is not the point.

  3. Wine growing in Scotland – a vineyard was reported in the 12th century, but more recently at Caddonfoot:

    ‘Tweed Vineyards was created by William Thomson in 1869, choosing Clovenfords, Vine Street, because it had its own railway station, essential for delivering the many tons of coke required to heat the large complex of hothouses and because his brother-in-law was a builder and contractor living in Galashiels. The Tweed Vineyards of Scotland became the creme de la creme of the grapevine producing six tons of Muscat and Gros Colman grapes per year, then delivered by rail as far south as Covent Gardens and Harrods of London. For 90 years the Tweed Vineyards flourished under four generations of the Thomson family until the price of grapes fell dramatically. They sold the business in 1959, to Robert Affleck, a market gardener. Time took its toll and the once famous vineries fell into a state beyond repair. Only the name remains the same, Tweed Vineyards.’

    So maybe Aberdeen Sauvignon?

    • Scotland will probably do quite well with climate change and it may very well become a wine growing region again. Although it appears to be snowing again right now 🙂

    • I’d like to know the 12th century reference; although things were pretty good weather wise at that time, I suspect by modern standards the wine would be undrinkable.
      Also to our hostess, I wouldn’t be so sure Scotland will do well out of climate change. The weather has been weirder in the last 10 years than in my lifetime, and the weirdness may get worse. All very well starting the growing and lambing season in February, except when an April hailstorm and frost kills things. Or if the wavering jetstream means more frequent extremes, like 1 out of 10 winters is arctic, 1 out of ten summers is baked dry, 1 out of ten is a rainswept morass, then pretty soon our farming won’t be making so much hay.

      • “Ardeonaig may not have been the first such venture in Scotland, according to Professor Richard Selley, a geologist and author of The Winelands Of Britain. His book mentions a possible Scottish vineyard in the 12th century, though whether they were making a crisp sauvignon or a medieval Buckfast is unclear. The most northerly confirmed vineyard however, was near Lincoln under the Romans, who were the first to properly cultivate vines in Britain.”

      • Yes, you’re right. Our farmers depend on a certain amount of predictability and consistency with the weather. Climate change is likely to make things more erratic as the climate changes which is not good for our farmers and our food supply.

  4. I’ve only ever seen films but yes the wine growing regions are so beautiful and it would be so sad to lose them.
    I love the way the cousins are getting on so well!

  5. Lovely photos of the cousins and so glad you had such a wonderful time at your sister’s wedding. Such sad news for the vineyards. I feel for those in California where the drought is so bad right now. The world is a-changing…

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