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.