Allegrini 2024

Climate change: more than 70% of wine-producing areas at risk by the end of the century

In many areas, including in Italy, production could become unsustainable. Thus a study by the Universities of Bordeaux, Palermo and Burgundy

It is a fact that climate change is also impacting viticulture and wine production more and more every year. And there are numerous studies that predict that the areas where wine will be produced in the near future will also change, and will be different from those of today: some destined to disappear, others to be added, especially further north and where it is colder (or less hot), others to change profoundly in vine training methods, grape varieties and so on. And in particular, according to the study “Climate change impacts & adaptations of wine production”, published by the famous and authoritative scholarly journal “Nature”, led by the Université of Bordeaux, together with the Unveristà degli Studi of Palermo and the Université de Bourgogne of Dijon, signed by Cornelis van Leeuwen, Giovanni Sgubin, Benjamin Bois, Nathalie Ollat, Didier Swingedouw, Sébastien Zito & Gregory A. Gambetta, who systematized more than 200 articles and studies on the subject, it emerges that, due to the climate that will change the composition and quality of wine, but also the economic costs of management and consequently the environmental and economic sustainability of farms, between 50% and 70% of today’s viticultural areas have a risk, ranging from moderate to high, of becoming unsuitable for grape production, depending on the global warming framework. At the same time, from 11% to 25% of existing wine regions could experience increased production as temperatures rise, and new suitable areas could emerge at higher latitudes and altitudes.
“Global grape production in 2020 was 80 million tons of grapes, harvested from 7.4 million hectares. Of the grapes produced, 49% were processed into wine and spirits, while 43% were consumed as fresh grapes and 8% as raisins. Wine, as a commodity, can be valued in a price range from $3 to over $1,000 per bottle, depending on quality and reputation. Thus, financial sustainability is not only based on the balance between yield and production costs, as with most agricultural products, but also on quality and reputation. The region of production is an important driver of reputation and value. This regional variation in wine quality is not surprising because climate, or more precisely the”"right variety in the right climate”, is a well-identified attribute of high-quality wine production. But with climate change, this fundamental regional influence on wine quality and style is changing”, states the introduction to the study.
With researchers explaining: “climate change is affecting grape yield, composition and wine quality. As a result, the geography of wine production is changing. In this analysis, we discuss the consequences of changing temperature, precipitation, moisture, radiation and CO2 on global wine production and explore adaptation strategies”. Current wine-growing regions are located primarily in the mid-latitudes (California, U.S.; southern France; northern Spain and Italy; Barossa, Australia; Stellenbosch, South Africa; and Mendoza, Argentina, among others), where the climate is warm enough to allow grapes to ripen, but without excessive heat, and relatively dry to avoid heavy disease pressures. 90% of traditional wine-growing regions in the coastal and lowland regions of Spain, Italy, Greece and southern California could be in danger of disappearing by the end of the century due to excessive drought and heat waves that are more frequent with climate change. Warmer temperatures could increase wine suitability for other regions (Washington state, Oregon, Tasmania, northern France) and are driving the emergence of new wine regions, such as the southern United Kingdom. The degree of these changes in suitability is highly dependent on the level of temperature rise”.
All lost, then, in perspective? Not necessarily. Existing producers, the researchers again emphasize, can adapt to some level of warming by changing plant material (varieties and rootstocks), training systems and vineyard management. “However, these adaptations may not be sufficient to maintain economically viable wine production in all areas. Future research”, the study cautions, “should aim to assess the economic impact of climate change adaptation strategies applied on a large scale”.
Prominent among the various focuses is one on Europe, “recognized as the world’s leading producer of high-quality wine. Spain, France, Italy and Germany collectively contribute half of the world's wine production. However, climate change is expected to shift suitable regions to higher latitudes and altitudes. Under conditions of low levels of global warming (less than 2 degrees Celsius), most traditional wine regions will retain suitability, albeit subject to the implementation of adaptation measures, particularly in southern Europe. The combination of rising temperatures and reduced precipitation will induce severe drought risk in southern Iberia, Mediterranean France and Spain, the Po Valley, coastal Italy, the Balkan Peninsula, and the southwestern Black Sea regions. The risk of widespread water scarcity, the study adds, could make any extensive increase in irrigation aimed at preserving the suitability of these areas unsustainable. In addition, warmer conditions and increased exposure to sunburn will negatively affect both yield and wine quality in these areas. For more severe warming scenarios, most Mediterranean regions may become climatically unsuitable for wine production, and vineyards below 45 degrees north may be so difficult that the only feasible adaptation would be to move to higher altitudes.
90% of the traditional wine regions located in the plains and coastal regions of Spain, Italy and Greece are in danger of disappearing by the end of the century. Only a small part of this loss (less than 20 percent) can potentially be compensated by moving vineyards to mountainous areas, considering altitudes up to 1,000 meters above sea level. The Atlantic sectors of the Iberian Peninsula and France, along with the western regions of the Black Sea, will face lower risks than the Mediterranean. With limited global warming, implementation of viticultural techniques that delay ripening and alleviate water stress seem sufficient to preserve high-quality wine production”. A long-term scenario, then, that is far from reassuring, and one that requires looking to the future now.

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