Allegrini 2018

ProWein Media Summit 2019: the climate crisis is a complex equation, questions and experiences

In Geisenheim, research, manufacturers, distributors and traders gathered to give practical answers to a change that will not easily stabilize
Vineyards in the fight against climate change (Ph James Sturcke)

Temperature increase, grape harvest uncertainty, water shortage, intense and sudden weather events, stressful vine development, soil leaching, increased CO2 emissions, development of resistant vines and rootstocks, renewable energy, substantial variations in phenological phases and bunch development, environmental certifications, the impact of logistics ... The climate crisis is a vast equation that contains dozens and dozens of variables and seeks a significant amount of responses, not just limited to the world of wine. Global, rapid and courageous solutions are needed: the collaboration between the different stakeholders (producers, consumers, distributors, media, institutions, traders and researchers) is therefore not only desirable but necessary and this is what the ProWein Media Summit 2019 proposed to do in bringing together the different actors involved from 20 to 22 November at the University of Geisenheim: to take stock (albeit partially) of the state of research in the world, to present the practical solutions found to date not only in the vineyard and in the cellar, but also from the logistical point of view, without forgetting the expectations, intentions, and demands that come along the entire supply chain, including consumers.
The Prowein Business Report 2019 on “Climate Change” and how this is changing the wine sector has focused on this last point. A trend barometer, presented by Professor Simone Loose - President of the Institute for Wine and Beverage Business Research at the University of Geisenheim, which for several years has involved countless experts in production, distribution and marketing (this year 1,700 from 46 countries), drawn up three years now in collaboration with the University of Geisenheim. The climate crisis heavily involves agriculture and especially viticulture because it is linked to the land and therefore difficult to transfer elsewhere: among the major concerns of those who work in this field, in fact, the climate crisis concerns 50% of the stakeholders (immediately after the policies against alcohol and economic stagnation).

Producers have been putting in place daily agricultural and wine-making practices for years to mitigate the effect of change, but many - especially larger farms and cooperatives, which can react more flexibly - are considering long-term projects, such as the possibility of relocating or buying facilities in colder areas (both at latitude and altitude).
According to the report, climate change has already been perceived for 5 years: first by small producers (98%), then by cooperatives (89%) and finally by large producers (75%), as well as by exporters (70%), importers (59%) and the wholesale trade (63%), but for different reasons. If producers are faced with agricultural and oenological consequences (scarce and variable harvests, reduced over time, water stress, greater pathogenic pressure, investments in new varieties), the other players must face the instability of the price, quantity and quality of the wine (and the solutions adopted are: greater cooperation with producers, turning to other producers or other areas of production). At the same time, the demand for sustainability is increasing: it is not enough to consume less water; efforts must also be made to consume energy along the entire supply chain, including distribution; and, finally, the final consumer, who must be educated - again - to choose sustainable wines. Certifications are a useful tool that different agencies are now proposing in all countries of the world: in this case, the limit to overcome is the fragmentation within and between the different countries of the world.
If the climate changes, the reaction of the plant and consequently also the wine changes. As far as quality is concerned, more than 50% of the participants in the report confirmed a sensory change in the final product and this led many companies to use wine-making technologies and products to mitigate its effects: this applies to 49% of large companies and bottlers, only to 17% of cooperatives and small producers. The reason may be twofold: small companies have less chance of investing, but they also refer to different markets and consumers; hence less chance or need to intervene. As far as the quantity of wine available is concerned, the variability of wine available mainly impacts on large companies (48%) and exporters (32%), as well as price volatility (53% of large companies and 50% of exporters, 45% of which include traders). This is in a context of price erosion due to years of overproduction compared to a constant if not decreasing demand for consumption, which has reduced the profit of 53% of cooperatives and 44% of large companies and bottlers. A sore point for companies: less profit means less financial willingness to invest to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.
The forecasts for the next 10 years are not better and accentuate the concerns accrued in the last 5 years. More demand for plant protection products and vines that are resistant to climate change are the two focuses that producers are focusing on most in the 10-year perspective (together with more efficient management of water and energy). In the cellar, most wineries (especially large ones) will focus on new winemaking practices to address the sensory changes in wine that 62% of merchants, 55% of bottlers and 42% of producers expect. The shortage of available wine and the price increase (until now controlled by the major producers) is expected by all the players in the supply chain without distinction: greater coordination with the wineries will no longer be sufficient and a decrease in profit will be taken into account, especially for small wineries, which are less flexible to meet market demand.
The final consumer also influences the trend: the demand for increasingly light and elegant wines goes against the trend compared to the results in the vineyard. The increase in temperatures and the scarcity of water produces, in fact, increasingly concentrated grapes and therefore wines with an increasingly high alcohol content. This will lead to further pressure on producers who are reaching the limit of their ability to adapt in the vineyard and therefore will have to intervene with greater and long-term investments. Also regulations and denominations will be involved and will have to adapt the regulations to the changes in progress. In short, the issue is global and the whole supply chain agrees that sustainability is the issue on which no one can back down to allow the sector to survive.
Starting with scientific research: there are now many excellent research centres that work together to carry out a piece of the complex equation. The University of Geisenheim asked itself, for example, which would be the practical effects of an increase in Co2 in the atmosphere for plants, vegetables and vines in particular. The rise in temperature has consequences for the burning of trees and the composition of the soil, both of which are contributing to an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Face is a 6-circle plant that blows 2 different levels of Co2 on crops from 2013, trying to establish how plants react to Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. The results so far collected: greater photosynthesis and greater stomatal conductance, an increase in the lateral leaf area, and an increase in production due to an increase in the size of the bunches, which, however, has not led to a higher concentration of sugar. Face’s research is driven by the awareness that this climate crisis is not temporary but lasting and that if nothing is done it will not stop, accelerating.
Already today in the United States in Los Angeles are recording the +3 degrees Celsius that were expected by 2030. The Rheingau - a wine-growing area considered cool - recorded an average harvest temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (compared to an average of 14 degrees Celsius in the last century). Summer 2018 was the point of no return for German viticulture (as was 2017 for Italian viticulture): never before had Mosel’s vineyards suffered a thermal shock of such magnitude; water bombs have washed the land, especially the steeper ones whose planting a few decades ago had been converted to retouch, to facilitate the mechanization of the vineyards; Riesling is proving to be unsuitable for these rapid changes and irrigation is currently the solution that producers turn to. But some are beginning to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. And some have enough economic strength to go back to terracing the hills. Nobody is holding their hands.
Australia knows a thing or two about this, as it now has decades of experience in the field of irrigation, because they have noticed the climate crisis first of all (the first report on the subject dates back to 1988) and are now burnt at the stake even in the spring due to the drastic rise in temperatures. Here 60% of the wineries participate through the Awri (The Australian Wine Research Institute) voluntarily in various environmental sustainability programs. This is also known by Portugal, which in Douro with Advid (Associação para o Desenvolvimento da Viticultura Duriense) faces serious water shortages by experimenting with vaporization, which does research on kaolin to protect plants from sunburn, and verifies a sort of parcelling out of vineyards based on the exposure and the native vines most suited to them. But this is also known in Italy, where the Eurac (private research centre in Bolzano) crosses data on temperatures, ripening of the grapes, solar radiation and altitude to find new frontiers for Pinot Noir, well aware of having to deal with colder climatic conditions, less suitable soils and conflicts with other crops.
In France, Germany, and Sweden, on the other hand, a network has been set up. The Laccave project (of the Institute National De La Recherche Agronomique), created a think tank of 23 laboratories to find together with the different actors feasible and multidisciplinary actions in the short and long term: 500 participants for 2,222 strategic proposals that also involved the governmental part at the national and regional level. In Germany, the Fair N’Green certification now networks more than 40 European wineries to implement good sustainable practices: from the use of electricity from renewable resources to the replacement of light bottles, reducing the impact of up to 45% of CO2 emissions per liter produced. In Sweden, on the other hand, it is the government that has acted, through its monopoly on the sale of alcoholic beverages: Systembolaget has defined a code of conduct that requires the entire supply chain to subscribe. From producers to logistics, everyone has to adhere to rules of sustainability and traceability not only environmental but also social, appropriate to the different countries of origin.
If there is so much movement, it is a good sign: on the other hand, the wine sector has always been a pioneer in facing the drastic changes and challenges that agriculture has had to endure over the centuries. Just think of phylloxera, one of the most recent. Professor Claudia Kammann, president of Climate Impact Research for Special Crops in Geisenheim, believes, however, that “the wine business is too optimistic to believe that climate change will only have moderate effects in the next decade and beyond. As long as fossil and greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced, there is no upper limit to global warming, no new, stable climate to which farmers can adapt”. In short, it is not just a question of wine, which is ultimately an unnecessary good. “The issue is much more dramatic - warns Professor Hans Schulz, Director of Environ Group OIV and President of the University of Geisenheim - and we are avoiding it: it is a matter of dealing with a lifestyle and food that is no longer (and has never been) sustainable. The real point is not wine: it's that we might not have anything to eat anymore”.

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