Allegrini 2018

The impact of climate change on viticulture: Italy has many opportunities ahead to seize

The many historic and late varieties will give to the Belpaese an advantage over its competitors. The roundtable of the Merano Wine Festival
The impact of climate change on viticulture: Italy has many opportunities ahead to seize

“Our wealth of late native vines, especially red grapes, will allow us to deal with climate change, so much that it has become an opportunity”, words of Luigi Moio, professor of oenology at the University of Naples, at the Merano Wine Festival on the occasion of the roundtable dedicated to the future of wine in relation to climate change, animated by Stevie Kim of Vinitaly International, sommelier Luca Gardini and Adua Villa, Luciano Ferraro of Corriere Della Sera, Oscar Farinetti, Joe Bastianich, Matilde Poggi, president of the Italian Independent Winegrowers Federation, the producer Walter Massa, the journalist Luciano Pignataro, the critic Andrea Gori, and the climatologist from Merano Georg Kaser, moderated by the journalist Franz Botrè (Spirito di Vino).
“We have numerous historical vines that over the years have adapted perfectly to the various soils and climatic conditions very different because of the shape of our peninsula, which already represent the natural response to this situation. We must focus our viticultural and oenological research on them in order to further improve the quality of our wines, which has often been particularly high in hot years”.
”Our vine growing method, based on hundreds of varieties, gives us an advantage over France, but also over new producer countries such as Australia, Latin America, and California, which produce about ten international varieties,” continued the president of the OIV Commission for Oenology, the World Organisation for Vine and Wine. It is no coincidence that in these countries the concern is higher. I am optimistic, the climate has fluctuated for eight thousand years, but early varieties are at risk. I am seriously concerned about the tropicalization of the climate, which exposes us to extreme weather events. Making wine is easy, making good wine is quite difficult, making great wines is very difficult. The latter wines are the great wines of terroir, produced from grapes with quality parameters in perfect balance between them that allow the winemaker to be a simple assistant to the process, those most at risk for climate change.
From Sicily to the Alps there are over 150 major varieties, such as Nero d’Avola, Gaglioppo, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Lagrain, among the reds, but there are also many whites, which in their in their soils and climate conditions can still produce wines of terroir. “It is no coincidence that the same vine gives different wines in different territories - affirmed Walter Massa, winemaker of the Colli Tortonesi, the only area where the Timorasso is grown- Before deciding to recover and plant the local vine that was disappearing I studied the behavior of many other white varieties. What would have been the point of planting Cortese, which in Gavi makes verticality its characteristic feature, from me, where it gives opulent wines? Each variety must be in the right soil and climate conditions to obtain balanced grapes, first and foremost with the right pH”.
The tools for reducing climate change in vine growing exist and are based on scientific and also on the winemakers’ knowledge. “We will have to reintroduce techniques and methods of cultivation that were practiced in the past - said Matilde Poggi, president of the Federation of Independent Winegrowers - from the recovery of forms of farming such as the “pergola”, which protects the grapes from excessive sunshine, to a land management that protects the vine from water stress. We have to imagine a well-rounded sustainable viticulture, also from a climate change reduction perspective”.
However, the scenarios proposed by many studies are not reassuring. For example, the climatologist Lee Hannah of Conservation International assumes that the world’s most important wine-growing regions, from Chile to Tuscany, from Burgundy to Australia, will see their arable land decrease from 25% to 73% by 2050, forcing wine-growers to plant new vineyards in previously undisturbed ecosystems, at higher latitudes or altitudes, destroying local plant and animal species. A prospect that has a considerable impact, therefore, and not only from an economic point of view. “Unfortunately, among the hypothesized scenarios the worst is occurring - explained Georg Kaser, the climatologist at the University of Innsbruck - To repair and reduce the effects of climate change we have a period of only 11 years. There are very few and we need to speed up the countermeasures and be aware that if we do not change the policies at the global level and at the same time our habits, it will be the climate to change them dramatically”.
Regarding the cultivation of the vine and the quality of the wine, a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees is enough to cause serious consequences. The French are well aware of this and they have been working for a long time to find solutions. “In France, for example,” reported Andrea Gori, a multifaceted sommelier and journalist, “they are ready to make Champagne with vines that are different from the current Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier and for this reason they are experimenting with the performance of vines that are allowed and no longer cultivated but are more suitable for warming the climate, such as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. At the same time, they are planting and buying vineyards in Cornwall and Wales”. So they are moving on a double track: the maintenance of the terroir trying, even with different varieties, to continue to make “a Champagne that tastes like Champagne”, and the search for another terroir with adequate characteristics to give a similar wine.

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