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Thus, climate change will transform the geography of wine, between old and new territories

From the Slow Wine Fair 2023, the future of viticulture, which seeks answers in the vineyard and in the cellar and moves towards new regions

Climate change is a difficult reality to deny, supported by a massive body of scientific research that all agree and converge on a wicked but now unavoidable prediction: a two-degree increase in global average temperatures by 2050. A monstrosity destined to disrupt agriculture and thus viticulture, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire civilization. Over the millennia, however, man has always been able to find new answers, and adapt to changes and although times are tough, research and knowledge are on the side of viticulture, which is now at a crossroads: finding solutions and answers to guarantee a future for the most prestigious territories - from the Langhe to Tuscany, from Burgundy to Bordeaux, passing through the Napa Valley - or migrating elsewhere, at different altitudes and latitudes. There is no path more correct than the other, as told by the winemakers Luciano Peirone (Antropo Wines, Argentina), Federico Garzelli (Patoinos, Greece), and Gustavo Riffo (Viña Lomas de Llahuen, Chile) from the conference “How does the geography of wine: responses to the climate crisis”, at the Slow Wine Fair 2023, on stage today at BolognaFiere, but to win the most important challenge, research at the service of good, clean and fair viticulture becomes fundamental.
Federico Garzelli left Turin to go to make wine in Greece, on a small island in the South Aegean, Patmos, facing Turkey, where “the effects of climate change are tangible: viticulture has been abandoned for some time, as has the agriculture in general, both due to the difficulties associated with global warming and the boom in tourism which has prompted many to invest in hotels and guest houses rather than land. Thus, many fertile lands have been abandoned”. Garzelli, therefore, offers a specific picture of the future of wine. “Between now and 2050, it is expected an increase in average global temperatures of 2 degrees, which will lead to grapes ripening four weeks earlier, but what is most worrying is the variability of rainfall, forecast in a range of -40/+40%, and of which we are already having some signs, with floods devastating our territories, as well as other extreme events, such as fires”.
“Every year, budding, flowering, and thus the harvest, anticipate their own cycle more and more, but harvesting at the beginning of August means loss of acidity and unbalanced ripening, as well as sometimes extreme working conditions, and we will thus have wines with very high Ph, sugars and alcohol, green hints, and different aromas”, the Turin winemaker continues. Which underlines, therefore, another almost inevitable consequence linked to global warming, namely that “the suitability of the territories will change: 56% of viticulture could move from the warmer regions to North America and Northern Europe. Temperatures in certain regions will rise by 2-3 degrees Celsius between now and 2050, creating a real incompatibility with the varieties currently grown. As a result, a deep reflection on the denominations and a revision of the specifications, as is being done in Bordeaux, are required to admit new varieties that are resistant to climate change. The risk in Napa Valley is that viticulture will disappear, whereas, in other areas, we are seeing other interesting aspects, such as the shift to mountain regions and the recovery of late-ripening varieties, such as the Piwi”.
“The change in wine geography must be taken seriously, because moving a crop to an environment where it has never been before risks causing massive damage: consider Xylella, which spread due to a tropical plant in Salento olive trees, destroying an entire sector. Adaptation to climate change, on the other hand, occurs not only through the geographical displacement of viticulture but also through a different approach that alters our habits in the vineyard and cellar. Long-term work on different rootstocks, exposures, and distance from new plants is required, whereas soil management is critical in the short term, with agronomic activities (such as grassing) that can improve the plant’s ability to survive extreme events. When unbalanced grapes arrive in the cellar, even without the assistance of chemistry, it is possible to intervene by changing the production style. For example, in our case, we decided to focus on fresher wines, carbonic maceration, and harvesting the grapes earlier”, Federico Garzelli concluded.
An example of how the geography of the vine and viticulture is already changing comes from the story of Luciano Peirone, who co-founded Antropo Wines with Sebastian Escalante in Jujuy, Argentina’s northernmost region, at very high altitudes that frequently exceed 2,000 meters in the Quebrada de Humahuaca area. If one can call it merit, it is that of global warming, which has made viticulture a daily challenge in most historical wine regions. However, between 2016 and 2022, the number of hectares increased from 2 to 91, and production increased from 126 to 1,000 hectoliters. “The positive aspects of making wine in a new territory, such as the possibility of innovating and creating new products, attracting the public’s attention, but also, being a small territory, having greater control over cultivation and production techniques”, Luciano Peirone recalls. On the other hand, there are objective challenges, such as dealing with the lack of a true wine industry and a precise regulatory framework, as well as a rooted wine culture”, concludes the young Argentine producer.
WineNews has gathered another point of view on the subject, that of Adriano Zago, who holds a degree in Agriculture from the University of Padua and a specialization in Viticulture and Enology from Montpellier, and has worked as an agronomic and oenological consultant for many wine brands in Italy and around the world for the past twenty years. “Climate change is not about viticulture, but about agriculture as a whole and, more broadly, about humanity’s survival”, Zago explained. “We need to understand which side man wants to be on, and therefore if he wants the soil and plants to be his allies or if instead, he wants to fight against us every day. In managing a vineyard and a company, it is necessary to find the healthy factors (“salutogenesis”), at all levels, including the social and human ones. As far as soil management is concerned, it means using all those techniques, which belong to many agricultures - biodynamic, biological, agroecological - to make it work, have organic substance, have the ability to retain excess water and manage the lack, being able to interact in the management of the soils themselves and of the plants in an innovative - and no longer traditional - way when tradition becomes a burden in the management of climate excesses, which we also struggle to fully understand, because they are quantitative and temporal excesses of different elements ”, as told by the long periods of drought interrupted by tropical storms, the increasingly long summers and the polar cold peaks of winter”, explains the agronomist and winemaker.
“We are not made up of isolated solutions; everything is interconnected, but biodynamics works, fully aware of the need for the support of agronomy, science, economics, finance, and nanotechnologies”, Adriano Zago continues. “It’s about improving every aspect of corporate work, intervening in what doesn’t work, and if something was innovative ten years ago and no longer works today, it’s outdated. Tradition is the best innovation, the one that has stood the test of time, but it is also a way of thinking: if the old way of doing things doesn’t bring results, it takes the courage to abandon it, tackling new ways of making the company grow, in which it will be normal to also include organic and biodynamic agronomic methods. We are in a moment in which, with climate change, what is needed most, from a social point of view, is sharing. There are no solutions on the table, we have to put every little intuition and result into circulation quickly and transparently, so as to identify and build concrete paths”.
For Zago, however, “it is impossible to say what the geography of wine will be like in 50 years, but it will certainly be different from what we know today. Trying to preserve the current state is a waste of time, as evidenced by the fact that among the participants in my most recent master’s program were companies that produce wine in Belgium, Holland, and England from scratch, with no culture or prior knowledge. As with everything else, the end of something leads to a new beginning. The next 50 years will leave viticulture that is vastly different from what we know, but it is too early to predict which way it will go. Meanwhile, we must follow our common sense, science, intuition, and freedom of action. It is natural to defend territories that have shaped wine history for centuries, but only observation of reality will tell us how much of what we are hypothesizing will be futuristic”, the winemaker and agronomist concludes.

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