What Does Climate Change Mean For CA's Wine Industry?

Napa Valley vineyard
Napa Valley vineyard

A new study out this week looks at the wine industry through the lens of climate change. The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that many of the current wine producing regions in the world will be less suitable for wine production, and that at least some wine production will need to move to higher elevations.

So what does that mean for California? We spoke to Dr. Lee Hannah, who was lead researcher on the study, to find out more about what climate change means for the future of the California wine industry. He said that, as a scientist, he couldn't predict the business outcomes for the industry, but that there's no doubt things will have to change.

"There are many vineyards currently in place that are losing suitability," he said. "So they will have to do business in different ways. That means shifting varieties, trellising differently." He said that while much environmental awareness around wine has been about carbon footprint up until now, climate change will make water use and conservation and wildlife impact more and more important. Why wildlife impact? Because vineyards may have to move into higher elevations where wildlife now thrives.

Climate change may also change the varietals we see grown in California. "If you look at one of California's popular varietals, merlot, it has an upper temp limit of about 18.8 degrees Celsius. As temperatures rise, vineyards might be looking at changing to zinfandel or granache. For sav blanc or riesling, those will be cycling out even sooner."

Hannah says that California has a competitive advantage over Europe, in that we label by varietal, making it easier to switch out one grape for another. In Europe, where wines are labelled by region, with many of those regions having very strict rules about what kinds of grapes can be grown and used, the transitions necessary for the industry as a result of climate change will be harder to implement.

You can read the study, titled "Climate change, wine, and conservation," here. (PDF)

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