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Climate change and winegrowing: what are the consequences?

FINDINGS #4
20 JUNE 2022


SYMPOSIUM “ACT FOR CHANGE”
PANEL DISCUSSION: “WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON WINEGROWING?”




INTRODUCTION

On 20 and 21 June 2022, international professionals and experts gathered at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux for the second edition of the Symposium “Act for Change”. These two days of talks were organised to shed light on the major changes and impacts on the production and distribution of wines and spirits by 2030. It was an opportunity to get together and discuss, exchange ideas, and work together to better prepare ourselves for the challenges that await the wine world in the coming years. The session entitled “What are the consequences of climate change on winegrowing?” featured four speakers either involved in research or behind notable initiatives around the world. The objective was to identify priorities in terms of climate change and help winegrowers to better anticipate them.

SPEAKERS

International consultant and wine journalist Rupert Joy moderated the debate between four speakers: Marta Mendoça, Manager of the Porto Protocol; Jérémy Cukierman MW, Director of Kedge Wine School & author of “Quel vin pour demain?”; Gilles Brianceau, Manager of Inno’vin; and Nathalie Ollat, Head of Research at EGFV (Unité Ecophysiologie et Génomique Fonctionnelle de la Vigne – INRAE).


THEME: WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON WINEGROWING?

MAIN IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON VITICULTURE

According to a study conducted in the Bordeaux region, the quality of the wine is not the main concern, but rather the regularity of production linked to extreme weather events such as the risk of frost. There have been many late frosts over the last five years, which is a problem for the market. Winegrowers need regular production. Heatwaves and droughts are another aspect of the problem. They occur increasingly early and unripe berries are very sensitive to heat. In Bordeaux, and contrary to the South of France, frost is the main problem today. 

(Nathalie Ollat, Head of Research at EGFV (Unité Ecophysiologie et Génomique Fonctionnelle de la Vigne – INRAE))

The consequences of climate change mainly have an impact on yields. Loss of profitability is not a threat for 2030; it already exists today. When we ask winemakers, half of them tell us that the biggest challenge is to produce lighter, easy-to-drink wines with less alcohol, which is very difficult with climate change. Climate change may have an impact on a wine’s representative character, but we have to adapt according to the market and consumers. 

(Gilles Brianceau, Managing Director of Inno’vin)

WINE PRODUCERS MUST ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE

The climate impacts the characteristics of each wine region. Changing behaviour will, therefore, be essential in the coming years, and wine regions will have to question the way they have been doing things for centuries. John Williams (Frog's Leap, Napa Valley) is a good example of an American winegrower waking up to climate change. After the California wildfires, many winegrowers said that climate change was now one of their major concerns and began to change their practices. One thing that has become crucial is sharing. We need to think as a community to share the solutions that exist, whether they are close to home or on the other side of the world. Even though each terroir has its own differences, adaptation requires learning from one’s peers. With the Porto Protocol we have seen that people feel alone when faced with a challenge and through a platform like ours, we can inspire each other to take action. 

(Marta Mendoça, Director of The Porto Protocol)

Around the world, winegrowers are finding ways to adapt to climate change. John Williams, at Frog’s Leap, produces wines with a fairly low alcohol content and pH; he chooses certain rootstocks and is systematic in his approach. In the Napa Valley, they use solutions to avoid wasting water, for example. In Roussillon and Swartland, which are very dry areas, they manage to produce elegant wines by harvesting earlier. There are solutions to be found everywhere.

(Jérémy Cukierman MW, Director of Kedge Wine School & author of “Quel vin pour demain ?”)

Developments have been quick, but perhaps not as rapid as the increase in temperature. Adaptation to climate change is a phenomenon that occurs alongside other developments such as the reduction in pesticides which is a challenge for yields. Changing practices is a first response to frost or hail; some winegrowers have adapted by changing their grape varieties or by practising later pruning, shading systems, or even agrivoltaics. But just because it works somewhere doesn’t mean it will work everywhere: there is an alchemy to be found between the grape variety, the location, the climate, and so on. This takes time and observation. Precision winegrowing can overcome some of these difficulties, and we need to use the tools and technologies available to us. We are at a tipping point and experimentation is essential. 

(Gilles Brianceau, Managing Director of Inno’vin)

HUMAN RESILIENCE HELPING THE WINE INDUSTRY 

Human resilience is essential in dealing with climate change. The situation is urgent, but it is important not to become alarmist with the language we use. The new generations are facing great challenges and we need to focus on the incredible resilience of the wine industry. Human resilience is greater than the vines’ resilience. For example, the trend identified by Gregory Jones used to assert that there would be no more Pinot Noir in Burgundy, but this is not the case today. The wine sector can be trusted since it has overcome a lot in its history. We must place our trust in future generations. 

(Jérémy Cukierman MW, Director of Kedge Wine School & author of “Quel vin pour demain ?”)

The wine and spirits sector is well aware of the climate change issue. But professionals need support: adaptation is expensive and resources are needed to test solutions. Plant material is seen as a major lever for adapting to climate change, particularly in terms of developing diversity. Rootstocks can also be very useful, at least for adapting to drought. Since there is already a water shortage and this will become a major problem in the vineyards, all solutions that avoid using water should be used. Smaller properties should work collectively. Fifteen years ago, it was difficult to talk about new techniques or changing practices. We relied on tradition and things were not moving very fast. In recent years, everyone has started to see change as something that is possible. Today, we must be optimistic, because people are convinced that change is possible.

(Nathalie Ollat, Head of Research at EGFV (Unité Ecophysiologie et Génomique Fonctionnelle de la Vigne – INRAE))

WHAT CHALLENGES WILL THE WINE INDUSTRY FACE IN THE COMING YEARS?

The wine industry should take the lead on the issue of climate change. Winegrowers are feeling the impact of climate change every day. Their main concern is how their business will survive in the future since they don’t have time to develop a strategy around the issue of climate change. However, we don’t need to wait until there are regulations in place to educate consumers. We are all consumers and we all need to inform ourselves about climate change. 

(Marta Mendoça, Director of The Porto Protocol)

We have trained and grown vines for years but we have to re-learn how to grow grapes using different methods. This is a major challenge in this huge sector with many small players. We need to bring them around the table to share good practices. When I was writing my book, it was amazing to see how much has been done around the world. There is a sense of urgency, but there is also much to be done. The wine sector can serve as an example of sustainability. We can all play our part, particularly by consuming differently and consuming more responsibly. We must learn to consume less but better, and be prepared to pay for quality. We need to be able to give wine producers the resources to act responsibly. We have to accept the fact that we don’t need to grow wine everywhere, either. Some places (Australia or California, for example) aren’t actually suitable for wine production. We must listen to our elders and produce wine in the right places. We also need to talk to children about climate change from an early age.

(Jérémy Cukierman MW, Director of Kedge Wine School & author of “Quel vin pour demain ?”)

If I were planting vines today, I would diversify in terms of grape varieties; I wouldn’t plant too much Merlot. People need to be aware that 100 years ago there wasn’t much Merlot grown in Bordeaux. Quantities increased significantly during the 20th century. The idea nowadays is to diversify. We must be optimistic because the sector has always been evolving and wine production and marketing methods have changed. We need to think in the longer term, over two or three decades.

(Nathalie Ollat, Head of Research at EGFV (Unité Ecophysiologie et Génomique Fonctionnelle de la Vigne – INRAE))
 

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