If you’re like the average reader, you’ve probably received an overload of information about climate change and how it affects various places around the world, but few people think about how it can affect their day-to-day lives, including the wine they drink. However, climate change could alter some of your favorite grape varietals as a result of changing temperatures and precipitation patterns in the world’s famous wine regions. Check out the following list of the six best strategies viticulturists (wine growers) are using to mitigate the effects of environmental change.
Viticulturists can implement several strategies to manage their vineyard’s canopy. For example, they can wait to spur-prune vines in late winter instead of mid-winter to give the vine buds an extra eight to 11 days to break. By spur-pruning later, grape growers can also delay the flowering of the buds and the véraison process, when red grapes change color from green to dark and become sweeter. Although this process may only be delayed by four or five days, this strategy can yield better results, although it requires pruning within a short time frame and therefore may not be possible for large vineyards. Vineyard owners can also adjust trellises to increase the canopy cover and reduce the grapes’ exposure to the sun and rising temperatures.
Another short-term strategy for facing climate changes centers on soil modification, which influences water supply and can help prevent erosion. In some wine regions in Europe, vineyard owners have faced pressure to eliminate chemical weed control in favor of new tillage techniques. By tilling the soil at a shallower depth, vineyard owners can limit soil evaporation to combat drought during the summer, which may become more necessary with increasing temperatures around the globe.
Grassing and mulching
Another strategy related to soil modification entails the use of grass cover. Whereas shallow tillage can help limit the effects of drought, grass cover can provide protection from excessive rain by increasing the soil’s bearing capacity. Specifically, vineyard owners can use multiple kinds of grasses and grains between vine rows to prevent one kind of pest on the vineyard from gaining prominence over others. In addition, some grape growers allow grasses to grow tall and then use a roller machine to bend them over and cover the soil, which helps limit erosion, protects it from sun damage, and maintains its moisture.
Grape growers can also use mulch to reduce herbicide application beneath the vine row. Mulching techniques may also help limit the rate at which water evaporates from the soil, which can benefit the grapes during times of drought.
Frost can wreak havoc on a grape harvest in any given year. As the climate continues to change, abnormal weather patterns could bring random late spring frosts in certain years. To protect their harvest, grape growers may have to consider planting vines in different areas of their vineyards, taking particular care to avoid low-lying areas prone to frost.
Additionally, vineyard owners can employ more direct frost mitigation methods in the event that frost is unavoidable. They can use fuel heaters or wind machines to mix warm air with the cold air close to the soil to raise the temperature around the vines.
Selection of grape variety
A long-term approach to climate change should involve careful consideration of the grape variety chosen for certain regions and vineyards. Grape growers may need to choose varieties that can withstand shifting temperatures or wind patterns. Specifically, they can use rootstocks that lengthen the ripening cycle and opt for late-ripening clones to avoid changes to grape quality due to high temperatures. While some viticulturists must use the same grape variety to adhere to strict appellation regulations, others can experiment with non-local grapes and try clones that may be able to delay grape ripeness by seven to 10 days.
Whereas winegrowers traditionally have used surface irrigation methods to flood an entire vineyard, today’s viticulturists can use drip irrigation systems to control the exact amount of water each vine receives. Drip irrigation offers precision and can reduce water waste, but any kind of irrigation can take a toll on local water supplies, which may shrink if climate change causes more frequent droughts. Further, irrigation can cause salt to accumulate in the soil, which can ultimately affect grape quality.
The above strategies are just a few ways that vineyard owners are planning to adapt and respond to climate change. The strategies each vineyard adopts will depend on the specific changes in weather patterns in their regions, including those involving temperature, precipitation, and wind. In deciding which strategies to employ, viticulturists may consult with a weather or climate change expert with knowledge of their specific region. It’s also important to keep in mind that some regions may benefit from climate change and slowly acquire a climate that is more conducive to viticulture. An expert in climate change may be able to inform decisions about where and when to plant various grape varieties with an approach rooted in local climate data and knowledge about ideal grape varieties for the region.