Shift­ing sands of wine pro­duc­tion

The tra­di­tional wine grow­ing ar­eas are on the move – thanks to cli­mate change.

Element - - Planet - By Adam Gif­ford

When pi­o­neer­ing vint­ners planted sauvignon blanc in Marl­bor­ough, they knew it was a cooler cli­mate than where it was tra­di­tion­ally grown in Europe.

The ex­per­i­ment paid off, with a dis­tinct New Zealand style win­ning favour around the world.

But Glen Creasy, the se­nior lec­turer in viti­cul­ture at Lin­coln Univer­sity and also the pres­i­dent of the New Zealand So­ci­ety for Viti­cul­ture and Oenol­ogy, says cli­mate change means a lot of grape grow­ing re­gions are be­com­ing warmer.

Wine­mak­ers will not be able to make the same styles or even va­ri­eties of wines they have made in the past.

It’s an in­ter­na­tional prob­lem. A paper pub­lished last year in the US Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences pre­dicted that area suit­able for viti­cul­ture could shrink by up to 73 per cent in some ma­jor wine pro­duc­ing re­gions.

Other ar­eas, es­pe­cially at higher el­e­va­tions or in coastal re­gions, could be sub­sti­tuted.

Some Cham­pagne houses are al­ready buy­ing up land in south­ern Eng­land, where the white cliffs of Dover have a sim­i­lar chalky soil to that in the Cham­pagne re­gion.

The study es­ti­mated the area in New Zealand suit­able for viti­cul­ture could more than dou­ble.

Creasy says grow­ers are plant­ing fur­ther up the Wairau val­ley than they would have con­sid­ered 20 years ago, as well as mov­ing east into the Awa­tere Val­ley and around Ward, where tem­per­a­tures are kept lower by the easterly wind blow­ing off the sea.

“Ar­eas that are too cool to grow qual­ity wine now will, in the fu­ture, be able to grow qual­ity wine. We may find in 50 to 80 years that most of the Marl­bor­ough Sauvignon Blanc is be­ing made in Ward and not the Wairau Val­ley,” he says.

The land east of Mart­in­bor­ough and Master­ton and more of Can­ter­bury may also be­come planted out.

“We will find ways to adapt. No one wants to give up on the wine in­dus­try. It is a big earner for the coun­try.”

People are plant­ing va­ri­eties like viog­nier, which likes it hot­ter, and syrah and cabernet could come into their own.

“Some cham­pagne houses are al­ready buy­ing up land in south­ern Eng­land, where the white cliffs of Dover have a sim­i­lar chalky soil to that in the Cham­pagne re­gion.”

“There are people ex­per­i­ment­ing with Grüner Velt­liner, which is a grape va­ri­ety from Aus­tria. It’s grown in a cooler cli­mate there, but it’s an op­por­tu­nity to de­fine new wine styles people may like,” Creasy says.

Har­vest­ing may be done ear­lier, as has been hap­pen­ing grad­u­ally in Aus­tralia over the past cou­ple of decades.

Grow­ing meth­ods may change, for ex­am­ple by not re­mov­ing as many leaves from vines dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son.

“The big­gest is­sue is with the fre­quency of ex­treme weather events. Late frosts might hap­pen less fre­quently but when they come they are worse in terms of cold and com­ing later in the year,” Creasy says.

Hawkes Bay grow­ers still shud­der to re­mem­ber the dev­as­tat­ing Novem­ber frost a decade ago that burnt the fresh growth on their vines, and a lot of New Zealand is sus­cep­ti­ble to sim­i­lar events.

“Like any other farm­ers, grape grow­ers try to mit­i­gate risk. They may need to in­vest in frost fans where they never had frost fans be­fore, or they may need to keep tabs of the sea­sonal weather pat­terns and change their man­age­ment re­sponse rather than as­sum­ing this year will be like last year.” The Cli­mate Change So­lu­tions ed­i­to­rial se­ries is a joint project be­tween El­e­ment mag­a­zine and Lin­coln Univer­sity in­tended to illuminate a path­way for a sus­tain­able fu­ture. To find out more visit el­e­ment­magazine.co.nz

Top: Gibb­ston Val­ley grapevines. Above: he­li­copters are used to pre­vent frost dam­age.

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