Climate study on the nose for Quebec
Warming a boon to province’s wine: scientists
MONTREAL • With scientists warning of more frequent extreme weather like the flooding currently afflicting Quebec, it is hard to find people in the province putting a positive spin on climate change.
But a paper published this week in the journal Climatic Change concludes warming temperatures will be a boon for a Quebec wine industry that lags well behind its counterparts in Ontario, British Columbia and even Nova Scotia.
Within a little more than 20 years, most of southern Quebec “can reasonably expect favourable climatic conditions” for wine production, scientists with a Quebec climate-change research consortium write.
The range for hybrid grapes currently grown will expand, and conditions will favour expanded planting of such old-world varieties as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While researchers limited their analysis to Quebec, they say similar changes can be expected in other Canadian provinces.
“Currently most of the grapes grown in Quebec are hybrids, grapes that are strongly adapted to a northern climate,” Philippe Roy, a climate scenarios specialist at the Ouranos consortium and lead author of the study, said in an interview.
Such varieties as Frontenac and Seyval may be hardy, but they have failed to win over Quebec wine drinkers. Less than one per cent of the 225 million bottles of wine consumed in the province annually are homegrown.
“What the study indicates is that in the coming decades there is a pretty good potential to be able to grow European vines — not all of them, not Cabernet Sauvignon, for example — but Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay,” Roy said.
While Quebec could benefit, climate change has producers in traditional winegrowing countries fearful. A 2006 study concluded that California could lose up to 81 per cent of its premium wine-grape acreage by the end of the century. Spain, the third largest wine producer in Europe, is already adapting growing practices to rising temperatures. Ontario’s internationally renowned icewines could be jeopardized by early winter warm spells.
Using models produced by the World Climate Research Program, the Ouranos researchers teamed with researchers at the provincial and federal agriculture departments to examine how the growing season is likely to evolve in different regions of Quebec.
They project that by 2040-50, an increase in frost-free days and in overall temperatures will see the area suitable for wine grapes expand to cover most of the St. Lawrence Valley as well as the southern Ottawa Valley. The Montérégie region south of Montreal will remain the prime wine-growing zone, with increased potential for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In order to profit from the warmer summers, the researchers write, Quebec winegrowers will have to use mitigation methods to protect vines against extreme cold snaps that will not entirely disappear.
Yvan Quirion, president of the Quebec Winegrowers Association, said he worries climate change will result in more extremes that will only complicate things.
He disputed the notion that Quebec’s climate has been hampering the wine industry, blaming instead a provincial government that was slow to provide the support seen in Ontario and B.C.
“It wasn’t the meteorological climate that was holding back our industry,” Quirion said. “It was the political climate.”
He also said consumer attitudes need to change for Quebec wineries to truly thrive. “In Quebec, everyone takes for granted that something that comes from abroad is always better than what we produce here — until you win a medal from a foreign country, and then you’re really something,” he said.
Roy acknowledges that his glass-half-full message is not always well received. An audience of college students recently accused him of being in favour of climate change.
“Obviously, that’s not my opinion. I don’t think it’s something that is good. However, there are economic choices that have to be made in the coming decades,” he said.
“There are disadvantages, but we also have to look at possible advantages. It’s a matter of being well positioned while trying to reduce emissions as much as possible emissions. We can do both.”
POTENTIAL TO BE ABLE TO GROW EUROPEAN VINES.
An increase in frost-free days in coming years could benefit Quebec’s vineyards such as this one in Farnham.