Climate change: a challenge or an opportunity for viticulture?
Vineyards in Adelaide, Australia

October is the time most vineyards have completed the harvest and wineries start the winemaking process. Some wineries are counting a better than ever harvest but others are just counting the cost. This summer the fields of Australia, California, South Africa, Portugal and even Oregon have been ravaged by fire and drought. This year the fields of the United Kingdom and even southern Sweden have been blessed by a long hot summer and exciting prospects for this year’s vintage.

Can innovation offer viticulture a solution to the challenges of climate change? Can innovation realise the opportunities created by climate change?

Three years ago the European Union commissioned the Clim4Vitis project, aiming to mitigate the effects of climate change on European Viticulture. Since its inception the original five member consortium has grown to 200 worldwide members and resulted in the Porto Protocol: Climate Talks.

European Union project 810176 Clim4Vitis

Despite COVID-19, the innovation phenomenon that is Zoom permitted open international discussion of water shortage, pests and diseases, and increased weather variability. During one recent virtual workshop we discovered climate change in Argentina is being mitigated by moving cultivation to higher elevations. Problems and solutions are being shared through on-line networking. Collaborations have been established between local vineyards in Argentina and viticulturalists from Chateau Lafite estates in France. Nobody has all the answers but it seems it’s good to talk!

In Portugal, the FREND project has developed an innovative technology platform for precision viticulture. Precision Agriculture (PA) has been growing in importance for the cultivation of many crops. Through the use of plant characterisation and artificial intelligence, PA offers accurate and timely delivery of water, nutrients and chemical interventions when needed.

According to Antonio Cardoso, CEO of XpectralTEK (FREND project coordinator), their precision viticulture platform has measurable benefits.

In vineyards around Braga we have seen a 20% reduction in the use of water, a 60% reduction in the incidence of disease and a 2% increase in potential grape alcohol as a result of using the FREND viticulture platform.

Antonio Cardoso CEO XpectralTEK

Climate change is posing problems but agricultural innovation is providing solutions. For many climate challenges there are innovative opportunities.

In the UK, vineyard managers have seen many positive opportunities due to climate change. Historically, England was not viewed as a place to produce quality wine. In part this was due to cultivation of grape varieties that would withstand the vagaries of the UK weather. Nobody in southern Europe would choose to grow grape varieties like Bacchus or Reichensteiner. Today however English and Welsh vineyards are growing champagne grapes pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier.

Still and sparkling white wines of outstanding quality are now produced in England. Two Best in Show Decanter World Wine Awards were given to Roebuck Estates and Simpsons Wine Estate this year (2020).

Thanks to expert viticulture and a warming climate, even red wine can be successfully made in England. Lyme Bay Winery in Devon reported a record 14.7% potential alcohol in pinot noir grapes from the 2020 harvest. Greater day length in the North combined with hotter, extended growing seasons now offer a real opportunity for expert wine producers in the South to expand north.

Global climate change will continue to cause chaos and bring challenges to the world of wine. It also brings powerful global reasons to exchange experience and opportunities to innovate solutions. And continue to make excellent wine.