What Wine and Climate Change Could Mean

Surprising ways climate change impacts the world of wine.


It has been a HOT year. A REALLY HOT year. Here in New York we are just starting to feel the effects of a summer long drought with reduced yields through smaller berries. Changing weather patterns is a really obvious side effect of climate change however there are several ways that climate change can affect the world of wine that may be more surprising. Climate change is the macro trend of changing weather and temperature patterns throughout the globe at a more rapid pace than can be explained by historical natural cycles. It touches many aspects of the global wine market including production, transportation of bulk and finished goods, and marketing.

One aspect of climate change that affects the production of wine is water availability. Fresh water is a finite resource. In several global wine regions, particularly Australia and California, water is becoming exceedingly hard to come by. Even in areas where water is usually plentiful, such as here in the Finger Lakes, we are seeing a level 2 drought. Dr. Roger Boulton of UC Davis says that wineries should set a goal to reuse 1 gallon of water at least 9 times to meet the current and future supply constraints of fresh water availability globally.  Because water impacts both viticulture and winemaking, water availability changes as a result of climate change are very important to the global wine market.
Climate change has a very direct impact on vine growing globally. In many fine wine regions, murmurs of having to change classic varieties are starting. At the Agricultural University in Bordeaux, there is an experimental vineyard with 53 varieties growing that are not currently allowed to be planted in Bordeaux. Researchers are making very small wine batches to see if these varieties can keep the Bordeaux style but better handle the increasing temperatures. It could be that in the future, we’ll have to change the definition of what are “Bordeaux varieties”.

Extreme weather caused by climate change also has an impact on wine production. High winds, hail storms, late season frosts or early fall frosts can all wreak havoc with a vineyard. German growers have seen many issues with late frosts and severe hailstorms due to earlier budbreak than average in recent years. Niagara’s growing region in Canada also faces similar threats from early springs and warm winters which puts the area’s Ice wine production at risk. Bulk wine transportation has been severely impacted over the past few years due to the increasing severity of storms across the globe as well. Chile saw extremely high winds and rough seas over the winter of 2015 in their San Antonio port which inhibited the ability of container ships to pick up bulk wine being shipped overseas for packaging. Severe storms can also cause infrastructure break downs, as was seen in New Jersey just a few months ago, when flooding washed out roads and bulk wine traffic had to be re-routed to reach its final destination.  

Increasingly warm temperatures driven by climate change can also have an impact on pests and diseases affecting vineyards. Less cold winters can allow insects to thrive and increasing humidity from frequent summer storms can increase fungal pressure in vineyards. In 2015, there was a noted increase in Pierce’s disease in California, largely blamed on the two previous warm winters with drought conditions. One Kern County grower pointed out that warm winters do not kill off as many sharpshooters, the primary vector of Pierce’s disease. “You need at least 4 consecutive days below 55 degrees [F] to kill the sharpshooters and we just haven’t seen that type of cold recently.”  

Finally, with global consumer concerns about climate change rising, the global wine market must tailor their marketing to appeal to these new concerns. “Wine is one of the few industries that could be Carbon negative, if it was profitable to be so” states Dr. Boulton. “Green” marketing initiatives including light weight bottles, sustainably certified vineyards, and energy efficient winery architecture are all ways that the global wine market are selling environmentally friendly wine to consumers. Even the Ontario Liquor Control Board is requiring wineries selling their products into Canada to reduce their Carbon footprint by using only lightweight glass for still wine products. Climate change is increasingly important to the wine consumer, therefore it should be increasingly important to the global wine market.

As climate change reshapes the world we live in, the global wine market must be prepared to adapt all aspects of production, transportation and marketing to change with it. From examining new varieties in the vineyard and new technologies in the winery to working through difficult transportation issues and marketing directly to an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer, climate change is impacting the wine industry in many surprising ways.

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  • Snooth User: MrWino101
    1501408 89

    First it was the coming ice age. Then it was global cooling. Then it was global warming. Then it was climate change. These "climate, save the whale and spotted owl" prognosticators can't even tell you the weather next month, more less in 50 years. It's not any of those ridiculous blathering's. IT'S CALLED THE WEATHER! Everything will be fine. Just sit back, put down your microwave brain cancer-causing cell phone and enjoy a nice glass of Pinot and watch the game on your also cancer-causing TV being transmitted via the cancer-causing EMP electrical lines!!!

    Sep 08, 2016 at 3:35 PM

  • Snooth User: istephen
    565932 8

    Hi Nova,

    Thanks for writing about this issue. You are exactly right about the science, and the danger we're in. Much of the industry is NOT doing its part, still being committed to the outdated and unsustainable concept that it needs heavy bottles for prestige marketing. It's really an example of thinking deep inside the box.

    A couple of corrections: The correct name of Ontario's government wine and spirit monopoly is the "Liquor Control Board of Ontario". It is only responsible for alcohol sales in Ontario, not the rest of Canada (although there is some pressure to legalize transport of alcohol across provincial borders).

    A more important correction is that despite in the new policy, the LCBO did not actually ban the heavy glass. For 750 ml still wine bottles, they introduced a maximum weight of 420 grams (450 grams for Riesling / Hock due to the taller bottle). Wines priced at over Cdn $16 are EXEMPT from the "rule", which took effect on Apr. 1, 2016 (a very appropriate date, I think). Although it hasn't banned anything, the LCBO apparently looks favourably on lighter bottle weights when deciding what to list, and “fines” suppliers which don't meet the standard. I suspect that many of them just consider it a cost of doing business. The LCBO has also instituted system-wide carbon tracking.

    According to Wikipedia, the average weight of an empty 750 ml wine bottle is 500 grams (and can range from 300 to 900 grams). Other research has shown that 350 gram bottles are no more likely to break.

    On speaking with producers and their agents, I find that many of them are still committed to their heavy bottles. “Business as usual”, as usual. I suppose that we shouldn't be surprised.

    I'm of the opinion that it is time for the movers and shakers of the United Nations and the ISO to step in and set a real standard for wine bottles. I don't think this is as farfetched as it sounds, as the UN is building relationships with management schools, to make business more sustainable. But I still don't see much progress in business overall, as companies seem to think the “need” to market as they wish (with methods such as heavy bottles or profligate energy usage) takes precedence.

    Sep 21, 2016 at 6:55 PM

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