As one of the most climate-dependent disciplines in the world, the winegrowing industry has been hit particularly hard by the effects of global warming. Even minute changes in temperature and precipitation can have devastating effects on the chemistry and flavor of a wine. Many winegrowers are now taking steps to not only mitigate damages to their own livelihood, but to also aid in the long-term sustainability of the world around them. Here are some of the main ways that winegrowers everywhere are taking action.
Reducing carbon emissions
Arguably the most quintessential approach to fighting climate change is by addressing it at its source – reducing carbon emissions. Not only does achieving carbon neutrality have a direct effect on the success of the vineyard, but also in the overall health of the planet.
There are a multitude of different paths that vineyards are taking to achieve carbon neutrality. In general, there has been a significant focus on the implementation of renewable energy. Fetzer Vineyard, the first Zero Waste certified wine company int the world, has been operating from 100% renewable energy since 1999. Additionally, they’ve also implemented an eco-friendly wastewater treatment system that uses 85% less energy than traditional systems.
Other significant sources of carbon emissions in the winegrowing industry comes from packaging and shipping. According to Dr. Richard Smart, an Australian viticulture expert, as much as 68% of CO2 emissions in the winegrowing industry stem from the transport and shipping of wine in heavy glass bottles. Glass bottles often weigh as much as their contents, take up excess space due to their shape, and are frequently recycled improperly. Suggested solutions include bulk shipping (shipping wine in large containers to be bottled at their destination) and the use of eco-friendly bottles or even aluminum/cardboard packaging.
Improving soil health
Soil health has been a long-time key player in both local and global sustainable farming. With poor land management being among the largest contributors to climate change, many farmers and winegrowers are turning to a process known as carbon farming, in which practices are implemented that improve the rate at which CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere and into the soil. Although some experts have doubts regarding the effectiveness of improved soil management in fixing long-term climate change, many of the practices associated with carbon farming remain beneficial in other ways.
The process of tilling, which aerates the soil by removing organic matter, releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. As a result, some winegrowers are turning towards more sustainable forms of soil management, like adding compost or cover crops. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been advocating for no-till farming since the Dust Bowl of the 1920s in an effort to prevent soil erosion. Outside of carbon farming, improved soil quality can improve resiliency against drought, extreme heat, and other symptoms of climate change.
Using more diverse vines
In the face of increasingly hot and dry climates, it may be optimal to turn to vines that perform better in less ideal conditions. Some vineyards feel it’s best to accept the inevitable and make the most of it. For example, the Bordeaux Wine Council of Bordeaux, France, has recently authorized the introduction of 6 new heat-resistant grape varieties to be planted in the region. By using grapes with varied ripening periods, winegrowers to able to account for the increasing disparities between seasons as a result of climate change.
The use of agrobiodiversity (or the variation within crops) has been a long-time suggested practice in mitigating the effects of climate change. A recent study measuring how intraspecific diversity influences crop loss found that a highly diverse cultivar selection more than halved projected losses in current winegrowing areas under a 2°C warming scenario. Not only does this have implications for short-term solutions for current vineyards, but also long-term implications for the future of the industry as a whole.
Reducing water waste
The warmer and drier conditions associated with climate change will have serious implications for the water availability of winegrowing regions. As a result, many farmers are investing in state-of-the-art irrigation and water conversation systems in order to make the most of their resources and reduce waste. Not only does this allow the farmers to adapt to the challenges of harsher climates, but also lessens the harm to nearby communities and other farms.
In a recent study, researchers found that the implementation of precision irrigation using specialized sensors and a NDIV-generated map could increase the profitability, water use efficiency, and yield of a vineyard. The intersection of agriculture and modern technologies like data analytics continues to grow as more and more winegrowers are recognizing the risks of inefficient water use in the face of climate change.
Some farmers have even gone so far as to ditch irrigation in favor of relying on rainwater and better soil management. The Deep Roots Coalition, an anti-irrigation advocacy group based out of Oregon, has been educating vineyards on the threats of unsustainable water use and the benefits of dry farming since its founding in 2004. Brad McLeroy, the winemaker at coalition member Ayres Vineyard, says their vines are better equipped to handle drought conditions as they’ve been trained to reach deeper into the soil as opposed to growing horizontally.
The winegrowing industry needs to act now
With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly apparent, it’s critical that winegrowers take the necessary steps to protect both themselves and the world around them. The future of both the winegrowing industry and the communities they impact are dependent on the actions they take now. To read more about what’s new in the wine and spirits industry, check out our white paper on the 5 Trends in the Beverage Alcohol Industry for 2021.