Climate change could dramatically reduce the Cape Winelands

We’ve been having some mighty funny weather all over the world recently; it’s April and the UK is yet to see the dawning of spring, it was so hot in Australia this year that the department of meteorology had to add new colours to the classification and the US is experiencing the worst drought for 25 years.


Hot off the press is a rather disturbing paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS). The scientific paper predicts dramatic changes to the Cape Winelands as a direct result of looming climate change. It suggests that, in South Africa, we could be looking at a reduction by as much as 55% in the area suitable for the cultivation of vines as early as 2050.

The study uses an array of climate change models to assess the impact of global warming on the major viticulture areas of the world (parts of Europe, North & South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) and identify possible secondary impacts on the environment linked to growing grapes for wine.

Vines are very temperature sensitive

Viticulture has hitherto been concentrated in areas associated with a Mediterranean climate and is very sensitive to climate – relatively small changes can have quite a dramatic impact on vineyards. Terroir (a sense of place noticeable in the wine) is heavily influenced by temperature and moisture. If temperatures increase, farmers may be forced to increase irrigation in order to maintain productivity and ‘mist’ grapes using water sprays to keep them at the right temperature. Clearly this will increase stress on water resources and negatively impact the local ecosystem. It’s not good news; the study gloomily predicts 9.8% less precipitation and considers that 44.9% of the existing winegrowing area in the Cape winelands is already suffering water stress.

The researchers estimate that the areas of the world suitable for viticulture will decrease by about 25% as a result of climate change. In South Africa in particular, the researchers indicate it could be as much as 55% decrease in the area suitable for viticulture by 2050. This video gives you an idea of the size of the problem.

Vineyards in new places

Vineyards may turn up in new places as higher altitudes and higher latitudes may, due to the changes in the weather, become suitable for growing grapes. Although of course it’s not so easy to just pick up an established farm and move it! And these ‘new’ areas may be virgin territory which haven’t previously been cultivated so there’s further impact on the environment to consider. In the case of the Cape Winelands, the researchers indicate that this could result in a 14% increase in the ecological footprint.

There’s a glimmer of hope. The researchers highlight the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative; the scheme is an industry-led effort which helps avoid planting vineyards in areas of high conservation importance and supports management practices to reduce the environmental footprint of vineyards. A ray of sunshine that the report suggests, alongside similar initiatives, will ‘benefit the industry, consumers, and conservation.’

Sources and further reading: – Uncomfortable time Australians especially climate change sceptics

US Economic Research Service – US Drought 2012

PNAS – climate change, wine, and conservation

You Tube – Climate Change, Wine, and Conservation

Wine Economist – Climate Change

New York Times – Scientists question impact as vineyards turn up in new places

Green 24 – Climate Change may shrink Cape winelands


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