Rising temperatures across the globe will have a massive effect on wine and consumption as the already tight optimum growing conditions shrink in the face of climate change.
Renowned vineyard climatologist Gregory Jones said Wednesday the change won’t exactly happen at a Hollywood movie pace, where the impact is both diagnosed and hits in the same two-hour film.
But temperatures from warming across the globe now weren’t originally predicted to reach these levels until 2050, Jones told about 100 people gathered at the Walla Walla Community College’s Health Sciences and Performing Arts Center.
July was the warmest month ever, he said. Temperatures for the month were 1.02 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average July between 1981 and 2010. It was also 0.07 degrees warmer than the previous hottest July in 2016.
“The planet is clearly warmer than any time it’s ever been,” Jones said.
In a presentation titled “Grapes and Wine: Structure, Suitability, and Sustainability in a Changing Climate,” he encouraged viticulturists to experiment with everything from cooling strategies to different varietals.
Opportunities exist to decrease vulnerabilities and increase adaptive capacity with the knowledge that the planet will only get warmer, he said.
This can take place through genetic adaptation, landscape changes, canopy geometry, row orientation and a better understanding of water use efficiencies, among other things.
“I would tell every grower they need to be experimenting with different varieties,” Jones said.
Jones is the director of the Evenstad Center for Wine Education. He holds the Evenstad Chair in Wine Studies and is a professor and research climatologist in the Department of Environmental Studies at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.
He has been in the top 100 most influential people in the American wine industry in 2012, 2013, and 2018 (intowine.com), and named in the Top 50 Wine Industry Leaders in Wine Business Monthly in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
His study of climate structure and suitability for viticulture and applied research for the grape and wine industry has informed hundreds of presentations regionally, nationally and internationally.
Sponsored by METIS, the Pacific Northwest mergers and acquisitions advisory firm with an office in Walla Walla, the presentation included a showing of the numerous charts and maps that provide visualization of the changes in rainfall, atmospheric temperatures, freezes and more.
The climate variability has a huge impact on grapes, affecting the structure of sugar, acid, phenolics and flavors — all essential components to a thriving wine industry.
Jones explained that each grape varietal in every growing area has a certain need for water, soil, temperature, and other elements to reach the “optimum zone” where grapes have consistent sugar levels and ripeness.
The temperature range for each grape and its growing area is rather small though. For instance, pinot noir has only a 4-degree climate niche, grown between 57 and 61 degrees for its optimum flavor.
Thus, when the overall temperature climbs, the ability for viticulturists to cultivate becomes more difficult.
Ultimately, with drastic change, the grapes that thrive in any particular region could struggle. That means, the 20 or so varieties most popular among consumers today may not thrive in the future.
“The wineries tend to want to cater to consumers and not necessarily adapt,” Jones said. “Somewhere along the way, push comes to shove.”
He said viticulturists can explore canopies and landscape covers as an initial start to combating higher temperatures, as more long-term concepts emerge.
“You can do small things that save you a little over time,” he said.