Climate change is altering the world in many ways. Not only is the average global temperature rising, but extreme weather phenomena, such as storms, heavy rainfall, droughts and heatwaves, are becoming more common. Extreme weather phenomena have an impact on all forms of agriculture, and grape cultivation is also becoming more challenging.
And it is not only wine that is being affected. The production of beer and other beverages is also being impacted due to smaller yields of cereals, whose use in the alcoholic beverage industry is being reduced in order to safeguard food production.
Higher temperatures change the flavour of grapes
Different varieties of grape thrive at different temperatures ranging from 12 to 22 degrees Celsius. Grape varieties can withstand temperature variations to different extents, but even a one-degree change in temperature can alter a grape’s taste profile. Higher temperatures will also bring harvest times forward, as the amount of sugar produced in the grapes will reach a high level before the grape’s tannins and natural flavourings have time to fully develop.
In order to continue grape cultivation, certain wine regions may be forced to replace their traditional grape varieties with more heat-resistant alternatives. Germany, for example, has traditionally focused on Rieslings and other light grape varieties. However, rising temperatures mean that red wines already account for more than a third of Germany’s total wine production, as red grape varieties withstand heat better than light varieties.
There may not be enough water to irrigate vineyards
Grape cultivation is currently concentrated in latitudes that, even under normal conditions, are subject to dry seasons and intermittent water shortages. Global warming is increasing this aridity, and there may not be enough water to irrigate vineyards. Many hot regions in California and Australia have become even hotter as a result of climate change and intermittently suffer from severe water shortages.
It is possible to use water more efficiently, both in grape cultivation and at wine production facilities, by introducing drip irrigation, collecting rainwater for later use and, when required, using wine tank cleaning water several times in a closed process.
Heat, plant disease or storms can ruin crops in an instant and drive producers into difficulties
A variety of extreme weather phenomena are becoming more common as a result of climate change. Sudden frosts, or moisture and plant diseases brought by heavy rainfall, can also ruin crops. Heatwaves, thunderstorms, hailstorms and forest fires can also destroy crops in an instant and drive wine producers into difficulties.
A heatwave can dry out grapes in only a few days.
Pests and plant diseases increase pesticide use
As temperatures rise, pests are also increasing in number and spreading into new areas. Increased rainfall and moisture expose vines to plant diseases. Pests and plant diseases increase the need for protective pesticides, and larger volumes of chemicals will then accumulate in soil or water.
Nordic countries becoming profitable for grape cultivation would be catastrophic
The vineyards of the future will be located at higher latitudes, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. By changing cultivation methods, it will be possible to continue growing grapes in existing wine regions. These methods include replacing current grape varieties with more heat-resistant alternatives, changing the orientation of vineyard rows in relation to the sun, and changing how grapevines are bound and the way foliage is managed to create shade and protection for vines.
Regions that used to be favourable for grape cultivation may become unfit for farming. At the same time, new areas – and even new countries – may become more favourable for cultivating grapes. For example, England was not previously regarded as a potential wine country, yet Alko’s selection now includes several English sparkling wines.
If the climate in Finland and the other Nordic countries becomes favourable for cultivating grapes in a commercially successful manner, we would already be in a catastrophic situation with regard to the climate. Many regions on Earth would have become uninhabitable as a result of heat and drought, and climate refugees would be commonplace.
How can the wine industry curb climate change?
The greenhouse gas emissions from grape cultivation and wine production can be reduced in many ways. The various work stages in vineyards can be combined to reduce tractor usage and tractors can be converted to run on biofuels. Reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers will also curb emissions, as their manufacture requires a great deal of energy.
Emissions from production facilities can be lowered by reducing energy consumption: for example, by optimising lighting or generating the required energy using solar panels. Electric pumps can also be replaced by gravity if wine processing stages are arranged to run from top to bottom within the building.
The choice of packaging material plays a major role in a beverage’s carbon footprint. A beverage’s carbon footprint can be reduced by choosing lightweight glass bottles or other lightweight packaging materials. Read more about the climate impacts of beverage packaging materials.