The subject of climate change is not of new information for anyone. Many of us reading this are old enough to realize or notice that no matter where you stand on the issue, our world and the seasons are not quite what they used to be when we were children. Those in the agricultural industry are often more aware than perhaps they would like to admit, yet the challenges are there.
The California wine industry is no stranger to the challenges and obstacles they face with on-going climate change. Rising temperatures are not the only factor that threatens the livelihood of their long-standing wine industry. Drought, pests and unpredictable and unprecedented weather events are often more of an issue. Throughout the world, winemakers who are paying attention to the changing weather trends and have been paying attention are making their move either further north or south.
The threat to California's Wine Industry Economy
The wine industry of California accounts for a big piece of the pie for the state's annual income and economy. California's wine industry is ranked 4th worldwide and makes well-over $15 billion in annual sales. This number does not include the monies made in export or direct sales. The overall price is $61.6 billion according to academicwino.com, with the price of $121.8 billion on the national economy. So, it's kind of a big deal if the industry were to collapse in the face of climate change. Furthermore according to the same site, it has been estimated that by 2100, there will be an 81% decline in "suitable vineyards for premium wine production". While that timeline will reach beyond most of our lives, our children and grandchildren are likely to feel the full brunt of such an event. There are over 4,500 growers in the entire state. What are these wineries and growers to do when climate change is threatening their way of life?
Varietals in Danger of Climate Change
In the more southern regions of California, particularly Central Valley, the increase of rising temperatures on a yearly basis is already too hot for the cultivation of grapes. For example, in the region of Lodi, there are about 80% of vineyards that fall under Class IV and Class V, respectively hot and very hot, classification according to the Winkler Index. These classifications are likely to change with the ongoing temperature increase.
Although even Cabernet Sauvignon is grown and thrives well in hotter regions, it is predicted that even the Napa Valley will be too hot in just a few decades, for quality fruit to be grown for award-winning Cab wines. On the other side of the scale, Pinot Noir thrives in the cool conditions of Sonoma. However, with increasing temperatures, the "cool" regions will no longer be cool enough to grow such a variety. Perhaps even these cool regions will become Cabernet regions. For some white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and other white varieties, which have shorter growing seasons and thrive from cooler to gradual hot conditions early on in the season and mature early on, California might be obsolete for growing such delicate whites.
The Future of California's Wine Industry
Climate change, however, does not only create a challenge of heat indexing, but also in the amount of precipitation the regions receive. It has been generally predicted that the more southern regions will see more drought conditions with less rain and more precipitation in the north. However, climate change, even with more precipitation does not mean it is ideal. Most rain events are dramatic and extreme with large amounts of water being poured over scorched land and drought areas, making them prone to flood and erosion. It is the overall consistent soil moisture that is threatening the industry as well.
However, California is known to be somewhat progressive in the face of obstacles and challenges. Wineries are already studying their overall carbon footprint and how they manage their vines. Traditional trellising systems are undergoing change and alterations as well is canopy management to safeguard fruit when the growing season is at its warmest. Wineries are making plans in their water management and finding more sustainable irrigation. Dry farming is even being put to use in some areas where it is possible. For those who must relocate their vineyards, many are preparing and buying property in higher altitudes and mountain sites where vines can escape from the intense rays of the sun and hotter temperatures in the valleys.
The only real solution however for some California winegrowers who have the funds available is to relocate, purchase new property and look for new wine growing regions. Yellowstone Park has already been marked, however there have already been clashes with wolf packs, according to thegaurdian.com. For those who wish to stay in the wine industry, they must move north, and for some, that includes purchasing land in Oregon, Washington and as far south as Canada. However, it could give the industry a new start and a new outlook in the methods in which they care for their vines and thus the environment. In any case, it is a game-changer for the state of California, for the wine industry and how we are to look at wine and even how we normally enjoy it.