Climate change threatens our wines

2014-07-14 08:20

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Young Australian vintner Nick Glaetzer's winemaking-steeped family thought he was crazy when he abandoned the Barossa Valley, the hot, dry region that is home to the country's world-famous big, brassy shiraz.

Trampling over the family's century-old grape-growing roots on the Australian mainland, Glaetzer headed south to the island state of Tasmania to strike out on his own and prove to the naysayers there was a successful future in cooler climate wines.

Just five years later, Glaetzer made history when his Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz won a major national award - the first time judges had handed the coveted trophy to a shiraz made south of the Bass Strait separating Tasmania from the Australian mainland.

 
Glaetzer's gamble embodies a major shift in Australia's wine-growing industry as it responds to climate change.

A study by the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that up to 73% of Australian land currently used for viticulture could become unsuitable by 2050.

As the country's traditional wine growing regions including the Barossa, the Hunter Valley and Margaret River grow ever hotter and drier, winemakers are rushing to the tiny island state of Tasmania. Average summer temperatures there are currently about 38% cooler than in the Barossa.

Expensive

Temperatures in Australia's main wine regions are projected to increase by between 0.3 and 1.7°C by 2030, according to the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.

The hotter temperatures would reduce grape quality by 12 to 57%, the agency's modelling shows. But in cooler Tasmania, warmer weather could be a benefit because current temperatures can get too chilly for some grape varieties.

Wine makers are so concerned about the impact of global warming on the $5.3bn industry that they funded a government-backed experiment in the Barossa vineyards to simulate the drier conditions expected in 30-50 years' time.

For wine lovers, the upshot is that Australia's iconic shiraz is already changing, Glaetzer's version is 15-20% lower in alcohol content than its Barossa cousins, and could be unrecognizable in half a century's time.

"If the projections are right, a shiraz in the Barossa in 50 years' time may well taste totally different to what it does at the moment", said Michael McCarthy, the government scientist heading up the Barossa experiment.

The flight south comes as Australia's wine industry emerges from a disastrous few decades, blighted by a high Australian dollar and a lengthy grape glut that saw exports plummet.

While the national wine industry has shrunk 1.9% annually from 2009 to 2014, the Tasmanian state industry is growing at a rate of close to 10% per annum, according to the Tasmanian Climate Change Office.

"We are investing increasingly in Tasmania, because it's one of the cooler areas in Australia to grow grapes and if we are going to have climate change, you might as well start in a cooler climate", said Cecil Camilleri, the manager of sustainable wine programs at Yalumba, the 165-year-old winemaking company that has snapped up three Tasmanian properties in the past 15 years.

Treasury wine estates, the world's No 2 wine company, last year purchased Tasmania's White Hills vineyard. The move was a geographical hedge as well as part of its strategy of owning or controlling vineyards that supply grapes suited to its luxury wine portfolio.

The company has sold its vineyards in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney where the world-famous Lindemans brand originated, citing its concern that the region will become "hot and dry and expensive".
Read more on:    us  |  australia  |  climate change  |  plants

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