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15 February 2008

"Climate Change and Wine" conference, Barcelona


"Climate Change and Wine," Barcelona 15 February 2008

Pancho Campo & Al Gore by video link
www.climatechangeandwine.com
Rain in Spain no longer on the plain
“The hotel manager just told me the pool outside the building will be confiscated,” a dramatic Pancho Campo announced - president of the Wine Academy of Spain and organiser of last week’s ‘Climate Change and Wine’ conference in Barcelona - as an example of the Spanish government’s new measures to reclaim water and reduce irrigation. At a time when “the maximum number of consecutive days without rain has now moved from 50 to 60,” ironically parts of Spain witnessed dramatic storms in August and October 2007 causing drastic flooding. “According to flood predictions, Bordeaux’s vineyards, for example, will be under water if the sea rises by 1.5 metres,” Campo added.
This increasing pattern of drought and flood was echoed by other speakers in Barcelona. Viticulture consultant Richard Smart said that “Australia will see shrinkage of possible grape growing regions towards the southern coasts and altitude,” yet 70% of them are currently along the Murray River centred on one of the hottest areas around Mildura. “If average temperatures increase by over 2°C, we’re not sure what will happen. But the inland irrigation areas already have an MJT (mean January/July [southern/northern hemisphere] temperature) of 25, much above this they’ll only be suitable for table and dried grape production.” Tony Sharley from Banrock Station based in Mildura said irrigation was “the biggest mistake we’ve made in Oz in the last 50 years.” The winery claims it will reduce water usage by 50% over the next two years using precise  irrigation technology, recycling schemes, vineyard mulching and preservation of the habitat around Banrock’s Wine & Wetland Centre.
Smart cited “the lucky regions” as Chile and Argentina, Tasmania, New Zealand, northern Europe and inland and northern China even. Vicente Sotés, a Madrid university professor, said “there’s no available land above 43° North in Spain, and in Rioja plantings already go up to 600m.” New high-altitude vineyard projects include the Canary Islands, Sierra Nevada in Granada and Pyrenees foothills, where Torres has already made a move.

February 2008: 
news piece above written for a business magazine. Read on, below and right, for my full report summarising the main speakers at the conference. More info from their website: II International Conference on Climate Change & Wine.

Stop Press June 2008
Rainfall in Catalonia was more than double the average in May 2008; and the story's similar in other parts of Spain although at least it's now hot in the south, whereas more heavy storms are predicted for Catalunya this week coming. What was that about unpredictable weather and drought?! Posted on Sunday 8/6/08, "quite hot and breezy with possible rain later!"

Summary of key ideas and data

Richard Smart - viticulture consultant
We could witness a growing number of new insect species appearing, directly related to global warming (GW) effects, that weren’t previously native to a particular area; such as the Asian yellow ladybird (?) which is “bad news for viticulture.”
We know temperature has a key effect on wine styles, so an increase in average temps. will result in higher alcohol and PH levels and lower acidity. Reds might also lose colour and whites their varietal characteristics in addition to a logical progression from white to red plantings.
Adaptability of popular varieties:
Chardonnay - can be grown successfully across a wide climate range.
According to tests in Australia, producing quality Pinot Noir will be limited to the coolest regions with optimum MJT of 18-19°.

Cabernet Sauvignon 22+°, Syrah up to 23, Riesling surprisingly up to 22.
1°C might not seem a lot of difference, but in terms of MJT (i.e. average over a long period) it equates to several hotter days in July in Europe. So at nearly 20° MJT in the perhaps near future, Burgundy will become more like Rioja (C.F. Pinot figures above); and Madrid will be way over 25. If the same happened in California, then e.g. the Modesto area would move beyond the growing range for wine grapes. Conversely, if predictions that the Gulf Stream will weaken are right, then western Europe will have much colder winters.
Solution = change regions or varieties, the latter is obviously easier.
Existing warm and cool areas should benefit with emergence of new cool climate growing regions such as England and Denmark (already are but could become larger scale).
RS also discussed how this could effect vineyard investment: 1 hectare (ha = 2.47 acres) in Marlborough, NZ currently costs around Aus$ 200,000; potential new cool climate areas suitable for planting could be as low as 6K at current prices…
Options - head north/south (n/s hemisphere)
-          higher altitude
-          nearer the coast.
Hence new areas of investment already opening up, such as in Spain towards the Pyrenees (see above and below for more info). There are promising undeveloped coastal areas in New World countries, which isn’t the case in much of Europe…
Expanding on RS’s “lucky regions” – Chile’s wine regions benefit from cold sea currents; plantings could also spread closer to the Andes or further south. Ditto Argentina, where some vineyard areas are already at very high altitude or have expanded into Patagonia.
China – quite a few areas fit the right temp. range in drier inland and northern regions well away from the wet humid coasts.
Responses - Harvest at night (already standard practice in hot regions)
- Breed new varieties by classical technology not GMO (RS thinks millions have been wasted developing e.g. GM drought-resistant Chardonnay that might be a commercial reality in 20 or 30 years time.)
- Increase plantings of e.g. Petit Verdot (considered by some as Bordeaux’s finest red variety but it only ripens properly there in the warmest years), red Greek varieties?


Tony Sharley – environmental scientist & manager, Banrock Station
Wine & Wetland Centre
from www.banrockstation.com
Following on pertinently from RS’s presentation and referring back to TS’s selected comments in the news piece at the top, Banrock located in Australia’s hot Mildura area has ploughed a lot of energy into climate change (CC) considerations and environmental conservation. A cynic might call this trendy marketing; but, bearing in mind the amount of money and time invested in their ‘Wine & Wetland Centre’, there certainly seems to be substance behind the ‘Good Earth, Fine Wine’ brand. Read on for a few details.
Early goals in the 90s – find the most suitable varieties, install the best irrigation technology, try for disease free vineyards, and develop the wetland conservation area (improving habitat and water quality) for eco- as well as wine tourism.
The pictures show there are now trees and green vegetation around the vineyards because:
- 90% of irrigation water is used by the vines: 6.5 mega-litres per ha from the start v 10 the norm, with a target of 3.5 after trials with PRD (Partial Root-zone Drying, efficient irrigation system that alternates vine feeding from one side to the other). Government water restrictions are now in force.
- Avoid putting salt back into the river.
- Native crop cover to reduce erosion and increase cooling.
- Mulching using grape marc.
Winery - Use effluent to grow new tree plantations.
- Water capture and reuse with a goal of ISO 14001 certification.
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategy using the new NZ model just published.
- Recycling and alternative packaging e.g. tetrapak.
- Restore the balance between the region’s usual drought/flood cycle by drying out the wetland at certain times (no I didn’t really understand that either, best check out their website under photo above!).
- Reintroduction of extinct native species and vegetation.
- The Centre was designed to reduce CO2 emissions, use solar energy etc.; nature trails mapped out, local food sourcing.
They claim to have contributed Aus$5 million from Banrock sales to conservation projects in 12 countries. Apparently, what he calls ‘wetlands’ make up 6% of the planet’s surface area and they absorb 35% of atmospheric CO2 and deliver fresh water into our rivers; which really puts things in perspective. TS concluded by reiterating the importance of reducing water usage, with predictions of 20 to 30% less rainfall over the next 30 to 50 years in the Murray Darling region. Interestingly, there was no mention about vineyard chemical usage and organic viticulture?

Fernando Zamora – professor of oenology, Tarragona University
Alberto García Luján – director agriculture research & training centre, Jerez, and vice-president of OIV (International Organisation of Vines & Wines)
Vicente Sotés
 – Madrid Polytechnic University
José Ramón Lissarague
 – professor of viticulture Madrid Polytechnic University, winery consultant
Santiago Minguez
 – director oenology & viticulture INCAVI and Barcelona University prof.

The heavyweight Spanish contingent covered similar ground to other speakers based on ongoing research and personal observations mostly in Catalonia and Andalusia; showing broad agreement on potential major problems facing growers and winemakers, the main points are summarised below.
– Increases in sugar ripeness and % alcohol levels v tannin/acidity ripeness out of sync, higher pH v lower total acidity; yet earlier harvest dates already more common.
- Effect on photosynthesis and leaf growth due to higher temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels v less water available?
- Could result in reduction of canopy size, smaller berries and drop in yields.
- Grape skin oxidation from sunburn affecting flavour, colour, tannins and hence wine structure & ageing potential.

New regions, new varieties?
- 80% Spanish vineyards are not irrigated as water supply is already stretched.
- Difficulty with forming new EU wide policy for 27 countries.

- Comparisons with Mendoza, Argentina where new vineyard areas are emerging at higher altitude. How can we move vineyards in Spain? Average temp. decrease of about 0.6°C for each 100 metre rise in altitude or 1° latitude, but vineyards are already close to woodlands and mountains: see examples in the north and Granada (experimental plantings at +1000m) at the top.
Recent data from Jerez:
- Rainfall has dropped from an average of 600 litres / m² over the last 114 years to 514 litres over the past 20 years. Higher temps. yet drastic storms at the wrong time e.g. August 07. Winter varying between very cold bursts and spring like weather. Harvest dates have moved back to end of Aug. from first week Sept. Increase in pests such as the green mosquito.
Solutions could include:
- Choosing different rootstocks. “Tricky” to change local varieties because of long tradition, so could plant different clones with more suitable properties e.g. better acidity levels, later ripening etc. Adapt leaf canopy management to protect rather than expose bunches. Move closer to the Atlantic, which has a very important influence on Sherry production (humidity levels partly determine ‘flor’ growth, the yeast that grows inside the barrel across the maturing wine and largely responsible for the Fino style, although humidity is artificially controlled in the cellar using water sprays; so yet more water…) Plant vines on north facing slopes in hot areas: eminently logical and doable.
And in Catalonia:
- Adapt to CC with new technology, stop using the wrong ones e.g. gratuitous overhead irrigation. GMO food is already becoming a norm so why not viticulture? (much more contentious topic that one…) Farming is one of the biggest consumers of water so that has to change. CO2 emissions are high in Catalonia from industry and traffic (might have something to do with all those big 4x4 tanks clogging up Barcelona’s streets). Calculated that 1 million hectolitres (= 100m L) of wine puts 10,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere from fermentation alone! (More on that below in Pancho Campo’s presentation.)

Pascal Chatonnet – international consultant, PhD research in various boffin fields
CC and wine – adapting winemaking techniques
If we can expect variations of 2 to 4°C in ave. temps, the highest quality wines will only be possible in cool to moderately hot regions. Some areas will see drier winters and summers and new pests. Changes in photosynthesis, vine vigour/fertility, resistance to water stress…
- Flowering in France is now 2 to 3 weeks earlier than 20 years ago.
- Véraison (berry colour set) in Bordeaux about 3 weeks earlier than 40 years ago, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape 4 weeks earlier than 60 years ago; which means overall a shorter ripening period.
A few examples:
- Dijon, Burgundy might shift from cool to temperate climate (c.f. previous comments on Pinot Noir).
- In California and Oz, vineyards have migrated towards the coasts; next step is more specific mapping of best sites for certain varieties within these new zones.
- So for a broadly homogenous Mediterranean climate: e.g. Marselan (Cab Sauv/Grenache cross) showing promise in the Languedoc, maybe a comeback for Carignan? Cool/maritime regions: Merlot, white varieties. Hot Med: e.g. Touriga, Petit Verdot… PC questioned future adaptability of Tempranillo in Rioja. Tests on Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux reveal increased plant activity due to higher temps. and CO2 levels leads to higher yields but a rapid drop in quality.
- Altitude planting = even +200m would balance out CC effects? If so, it’s tough sxxx for Bordeaux then (highest altitude anywhere there is about 50m above sea level!).
Vineyard adaptation:
- Shorter pruning = less fertile buds; shoot-thinning before flowering; timely green-harvesting to prevent the vine from over-compensating (the biggest criticism of this technique); too hot & lack of water results in photosynthesis stopping (e.g. 2003 in Europe) or increased plant respiration which degrades mostly malic acid in the grapes (a harsher acid yet the one that bestows greater longevity in wines).
- Choose varieties with the right malic/tartaric acid ratio.
- Elevated potassium levels also effect malic production.
- Grape shading is one possible technique, although this decreases sugar accumulation and colour and increases the amount of malic and herbaceous characters.
 - Balanced nitrogen management (fertilising) can improve polyphenol (tannins, colour) levels in reds but it’s the reverse for whites.
 - Water stress can stop photosynthesis but increase polyphenol accumulation in reds while whites lose aromas, also shrink in berry size having a qualitative effect (concentration) although lowering quantity (less liquid).
 - Most European wine areas now have water stress problems so new terroirs have to be identified, where rootstock selection and soil preparation will be very important; any irrigation should be via precise technology.
 - Ripeness monitoring will become a fine art to prevent sugar levels from spiralling upwards to the detriment of acid/phenol balance.
In the winery:
- Yeast strains resistant to high alcohol yet produce less.
- Cold soak instead of high temperature extraction (to avoid hard tannins or other undesirable traits).
- Reduce alcohol content by distillation (‘spinning cone’) or reverse osmosis technology.
- Or better still reduce the amount of sugar in the must first.

Pancho Campo - president Wine Academy of Spain
Ethical, financial and marketing/consumer issues: a few poignant facts, examples and observations on CC taken from PC’s thesis research.
-          Refer back to first item for rainfall figures in Spain; on average down yet February-April have become drier, most important period for vine water uptake, while it’s increasingly falling at harvest time. Flooding 1960 v 2000 is definitely more common; there was also a tornado at Barcelona airport in August 2006!
-          Tracking 6 varieties in Catalonia, véraison has moved forwards especially for Parellada (important in Cava production).
-          Non-native pests appearing.
-          Less downy mildew and botrytis rot, a good thing unless you’re making sweet wines reliant on the latter.
-          Sunburnt grapes and UV effects.
-          Increased risks of microbial infection in vines such as volatile acidity and brettanomyces because of higher alcohol, potassium and pH and lower acidity (bacteria can’t function very well in a high acid environment i.e. low pH).
-          We need to look closer at other GHGs such as methane, which has 24 times the effect of CO2.
-          CO2 in winemaking process in 3 main categories: energy used to grow grapes, emissions from vinification, transport and packaging.
-          ‘Carbon footprints’ (CF) for different transport methods (I didn’t note what these measurements actually are but this gives a useful comparison anyway): by ship 52 or 62 in refrigerated containers (NB very recent data says this might in fact be 3x this figure but compared with the following…), train 200, truck 250 and air freight 570.
-          Important to consider barrel production and transport in the equation, as most oak is from France, the US and eastern Europe. Good forest management is vital as young trees absorb much more CO2 than old ones, but the transportation circle (truck/train or ship/truck) adds a lot of pollution. Torres has planted a load of trees in Penedés and Tenerife, which one cynical delegate called “marketing” given their enormous production!
-          A couple of fascinating CF brand examples:
-          Yellow Tail – 12 million case sales in USA, glass sourced locally, no barrel ageing, loaded into containers and trucked to port then shipped directly into e.g. LA or port & train to NYC. CO2 emissions = 2.2 kg per bottle production + distribution = 3.44 kg / bottle x 12m cases!
-          Napa ‘cult wine’ – heavy bottles and wooden cases, shipped directly to consumer by express delivery = 4.5 kg / bottle.
-          CC northern (more continental mass) v southern hemisphere (more water mass = cooler currents)…
-          Financial loss: climate catastrophes, increasing flooding although for the moment insurance costs have not risen that much (yet). Will cost more in the long term if do nothing, cost less if we act sooner…
-          Marketing & consumer
-          Change in existing wine styles.
-          Red production increasing in Germany, implications for fine sparkling wines (where pH/acidity is key); wines from Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium…; more opportunities for green and organic wines.
-          Although PC thinks recycling issues will be more important, lighter packaging etc.
-          GHG emissions in Spain are already +50% above levels promised in the Kyoto Agreement!
-          Renewable energy in Spain possible and suitable to climate: solar and wind power could become very significant.
-          We managed it with CFCs (remember them, from dodgy old fridges etc.) so why not GHGs? Global financial interests in oil industry are too great, has to be real political will…
-          PC concluded by saying the conference was supposedly sponsored by Rioja and other regions but there was no-one present from there (as well as Catalonia and Huelva who were)…

Michel Rolland and Jacques Lurton


Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end and missed a blind tasting of “climate change wines” commented by these two high-profile ‘international’ winemakers. You’ll see a list below of the ten wines they chose to illustrate their point. In general, they agree with other experts that the most obvious consequences of CC on grapes and styles will be more alcoholic wines, loss of acidity and changes in aroma. However, they emphasised that wine styles had changed anyway over the last 10-20 years due to improved vineyard management (better plant health and ripeness) and technical knowledge/equipment, which have blurred the reality of GW effects; although certainly the winemaker is getting used to more extreme, less predictable weather patterns.
Anyway, click on the following highlighted link to read a news report on Decanter.com, which gives you more views and info on this enlightening tasting.
1. Pierre Spar, Riesling 2007, Alsace
2. Humbrecht, Gewurztraminer 2005, Alsace
3. Domaine de la Perruche / Clos de Chaumont, Saumur-Champigny 2005, Loire Valley
4. Chateau La Louvière 2003, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
5. Chateau La Louvière 2004, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
6. Chateau Fontenil 2002, Fronsac, Bordeaux
7. Chateau Fontenil 2003, Fronsac, Bordeaux
8. Genoels Elderen 2003, Belgium
9. Remelluri 2003, Rioja Alavesa

10. Viña Santa Herminia 2003, Rioja Baja.


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