Summer wine production feels the heat

: IMPACT: High temperatures worry wine producers. Photo credit: Wikimedia

MILLIONS of people across Europe are either suffering or enjoying soaring temperatures in the summer of 2017, with sizzling barbeques, good food, and fine wine.

But as both global and regional records are broken, the wine growers supplying these summer feasts are feeling many negative effects of climate change on their trade.

This is not a problem for the future: climate change is already impacting vineyards all over the world, including regions producing household names such as Bordeaux, Alsace and Chianti.

Increased heat and CO2 levels can affect the flavour and ripening times of the fruit. Higher temperatures also cause pests and pathogens to thrive. At the local level, unpredictable weather can bring damaging downpours and hailstorms can decimate yields in hours.

France warmed by about 1.5ºC during the last century, and global wine production fell by 3.2 per cent in 2016, particularly in the southern hemisphere where Brazil suffered an eye-watering 55 per cent drop.

Scientists and industry are under pressure to respond and have been busy with projects that combine academic expertise and more practical industry know-how.

Researchers undertook more than 2,000 genetic tests for diseases such as powdery and downy mildew as well as black rot, finding many new sources of pest and stress resistance that plant breeders can incorporate into new varieties.

Larger vineyards already use sophisticated mathematical models to help them make decisions, like harvesting earlier if the temperature is consistently higher than expected because the grapes ripen in the sun more quickly. This was an opportunity for the team to integrate new project results into the models, or Decision Support Systems (DSS) as they are known.

With some areas predicted to warm and others to cool, climate change will create both winners and losers in the wine industry as current growing regions shift and new areas like southern England open up for wine cultivation. It is a world of problems, but also opportunities.