Will Climate Change Affect the Way we Produce Wine?
Mon, 16 March 2015
Vintage 2015 is in full swing across Australia. At Taylors, our winemakers hailed the beginning of vintage in the first week of February, when the grape parameters were all in balance – the sugars, acidity, tannins and flavour compounds. And this season’s fruit is once again a beautiful expression of our Clare Valley terroir, and of seasonal variations. The date of harvest changes every year, but we haven’t had a traditional autumn harvest on the estate since 2009.
And we’re not alone
Across Australia winters are warming, growing seasons are earlier, and vintages are coming forward. This is more than an observation. Viticulturist Professor Snow Barlow says research over the past 50 years shows coastal wine regions have warmed between 0.7 and one degree, and inland regions as much as two degrees. Vines are temperature-driven, so when the mercury rises, fruit ripening is accelerated and harvest dates are earlier.
The impact of global warming on grape growing
Professor Barlow has been at the forefront of research on grape growing and the impact of climate change since the Kyoto negotiations in the 1990s, but as Max Allen points out in The Future Makers: Australian Wines for the 21st Century, it wasn’t until 2007 that many winemakers heeded the science. The drought was taking hold, squeezing life out of sunburnt vines, and in turn shrivelling hopes for the wine industry’s long-term future, as climate experts predicted that by 2050 warmer growing regions would be out of production. The advice was to prepare for global warming, use less water, fewer chemicals, and plant more trees. And many did.
How the wine industry is adapting to rising temperatures
Some have moved to higher ground or further south to grow their cool climate Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Others have planted vineyards east-to-west and manipulated the canopy to protect berries from the scorching afternoon sun. And we’re seen new technologies and innovations in grape growing and winemaking that are helping producers prepare for climate variations and extreme heat.
What about the wine?
We’ve also seen a broadening of our palate as we accept different wine styles and grape varieties. A trend driven by necessity, rather than solely by consumer preferences. Market research didn’t indicate an emerging thirst for Gruner Veltliner, Nero d’Avola, Vermentino or Tempranillo, but wine producers adopted these alternative grape varieties because they thrive in hot climates without compromising quality and flavour.
Sustainability in action
Faced with the effects of climate change, government and industry bodies have upped the ante to help the wine industry adapt to the effects of a warming world. And McLaren Vale has released its free Sustainable Australia Winegrowing program to wine regions across the country. The results speak for themselves, with 40 per cent of South Australia’s wine industry now committed to using less agrichemicals, nurturing healthy soils, reclaiming water, and saving energy.
Our commitment to sustainability
For the wine industry, climate change is more than rising temperatures and earlier harvests. It’s the catalyst for change. Change in the way we look at growing grapes, producing wine, and all the processes we undertake between grape and glass.
At Taylors Wines, we’ve made strategic decisions to adopt sustainable practices in all we do. These practices have been in place for many years. In fact, we are so committed to a sustainable future that we launched the world’s first 100% carbon neutral range of wines in 2009 – Eighty Acres.
That year we also attained the international standard ISO 14044 as well as Environmental Management Systems certification in recognition of our environmental stewardship. Since then, we’ve won quite a few environmental awards for our sustainable initiatives.
Our environmental vision statement is to: “Act responsibly for future generations.” By adopting the highest standard of stewardship, we honour our founders and the future they envisaged for generations to come.
How we do this on our Clare Valley estate
Water is our most valuable resource, so every drop is recycled and reused. Water from our winery is captured and reticulated to the vineyard. Likewise the stormwater. And to safeguard against water being used when it’s not needed, we control dripper lines from our computers 24 hours a day. Organic mulch then traps the moisture, protecting it from evaporation, and in winter, we graze sheep to eat the weeds, pluck the leaves, and fertilise the soil.
A living vineyard
These practices have seen our soils rejuvenate and become alive with micronutrients and earthworms. A healthy soil means a healthy vine. And a healthy vine is strong, resilient, and equipped to fight disease and tolerate stress. It also produces super premium fruit. We feel the extra attention they receive is worth it.
Alternative grape varieties
We have also experimented with grape varieties that suit warm temperatures, looking to Mediterranean regions where the climate is similar to ours – cool wet winters and warm dry summers – and we’re pleased with the results.
Our white varietal Vermentino 2012 for example is described by our winemakers as an “aromatic wine with well-balanced acid providing a soft palate whilst maintaining a fresh, crisp finish.” And of the Tempranillo 2014, our winemakers say it is a beautifully balanced, flavoursome, red wine which will reward “careful cellaring up to and possibly beyond 2020.”
Longevity is at the forefront of everything we do and decide at Taylors. Are we influenced by climate change? Definitely, and we will continue to be. Has it pushed us to make better wines, and prepare for a sustainable future? We believe so!