Texas Wine and Climate Change

20th Jul 2017 @ 09:21 by Ame

March 2016

Each year is filled with important milestones and 2015 was not the exception. One of these recaps was the Cop21 or United Nations Conference on Climate Change held in Paris, not long after those infamous attacks at the French Capital.

Countries gathered at the Parc des Expositions Paris le Bourget have pledged to stop the Earth’s temperature from increasing more than 2ºC (3.6ºF) and plan to achieve this goal by the end of the century (as their models suggest that earth’s temperature would reach this increase). Furthermore, they agreed to try to keep it below 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) to protect island states which are more exposed to the rise in sea level. All of the above is based on predictions of life threatening consequences in some areas of the globe they say would happen if the temperature were to rise above that of 2ºC from what it is today.

Being a humble winemaker in Texas I cannot do much other than accept what 195 countries have adopted as the truth: the planet is getting warmer and if we do nothing about it, it is going to get worse.

Since my plan (God willing) is to stay in the wine business over the next four decades it concerns me as to what the situation will be, say in 2050. Am I still going to have a job, should I consider a career change?

So, I ask Mr. Google about “climate change” and I read a paper called “Climate change, wine, and conservation,” by Lee Hannah and eight other scientists, published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) in 2013.

I’m shocked right from the first paragraph of the abstract writing, because they have both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios for the coming decades that forecast substantial decreases of suitable area for viticulture from 19% to 73%! I stopped reading right there and went for a glass of our Fall Creek Vineyards Vintner’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese/Merlot blend, just to make this mind blowing fact more palatable.

Then, they suggest that since the air is going to be so hot, sprinkling water over grapes will be necessary to cool grapes down to a reasonable temperature. As a result, this brings up new water conservation issues. Of course, I also, said, “WHAT?! For those of you not familiar with viticulture should know that any free water over grapes during the summer is literally a hotbed for fungus deceases.

Digging a bit into the paper regarding the suggestion to cool grapes down, I find only one reference from an engineer that was measuring stream flow variations during hot days in the summer and cold days in the spring, but no explanation of the need to create a “cooling down system”. Apparently they confused a standard irrigation procedure (focused on the roots) during high atmospheric water demand periods with some novel cooling system, which, by the way, works fine for frost control during cold spring days. Maybe that is what confused them?

After a few sips of wine I keep reading. They published striking maps showing soon-to-be-gone viticulture areas and new ones to come around the world. For example, Italy (and all red colored areas on the map) would no longer be able to produce wine and France would be completely redrawn…start thinking about something to replace those beautiful Brunellos! More wine!

Further down the article I had to say, “Wait a minute”! On one hand they point out that the most prominent new wine region in the US would be the Northwest especially in the Rocky Mountains near the Canada/US border (shown in blue and light blue on the map). On the other hand, they say expansion of new vineyards in the area, including all its related developments (houses, roads, wineries, etc) might threaten protected habitats, of perhaps Yellowstone and Yukon. So here is the prediction: a climate change with the capacity to eliminate vineyards in vast areas, relocating them to new zones, is not strong enough to affect current ecosystems where large mammals and other species are protected. How could that possibly work? They even suggest timely land acquisitions to prevent the potential ecological threat that the wine industry represents.

The article simply gets worse. These scientists claim that tropical mountain terrain have the potential to become relevant viticulture areas, threatening, again, those high biodiversity areas.

Well, maybe I don’t know enough to criticize a scientific paper like this, even though I still think it should be cross checked with people belonging to the disciplines they are talking about and who work with viticulture. But, the one thing that irritates me is how tunnel visioned they are when they boldly affirm that certain areas will be too hot and/or too dry to grow grapes. And I have two reasons to be outraged at them:

1. Grape growing started, at least, some 7,400 years ago in the desert regions of the Middle East where one of the most torrid summers on earth can be felt and yet vines where able to thrive there even before they were domesticated. Professor Patrick E. McGovern (www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/) can tell you all about it.

This is the reason why we can grow wine grapes successfully here in Texas. Grapes are fully adapted to the hot weather just like they were when they were first discovered by early civilizations, so I think there is also a need for cross checking, so they can really back up their conclusions.

2. The kind of environment which these writers are claiming to be impossible for viticulture in the future already exist on our planet, actually, within the very USA. It is like these people have a “window to the future” where grapes are thriving in places that today are as warm as the places which they are predicting are going to be in the future. In other words, they have the perfect “test site” right here, right now. Why not use these areas to check and eventually correct the models?

If they don’t pay attention to this and Texas goes beyond 10,000 acres of vines these scientists are really going to have to come up with a good explanation about how their models are wrong.

As I said at the beginning, I can’t contradict what has been agreed by all the countries on the planet but, honestly, if they are airing their concerns in publications like these I’m not so sure anymore.

Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking