An infamously meticulous craft, the production of high quality wine is dependent on a number of factors as it makes its way from vine to bottle. In the vineyard, however, climate in particular is highly influential, holding the power to make or break the style, quality and flavour of the grapes. So now, with the effects of climate change knocking on our door sooner and with more intensity than expected, the question must be asked; how will this influence the wine we produce?
As 2016 comes to a close, scientists are predicting that by global standards it will be the hottest year on record, just one small symptom of our ailing environment. Despite this, in the Southwest of Western Australia where our Howard Park Winery is located, we are currently experiencing the coolest season in 10 years. As the effects of global warming become more and more rampant throughout Australia, wine grape crops are beginning to suffer immensely. Erratic and disparate weather patterns (throughout the country) have become increasingly frequent, with many wine regions across Australia suffering through unprecedented droughts, floods, bushfires and rises in temperature throughout recent years. What’s more, these extreme weather events have triggered the degradation of the healthy and fruitful soil needed to produce the appropriate grape crops. While these issues are concerning for the agricultural industry as a whole, it calls for considerably more planning for wine producers in particular, as the flavour and quality of wine grapes are incredibly dependent on the climate in which they are grown.
A 2015 report conducted by The Climate Council found that of all the grape growing regions in Australia that relied on a Mediterranean climate, an estimated 70% were finding that their crops were being impacted by the effects of climate change. They concluded that “with higher temperatures causing earlier ripening and reduced grape quality,” growers were facing a number of challenges that were virtually unheard of just 5-10 years earlier.
So where do we go from here? Ever-savvy and resilient, the Australian wine industry has retaliated by implementing new methods and techniques that protect their crops from the ailing climate. In regions where the changing weather is threatening to alter the flavour of the final product, wineries are investing in adaptive methods of production. A perfect example of this is using bunch zone clay based sprays to protect the grapes from the heat of the sun and prevent degradation - a method that Howard Park Winery is trialing in order to maintain our consistently high quality production of wine. Similarly, in areas where drought is prevalent, vineyards are attempting to improve irrigation efficiency and save water. This is also a method that Howard Park has implemented in an effort to be more sustainable, utilising the water retention capability of compost to maintain our canopies, as we discussed in more detail in our composting blog. These tools, however, are still relatively new and therefore inaccessible for a number of grape growers across the country.
While it is true that global warming is one of the biggest challenges that the Australian wine industry has faced in recent times, it would be amiss to suggest that it signals the end of wine as we know it. Indeed, for a community known for its ability to adapt to the circumstances it is presented with, the coming years are sure to be characterised by innovative and influential methods of producing wine in the face of climate change.