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Climate crisis: Wine industry is being hit hard by heatwaves, wildfires and frosts | Environment
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Climate crisis: Wine industry is being hit hard by heatwaves, wildfires and frosts | Environment

Wildfire smoke near Hope Well Wine’s vineyards in Salem, Oregon.


SThe year 2020 was a tough one Hope Well Wine’s owner, Mimi Casteel. Wildfires broke out in Oregon, not far from the land she leased for grape growing. The smoke was so intense that she had the fire alarms in her house disabled. For days, a gray cloud loomed in distant distance.

“The fires were not super close but were severe enough, burned long enough that we were in very thick smoke for more than a week,” Casteel said. At the time she was selling about 80% of the fruit she grew but last year’s wildfire caused smoke taint – where grapes absorb smoke, affecting the quality of wine they produce. She lost all of her big clients, she said – “they walked out on their contracts”. Casteel did not have smoke insurance to protect against these losses, which she estimated would amount to around $300,000.

Wildfire smoke near Hope Well Wine’s vineyards in Salem, Oregon.
Wildfire smoke near Hope Well Wine’s vineyards in Salem, Oregon.Photograph by Mimi Casteel

In the 1960s, when Oregon’s wine industry started to grow significantly, the historically temperate state seemed like the ideal place for growing grapes for a variety of winesPinot noir and chardonnay are two examples. But, said Casteel, “almost as soon as that identity was starting to be recognized … we were facing a loss of that”. The industry is now more vulnerable due to the climate crisis.

The total area burned during the 2020 wildfire season was among the largest in Oregon’s recorded history, according to the Oregon climate assessmentPublication date: January According to the report, temperatures will continue to rise and wildfires will increase.

It’s a story that’s playing out globally. Grapes are grown all over the world for winemaking. the worldThese countries include those in Europe, South America, Africa. But as the climate crisis intensifies – bringing increasingly severe wildfires, warmer summers, milder winters as well as unpredictable frosts and rainfall – it is changing wine production.

Grapes are one the most sensitive crops to climate shifts. Some producers have found that warming temperatures are beneficial, at least for the short term. Changes in rain patterns, earlier springs or droughts are beginning to occur. push wine productionTo the poles. You can find vineyards even further north. Norway’s Flatdal region. Vineyards are also found in countries such as EnglandEurope has been experiencing a lot of success. warming temperatures.

For many wine growers, the climate crisis is making their lives difficult. The temperature rises too quickly and grapes will ripen quicker than usual, which can have a negative impact on the wine’s flavor. If temperatures plunge, it can devastate vineyards – destroying buds, reducing yield and even killing the vines. The best grapes for high-end wine are those that thrive in cool climates. very narrow range of weather conditions.

Nenad Trifunović, the director of business development at Croatian wine and beer retailer The Wine & More, said making wine is part of his region’s cultural heritage – the Balkan peninsula has been producing wine for more than 2,000 years. Growers used to rely on regular seasonal changes and rainfall patterns but that’s changed, Trifunović said. The past summer, countries on the Balkan peninsula, Croatia included, experienced a lot of rain. heatwavesThese have lasted longer that they have historically.

According to a 2021 report, the climate crisis will also increase Croatian drought frequency. study, which Trifunović says is a challenge as growers in the country scramble to work around changing precipitation patterns. “Even the oldest of vineyards are struggling with an abundance of heat and lack of rain,” he said.

Diana Snowden Seysses is based in Burgundy, one of France’s most well-known wine growing regions, where she works with her father-in-law making wine at Domaine Dujac. Her family also owns or runs a business. Snowden WinesNapa Valley. Last year, her family’s vineyard in California lost about half of its production to smoke taint caused by wildfires in the area. Burgundy’s producers saw an early spring, but it was followed by unseasonable cold that caused damage to grapes on the vine. Domaine Dujac also lost some grapes to the frost.

Water being sprayed to protect vineyards from frost damage outside Chablis in Burgundy, France, in April.
In April, water was sprayed outside Chablis, Burgundy, France to protect the vineyards from frost damage.Photograph by Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

France’s wine production is expected drop by almost 30%This year. Snowden Seysses estimates that half of the grapes in the surrounding vineyards were lost to frost damage. The frost was “an agricultural disaster [and a] natural disaster”, she said, adding: “So it’s not just heat; it’s erratic weather patterns”.

Snowden Seysses, a winemaker in the region, stated that they are considering changing how they work with vines to save future harvests. She described how some growers let a long shoot grow on the vine and once growers know that spring has officially started and the frost won’t come back, the top of the shoot is cut off. This method can slow down the vine’s growth so that fewer potential buds are lost to the frost.

Snowden Seysses also stated that Domaine Dujac is considering planting fruit trees to provide shade and humidity for grapes during unseasonably warm days. However, it faces many challenges.

“[Burgundy’s]Vineyards are Unesco protected,” said Snowden Seysses. “We have to ask for authorization for every single tree because it was not there before the Unesco protection. But historically there were fruit trees.”

In OregonCasteel also changed her setup. Casteel reduced the vineyard’s size to just two and a quarter acres in order to make it easier to grow and harvest grapes quickly. She also purchased smoke insurance. Casteel has decided to focus her efforts on white wine varieties after realizing how vulnerable pinot Noir grapes are to smoke poisoning. “The scale of the business is just altogether much smaller,” she said.

Mimi Casteel of Hope Well Wine in Salem, Oregon. Wildfires last year caused huge damage to her vineyards.
Mimi Casteel is the Hope Well Wine producer in Salem, Oregon. Her vineyards were devastated by wildfires last summer. Photograph: Mimi Casteel Oregon/Aubrie LeGault

In recent years, climate-focused wine groups have emerged to assist wine producers in navigating climate issues. The Porto ProtocolInternational non-profit aiming to make the wine industry more sustainable provides members access to resources for dealing with climate problems. Members can also learn from others, said Marta Mendonça, the manager at Porto Protocol. For example, those who live in areas that have had dry seasons for a long time and are now experiencing water scarcity can offer advice on irrigation methods and grape varieties that can thrive with less precipitation.

“There is no time nor resources to lose when it comes to fighting climate change. We have to fight as an industry collectively and collaboratively,” Mendonça said.


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