Mission Hill Estate Winery in British Columbia. Canadian wines have won several international competitions in recent years, but warming and changing climates are becoming a serious concern for growers everywhere.

Mission Hill Estate Winery in British Columbia. Canadian wines have won several international competitions in recent years, but warming and changing climates with wild weather swings are becoming a serious concern for growers everywhere.
Photo Credit: Mission Hill Estate

Climate change and the wine industry

In some of the traditional European wine regions, climate change has become a serious concern for their future.

In Canada, where wines in the past several years have begun to win international competitions, there is both good news, and bad news in connection with the global warming and changing of climate.

Professor Gary Pickering is a professor of biological science, and a Research Scientist, at the Cool Climate Oenology & Viticulture Institute, Member, Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario.

ListenThere have long been only two significant wine growing areas in Canada. These are the microclimates of southern Ontario, specifically the Niagara region and the Okanagan valley of British Columbia.

Professor Gary Pickering (PhD), professor and research scientist, CCOVI, Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario © Brock University

Professor Pickering notes that grapes are a delicate crop that can only be grown within a relatively narrow range of temperatures and climates, which is shown by these two climate areas.

However, what is happening he says is that this narrow temperature and climate range in the regions where it occurs, is changing.

Here, Herbert Konzelmann of Konzelmann Estate Winery takes a look at the last of the frozen grapes needed to be harvested for ice wine while the weather was cold enough to freeze them in Niagara-on-the-Lake in this 2007 photo Wild swings in temperature and increasingly unpredictable weather are hazards now facing growers everywhere.
Herbert Konzelmann of Konzelmann Estate Winery takes a look at the last of the frozen grapes needed to be harvested in this 2007 photo. Canada has become a world leader in ice-wine but wild swings in temperature and increasingly unpredictable weather are hazards now facing growers everywhere. © Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

He says right now in Niagara, the warming of the climate seems to be an advantage and that in Canada, if it eventually gets too warm in the traditional area, there is room to move the growing areas further north, or into other regions where grapes couldn’t be grown previously.

He notes that already new areas are being developed to the west close to Lake Huron, north closer to Georgian Bay, and to the east in Prince Edward County around Picton, all in Ontario. New areas are also expanding in British Columbia and he says smaller areas in Quebec may expand, and with warming switch their grapes to classic French varieties (which require warmer temps) and which tend to produce higher-value wines.  All areas he says where two or three decades ago, wine production was nearly impossible.

 Ripening grapes off-vine after harvest represents a new innovation for the Ontario wine industry to overcome climatic barriers to obtaining fully ripe grapes – and a team at CCOVI was at the forefront of tweaking this style of wine-making for a Canadian climate. The goal of *appassimento* winemaking is to further ripen the fruit off-vine in order to produce high quality wines even in growing seasons that do not allow the complete maturation of grapes
Ripening grapes off-vine after harvest represents a new innovation for the Ontario wine industry to overcome climatic barriers to obtaining fully ripe grapes – and a team at CCOVI was at the forefront of tweaking this style of wine-making for a Canadian climate. The goal of *appassimento* winemaking is to further ripen the fruit off-vine in order to produce high quality wines even in growing seasons that do not allow the complete maturation of grapes © CCOVI-supplied

Another concern of warming is that more insects, insect species, and diseases might become more prevalent.

Professor Pickering says organizations like CCOVI and scientists are working on mitigation factors and new solutions.

Testing equipment at CCOVI such as for sulphur dioxide content. CCOVI uses a variety of procedures and equipment to test wine quality for the grape and wine industry
Testing equipment at CCOVI such as for sulphur dioxide content. CCOVI uses a variety of procedures and equipment to test wine quality for the grape and wine industry. © CCOVI supplied

One is the VineAlert system  which advises growers in the region of any immediate threats such as unexpected frosts so that growers may take action to protect the vines and grapes.

Another way to mitigate weather anomalies. Many Niagara fields are now dotted with these windmills used to mix up the air on very cold days in winter and spring to prevent frost and freezing damage to vines and buds. © supplied

He also says however that with climate change also comes wild and unpredictable swings in temperature and other anomalies like short-lived variations such as a sudden frost cold snap in an otherwise warm period, or a brief warm period in an otherwise cold season.

Both of these situations along with longer droughts or heavier downpours and floods, and damaging winds all are becoming increasing concerns.

As a result he notes that consistency of wine quality may begin to vary noticeably from year to year.

He says as in Canada’s case, some areas in the world will be opened up to new development, but also that some of the traditional areas simply may cease to produce viable harvests.

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One comment on “Climate change and the wine industry
  1. Paul Merrifield says:

    CO2=Y2Kx1984
    For 36 years climate change scientists have never been able to say their planet flattening “crisis” is as real as they say the planet isn’t flat.
    Or are they also only 99% sure the planet isn’t flat?
    You climate blamers look like the last ones still wearing disco pants to the Toga party.