After one of the hottest summers on record in both the United States and Europe, including devastating wildfires in Northern California and Portugal, key winemaking regions are facing climate change in a marked way. While many wineries, such as Northern California’s Fetzer Vineyards, have taken significant steps to creating sustainable vineyards, additional steps must be taken to ensure vineyards can respond to the immediate and long-term challenges of climate change.
The wine industry’s production is specifically susceptible to climate change for two key reasons:
- The production process is very sensitive to small changes in the immediate environment. For instance, climate affects type of grapes that can be grown in a certain region as well as their specific flavor profiles, the quality of wine produced and the length of the harvest season.
- Even more so than many other agricultural products, winemaking is dependent on only a handful of regions whose climates are suitable to growing grapes. These areas tend to be concentrated geographies, such as Spain or Northern California, which means climate shifts in a relatively contained area can affect a significant share of the wine produced (see Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1 (8)
The changing climate, notably hotter temperatures in key winemaking regions, has potential to negatively affect winemaking in the following ways:
- Decreased wine production as rising temperatures and sea levels make traditional growing areas unsuitable (1)
- Grapes ripening on the vines too fast, causing higher alcohol content and sugar in grapes, which can be at odds with drinker preferences for lower alcohol wines (1)
- Shorter growing seasons with earlier, condensed harvests that force wineries to harvest earlier, produce wine faster and compress vintages (1)
- Increased frequency of severe droughts, which reduces freshwater available for irrigation, increases water costs and can decrease the yield (5)
- Increased frequency of fires, which can decrease yield from affected areas from destruction of vines and impact of smoke, which affects taste of grapes (7)
Given that climate plays such a strong role in the winemaking process, risk increases as weather anomalies become more frequent and severe. Yet, the many variables that could negatively affect production could alternatively have a positive impact. For example, hotter temperatures may allow a new region to be capable of hosting vineyards or increase the yield of a heat-friendly grape varietal.
Fetzer Vineyards has adopted an earth-friendly approach to winemaking and recently became the largest B Corp winery, voluntarily committing to transparently measuring and reporting on the company’s sustainability impact. The vineyard aims to increase its sustainability, with the goal of being Net Positive by 2030 (14). Initiatives focused on clean energy, zero waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and regenerative agriculture include:
- Treating 100% of wastewater with BioFiltro’s BIDA system, which uses earthworms and microbes to naturally clean wastewater, requires 85% less energy than treatment ponds and enhances soil compost (2)
- Reducing water use through onsite storage ponds that irrigates fields using preserved rainwater (2)
- Reducing water rinsing and decreasing energy consumption through adopting Peracetic acid to clean wine tanks instead of water (2)
- Leveraging digital solutions, like the Internet of Things and big data analytics, to proactively manage their water infrastructure (1)
- Generating 80% of energy needed to run bottling facility by adding 75,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels (4)
- Working towards 99.9% waste diversion by 2020 through coordinated efforts around composting, recycling, and reselling of used wine barrels (4)
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero through internal energy use reductions and offsetting unavoidable emissions through purchase of Verified Emissions Reductions projects, becoming the first U.S. Winery certified CarbonNeutral (3)
Though Fetzer Vineyards is impressively moving towards long-term sustainability, which mitigates global warming and has value as a marketing tool, the company should also focus on the more immediate challenges of climate change. Fetzer Vineyards should develop strategies for a future where growing conditions change and weather events become more severe. Tactics could include:
- Preparing for shorter harvest seasons by increasing flexible production capacity and labor
- Upgrading storage facilities and store rooms with eco-friendly temperature control, smoke filters and infrastructure to withstand wildfires
- Preparing for multi-year drought conditions through investment in onsite rainwater storage tanks
- Diversifying growing geographies through new vineyard sites beyond Northern California to decrease impact of local climate swings and increase grape varietals
- Planting and growing new grape varietals, such as heat- and drought-tolerant grapes, to pre-empt new conditions and increase likelihood of crop yield in high temperatures
- Adding canopies and other cooling techniques throughout the vineyard to increase shade for grapes that are more sensitive to heat and maintain water in soil
Continuing to invest in short- and long-term solutions to climate change and its fallout will be crucial to ensure that the winemaking industry adapts to immediate weather-related incidents and thrives in the future.
(1) Coleman, Mark. 2017. “Rebel With A Cause: How Fetzer Vineyards’ Regenerative Winemaking Creates Sustainable Value”. Huffpost. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rebel-with-a-cause-how-fetzer-vineyards-regenerative_us_58add12fe4b0d818c4f0a4ae.
(2) “Fetzer Vineyards”. 2017. Fetzer Vineyards. http://www.fetzer.com/water.
(3) “Fetzer Vineyards”. 2017. Fetzer Vineyards. http://www.fetzer.com/carbonneutral.
(4) “Fetzer Vineyards”. 2017. Fetzer Vineyards. http://www.fetzer.com/commitment.
(5) Horowitz, Jason. 2017. “In Italy’s Drought-Hit Vineyards, The Harvest Of A Changing Climate”. Nytimes.Com. https://nyti.ms/2vlFCgg
(6) Huntley, Rebecca. 2016. “How Climate Change Is Affecting The Wine We Drink”. ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-04/how-climate-change-is-affecting-the-wine-we-drink/8074252.
(7) Vartabedian, Marc. 2017. “Thousands Of Jobs Depend On The Wine Industry’s Uncertain Recovery”. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/wildfires-napa-wine/543429/.