Australian wine at risk due to climate change

The Brown family witnessed bushfires devastating the Victorian countryside in 2008, which was a wakeup call as flames had threatened their vineyards for the third time in recent years. Their vineyards had been cultivated by five generations of the family over a century.

Caroline Brown says that climate change had emerged as the “biggest threat” to their family business, as warming days, declining rainfall, and drought had become increasingly evident.

Australia’s wine industry is not the only one threatened by climate change, but it is particularly vulnerable due to its position as the world’s fifth-largest wine exporter and its diverse array of wine regions.

Ashley Ratcliff’s vineyards in South Australia’s Riverland region are already located in one of the hottest and driest wine regions on the planet. In one year, they received only 90mm of rain, which is 10 times less than the annual average for the famous French wine region of Bordeaux.

“It’s going to get worse,” he says.

Australian researchers predict that the Riverland region will become 1.3 degrees hotter with decreased rainfall in the next two decades, resulting in more extreme weather events that Australia is already experiencing. The country is recovering from severe floods, and an El Nino summer is expected to exacerbate the dry and hot conditions ahead of the upcoming fire season, causing growing concerns.

Climate change is impacting the flavour and quality of wine as it affects the ripening of grapes, and subsequently, their sugar and acidity levels.

Growing certain types of wine grapes in Australia, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, will become increasingly challenging due to climate change. The growing season has shifted forward by weeks, impacting logistics and infrastructure, and weather events driven by climate change can wipe out entire crops.

When the Ratcliffs bought their vineyards in 2003, they planted grape varieties better suited to warm climates as a strategic adaptation to the impact of climate change. Now, Mr. Ratcliff believes that anyone not considering this adaptation strategy is in denial.

Despite the doomsday projections, he sees an opportunity to rebrand the industry and use climate change as a positive force rather than a negative one.

Ricca Terra Farms sells alternative varieties of wine grapes, such as Montepulciano, Fiano, and Nero D’Avola, which are hardier and require less water, making them more environmentally friendly.

The Brown family is also growing alternative varieties, some of which were developed with Australia’s science agency, while also preserving their current favorites by exploring other growing regions.

Ms. Brown says that they recognized the risk of having all their vineyards in one location in Victoria due to climate change, so they started acquiring vineyards in cooler areas such as Tasmania, which is a trend that the industry is following.

Hayley Purbrick, from Tahbilk Winery, is among the growers who have decided to remain in their current location despite acknowledging the confronting climate modelling.

She believes that their responsibility is to create an environment suitable for grape growth, and that local solutions are available to address climate change instead of getting wrapped up in the impossibility of global solutions.


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By Ryan

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