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What We Learned: The FACT-B Conference on Wine, Climate Change, and Biodiversity

One night, the soul of wine was singing in the flask:
“O man, dear disinherited! to you I sing
This song full of light and of brotherhood
From my prison of glass with its scarlet wax seals.

For I feel a boundless joy when I flow
Down the throat of a man worn out by his labor;
His warm breast is a pleasant tomb
Where I’m much happier than in my cold cellar.

Un soir, l’âme du vin chantait dans les bouteilles:
«Homme, vers toi je pousse, ô cher déshérité,
Sous ma prison de verre et mes cires vermeilles,
Un chant plein de lumière et de fraternité!

Car j’éprouve une joie immense quand je tombe
Dans le gosier d’un homme usé par ses travaux,
Et sa chaude poitrine est une douce tombe
Où je me plais bien mieux que dans mes froids caveaux.

Charles Baudelaire

 

Vintality was out in full force at the seminar FACT-B French Ameri-Can Climate Talks: Biodiversity.

First of all, it was an excellent seminar. The French Consul General, Nicolas Baudoin, and UBC-O put on an outstanding panel and event. It was a real pleasure both to hear from local experts like Elizabeth and Nikki, but also The presentations, the Q&A, and the wine chat after really got our brain juices flowing. Plus it was fun. I love the people that work in the wine industry!

Above you’ll see a slide from Dr. Elizabeth Wolkovich. It first shows from 1951-1979 how dissimilar Bordeaux and Napa climate was, with Bordeaux’s maximum recorded temperature about average for Napa, and its highest growing degree days (GDD) being the very lowest for Napa.

But now (1980-2018) Bordeaux is experiencing temperatures and GDD like Napa used to, and Napa has gotten much hotter.

One of my other critical takeaways was that the weeks earlier harvests we’re seeing… might not be bad? More on Elizabeth’s work below.

Sara and I are sharing our notes and reflections from the event:

Nathalie Delattre – Winemaker and Senator
  • Worked with ANEV – National Association of Vine and Wine Elected Representatives to build 14 proposals to help support the wine industry as it faces the consequences of climate change (including improving farming tactics, irrigation management etc!)

    https://www.elusduvin.org/

  • Nathalie would like a Ministry of Viticulture, or something like this, to help bring much needed policy and direction for wineries when dealing with climate change. The idea is some sort of centralized resources, planning, etc. BC is on the far side of anything centralised. Our main wine group is mostly just marketing.

  • Believes insurance for vineyards is necessary (likely government supported). Would/will apply based on percentage of vines affected – it’s just starting in France. BC (and the USA) have much higher insurance rates, but we’re experiencing challenges now around insurance just as it becomes more critical.

  • Global warming affecting the wine industry in France means not only lost money in grapes, wine exports, but also a job crisis in rural communities where wineries and vineyards are an important employer.

Dr. Elizabeth Wolkovich – Associate Professor, UBC
  • What might not be immediately obvious from the graph above – the relationship between temperature and harvest date has partially broken (at least in Bordeaux). Harvest date and temperature have an inverse relationship – cooler temperatures have later harvest dates and vice versa. But now, even cooler years are not leading to later harvest dates.

  • Elizabeth shared interesting maps predicting where new regions will grow and others will shrink. The effect for some regions will be net growth (BC), some will be neutral (France), and some will drastically shrink (Italy). But this does not factor in policy or other adaptations! Implementing different policies, utilising hybrids, etc. can drastically change what these predictions. And they are only models.

  • We’re seeing a major change in how grapes are ripening due to climate change: higher sugars, high alcohol, lower acid and higher pH. And per my own research, some years that relationship breaks due to such extreme heat and you see high acid and high pH (like 2021). This will become more and more the norm and managing desirable profiles is more challenging as certain characteristics (sugar, acid) will arrive before others (aromatics, etc.)

  • One great point – early harvests not necessarily a bad thing. For example in Bordeaux, historically an early harvest meant picking when grapes were “ready” versus forcing to let them hang to get to desirable numbers before bringing them in. That is, often later ripening varietals in France were a race against the first rains. Earlier harvests were a plus – you could harvest when you had the most desirable characteristics not to avoid rain.

  • She also shared about the Pierre Galet Experimental Vineyard. It was discussed briefly, but it looks like they’re doing fascinating work. Are any of our French wine friends familiar with this site?

  • If you’re a grower/winery you can share your data with State of Wine which helps them with modeling to better understand and document variety diversity across the globe, and improve predictions of variety change with continued climate change.

  • Here’s some of Elizabeth’s research I think will be of particular interest: 1, 2, 3.

Dr. Pierre-Louis Teissedre – Professor at ISVV
  • The first photo shows an interesting effect of climate change: more efficient photosynthesis. I don’t have major insight here yet but it is an interesting way to think about the effect of climate and how we understand vine and grape development. It will be more efficient! And…???

  • The second slide isn’t revolutionary (and you need to zoom in) but it’s a very holistic look at 52 grape varieties and when they ripen.

  • As we’ve been sharing on BCWW, there is significant movement in Bordeaux to approve new varieties to help alleviate stress from shorter, intense growing seasons. Harvest is not happening 2 weeks earlier we’re approaching 3. Our question – it’s one thing to approve new varietals and hybrids, but will they be used?

  • France leads the way in breeding new varieties capable of coping with climate change (see also the Pierre Galet experimental site). This raised a question for Sara and I – in BC we experiment. But do we really? I’d posit that we now experiment within the boundaries that (mostly France) has set. We may try different ratios or blends or put varietals in slightly new climates, but we’re still mostly growing the same popular varietals and making a lot of the same blends. We’re experimenting safely on the margins. Do we need to be bolder?

  • Moderator Dr. Jacques-Olivier Pesme was skeptical that the wine regions in increasingly warm areas will actually be so dire (“I’ve never seen a wine region disappear!”). Pierre-Louis rejoined that we don’t just grow grapes and enjoy wine with the intent of having it in these areas for 10-20 years but 50-100 years and beyond. I agree with Pierre-Louis – we do have historical examples of wine regions disappearing (and some reviving). Here’s a fun one I learned about recently: Pico Island (which has now revived).

  • He also mentioned the importance of wine in a socio-cultural sense too. How we deal with it in the face of climate change shows how much we care about it.

Nikki Callaway – Winemaker
  • This is a little bit of cheating, Nikki wasn’t presenting a slide deck so I didn’t snap a picture of her remarks. But the slide is a useful overview of viticultural solutions to climate change.

  • Nikk argued we need to grow certain varieties where they can respond the best to climate events. For example: she’s working with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Lake Country after a lot of research into what will grow best there, now and in the future. We need to both look to this research and experiment ourselves.

  • We can’t chase ‘fads’ in wine, in farming – sustainability measures, organic measures, might not always be the answer. Might be more for marketing. But needs to be flexible, contextual and pragmatic. When everyone grows organic then you become inflexible and fragile, and we’re seeing this effect in Bordeaux (a decline in organics) and Champagne (a return to herbicides).
 

Cheers!

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2 Responses

  1. ” adapt, improvise and achieve victory “. US Marines Corp.
    Words to live by.
    Wine world needs to do same.
    Remember, the Sahara desert was once a jungle.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. The work is happening – but how fast? Are hybrids going to actually be adopted in France? Are they being planted?

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