Wine industy sees climate change as its biggest threat

More than 1,700 members of the worldwide wine trade were surveyed for the latest ProWein Business Report, created in collaboration with Geisenheim University. The results were clear: the wine trade is worried about climate change. Jason Sych looks at the report.

Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash
Photo by Doug Kelley on Unsplash

In the past five years, 90% of the wine producers surveyed for the ProWein Annual Business Report have felt the effect of climate change on their business. 

The insight is one of many from the 2020 ProWein Annual Business Report, a collaborative effort between ProWein and Geisenheim University. This year the report looked at the impact of climate change on the wine industry, from what businesses are doing about it to what changes they expect in the future. More than 1,700 experts from 45 countries were surveyed, to give a representative snapshot of the world’s wine market.

While 90% of producers are aware of the impact of climate change, only 60% of retailers are, which means the greatest effects are being felt by the people least able to mitigate its impact. While importers and retailers can change their wine portfolios as needed, affected wineries can’t uproot and relocate. 

“There is a lot at stake for the wine industry facing climate change and the need to improve sustainability,” said Professor Dr Hans R. Schultz, director of Environ Group OIV and the president of Geisenheim University. “With pressing issues such as energy and water use, increasing volatility in production due to unpredictable variations in weather as a result of altered climate forcing, the wine industry needs to find solutions for a broad array of fields.”

While the wine industry is already facing challenges from looming trade wars to Brexit to increasing pressure from other categories, the 2019 report highlights that the majority of the industry sees climate change as their biggest challenge. That opinion comes from all sectors of the business, from grape growers straight through to retail merchants.

“All around the grape-growing world we can see the impact of a changing climate,” says Dr Dan Johnson, managing director of the Australian Wine Research Institute. 

Effects of climate change

Increased volatility

What complicates the issue is that different segments of the industry are affected in different ways. 

While the effects of climate change are felt most strongly by wine producers, climate change is creating waves of volatility that radiate out towards the retailers. While only 34% of small wineries said that climate change was affecting the characteristics of their wine, 55% of retailers found changes in the flavour and aromas in their wines,that they could attribute to climate change. According to the report, small wineries were better able to maintain quality levels in the face of climate change, while large wineries and bottlers were not, which led to retailers experiencing a greater volatility in quality across the industry.

Volatility

These trends are unlikely to change. Those businesses producing the raw materials—grapes and wine—will keep being affected by a changing climate; half are projected to experience strong effects over the next decade, compared to a quarter of wine businesses in retail and gastronomy.

Among the changes that producers will face are extreme weather events and drought. The strongest projected impact is the need to switch to alternate grape varieties more suited to changing conditions. 

The availability, quality, and price of wine are all expected to become increasingly unsteady. Retailers will be under pressure to switch suppliers and wine regions, further increasing the stress felt by producers, many of whom cannot adapt to rapid change.

“Climate impacts will very likely intensify at an unprecedented rate, demanding continuous, expensive adaptation by wine growers,” said Professor Claudia Kammann, chair of climate impact research for special crops at Geisenheim University. 

Climate change will also affect wine drinkers, causing them to demand new styles, and shifting long-held allegiances. New and unexpected wines could become trendy, as with the unforeseen “rise of rosé”. Consumers may also switch to alternatives like craft beer.

In general, the wine industry is in almost complete agreement that it needs to focus more on sustainable production and reducing carbon. “Sustainability pioneers will likely be rewarded and lead the way in the wine business,” said Professor Kamman.

Jason Sych

The full report can be downloaded here.

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