I would venture to bet that we have all found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being forced to make small talk with people we can hardly relate to. I would also venture to bet that we all know how to handle this situation most effectively: talk about the weather. However, in the small wine making region I’m from, talking about the weather is not just a filler for awkward conversation – it’s an important topic that has an immeasurable impact on the livelihoods of everyone there.
Wine making is a very particular business – even the smallest differences in the soil, the time of day the grapes are watered, where they are planted, when they are harvested, etc. have a meaningful impact on the quality of the ultimate product. Implicit in this statement is that global warming is a complete disaster for vinters on every dimension:
- From an operational perspective, bud break, bloom, veraison and harvest dates happen earlier, more unpredictably, and for shorter periods of time, making orchestrating the harvest much more difficult . The need for more effective irrigation and ways to protect grapes from the extreme heat and sun exposure also add layers of complexity to the growing process.
- From a product perspective, rising temperatures impact the chemistry of the grape, the salinity of the soil, and the flavor and alcohol content of the finished product.
- From a risk perspective, variations in the weather bring variations in pests and puts pressure on supplier’s ability to provide high quality corks and oak barrels .
Some wine-making regions, most notably Southern Europe, are struggling to adapt to the real frictions global warming has already introduced into their businesses . Other regions, such as California, are only just starting to appreciate the magnitude of these impacts. Alarmingly for this region, a recent study estimated that if climate change continues at its current pace, there will be an 81% reduction in the usable wine-making acreage in Napa and Santa Barbara by 2040 .
As a result of these facts, Napa Valley Vinters (NVV), a nonprofit trade association that has nearly 500 members, has taken the initiative to quantify what the rising temperatures mean for the $50bn dollar industry and 300,000 jobs related to wine making in Napa Valley . The organization recently paired with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and local vineyards to create a Climate Change Task Force.
- The task? To build a better model for the impact of global warming on the unique microclimates in the area.
- The goal? To incentivize local vineyards to step outside of their daily operations and work together to generate ideas for addressing the problem head on.
- The result? Three years, 28 weather stations, and 12,000 data points later they had an answer: temperatures have increased in Napa over the last 70 years – but only by about 0.5oC-1.1oC, far lower than some of the other wine regions in the world .
The unintended impact of this research study was to create a sense of relief amongst owners in Napa and the belief that they have time to figure out the best way to address these issues. This is incredibly dangerous thinking – just because Napa Valley has been a relative winner thus far doesn’t mean that they will continue to be a relative winner or that significant damage is not already occurring. As an example pinot noir, an important varietal in the region, has an incredibly restrictive window of 14oC-16oC average daily temperature for production, half of which has already been eroded by the temperature gains in the recent past.
There are so many things that these vineyards can be doing, but they all take significant time. There is a 25 year cycle for growing vines, so the decision to make material changes only comes up 4 times in a century . As a nonprofit organization seeking to ensure the longevity of the wine industry in the area, NVV needs to continue aggressively pounding the table to incite action TODAY, and overcome the reaction to the outcome of this study.
Potential actions include:
- Partnering with ClimeVineSafe, an organization in the Duoro region focusing on short term solutions to the industry’s problems 
- Researching grape varieties to those that can flourish in very hot weather 
- Investigating broader geographies or terraced growth
- Considering solutions like solar powered sensors to trigger hydration
- Identifying sugar reducing processes such as reverse osmosis 
- Monitoring the nutrient content in the soil to identify and adjust to changes early on 
The list of options that vinters in Napa Valley can pursue are wide and plentiful – but they need to be taken on NOW and not later; the future of the wine making industry, many people’s livelihoods, and all of our Friday night dinner parties depend on it!
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 Becca Yeamans-Irwin. “The Effects of Climate Change on The Global Wine Industry: A Meta-Analysis for SOMM Journal” Somm Journal, June 2015. Accessed November 2016.
 Paul Franson. “Responding to Climate Change: Growers and wineries look for practical responses to climate change.” Wine Business Monthly, April 2008. Accessed November 2016.
 Diffenbaugh, N.S., White, M.A., Jones, G.V., and Ashfaq, M. 2011. Climate adaptation wedges: a case study of premium wine in the Western United States. Environmental Research Letters 6: 024024. (Western US)
 Napa Valley Vinters, “About Us,” “NVV Climate Exec Summary” https://napavinters.com, accessed November 2016.
 Paige Donner, “Winemakers Rising to Climate Challenge,” New York Times, November 16, 2011, [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/17/business/energy-environment/winemakers-rising-to-climate-challenge.html], accessed November 2016.
 Mozell, R. Thatch, Liz. 2014. The impact of climate change on the global wine industry: Challenges & solutions. Wine Economics and Policy3(2014)81–89.