What, No More Wine?

Climate change will threaten global wine production dramatically (perhaps by two-thirds). Crop growers need creative solutions. What can be done about it, using drones and other options?

In California’s Russian River Valley, Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines and Kunde Family Vineyards grows 20 varietals of wine, focusing on Pinot Noir. However, the mounting impact of climate change will continue to alter his business, from grape yields, to wine acidity, to water availability. Of crops susceptible to the small changes in temperature, grapes are one of the most impacted [1], with yield altered by up to 32.5% in a given year [2]. As Earth warms, grape harvest has accelerated, shifting earlier in the season by up to a month [3]. These temperature changes can “make the difference between a poor, good, and excellent vintage”, driven by lower acidity, higher sugar concentration, and altered flavor and mouthfeel [4]. More broadly, “winegrape production occurs within very narrow climate ranges” of about 10 degrees C globally (and a narrower 2 degree range for Pinot Noir) [4]; resultantly, climate change could eliminate two-thirds of grape production and viticulture-suited areas could decrease by 25-73% by 2050 [5].

Closely monitoring grape maturation timing, insect infestation, and crop density can vastly improve DRNK Wines’ product quality, yields, profits, and waste. To improve performance related to climate change setbacks but not solely because of them, Ryan has turned to drones. Drones in wine-making and agriculture help assess plant vigor [6], detect crop damage done by insects [4], reduce fertilizer and water use [7], increase yields, save time, compare land plots over time [8], and determine harvest timing [9]. For instance, Ryan highlights in this brief video how he uses aerial imaging to identify a segment of crop with accelerated maturation, which enables him to alter harvest schedules accordingly, maximizing crop yield and grape flavor [9].

Exhibit A: A Short Video of a Drone Surveying Ryan Kunde’s Vineyard [9]

While aerial imaging has been possible for a while, drone technology has improved rapidly over the past five years making imaging under cloud-cover possible at lower cost, unobstructed, and on demand [10]. Hardware has come a long way, though still could benefit from more miniaturization, lightening, and affordability [9]. Infrared technology helps differentiate healthy and distressed plants.

Exhibit B: “An NDVI image showing crop health in a vineyard” [11]

Software and analytics should see rapid improvements in the coming years, as artificial intelligence and image processing advancements become increasingly sophisticated [7], and as the analysis takeaways become more actionable [12]. Today, though, farmers derive significant value from drone technology’s ability to automate flight paths to cover a specific route and replicate said route, to stitch together images, to geolocate (even down to the centimeter!), and to build 3D crop models [8]. The burgeoning discipline of precision agriculture will usher in many capabilities in adapting crop production to climate change [13] beyond the improvements in yields and issue identification seen today, making the capabilities more sophisticated and accessible.

Many additional tactics exist, which DRNK Wines could employ to try to withstand climate change’s impact. First, DRNK could utilize chamber systems or polyethylene sleeves to regulate temperature. Second, farmers could consider different north-south row orientations to moderate exposure to afternoon sun [4]. Additionally, given sugar-level increases to wine mentioned earlier, wine makers can use “more alcohol-tolerant yeast strains” in fermentation to compensate [4]. Alternatively, if drastic temperature changes occur, wineries will have to relocate towards the poles; while not all estimates are this severe, one study found that the U.S. “could lose up to 81% of its premium winegrape acreage” due to climate change by 2100 [4].

Thus, the viniculture and agriculture industries will be hit significantly by global warming. The effects have already started: experts predict 2016 to have a 5% fall in wine production due to “climactic events” and to be the lowest winegrape production year in the last twenty years [1]. The predictions only indicate that the impact gets worse from here. So, I ask you: can you do without your wine? Would you be willing to shell out big bucks if prices increased in a global wine shortage? Do you have other ideas to help viniculture thrive in a warmed world?

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[1] Kirchgaessner, Stephanie. “Global wine production expected to fall by 5% due to ‘climatic events’”. The Guardian, October 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/20/global-wine-production-falls-2016-climatic-events, accessed October 30, 2016.

[2] Choloupek, O, Hrstkova, P, Schweigert, P. “Yield and its stability, crop density, adaptability and response to climate change, weather, fertilization over 75 years in the Czech Republic in comparison to some European countries.” Field Crops Research 85, nos. 2-3 (2004): 167-190. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037842900300162X, accessed October 30, 2016.

[3] “Global Warming Pushes Wines Into Uncharted Terroir.” The Earth Institute at Columbia University, March 21, 2016. http://earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/3276, accessed October 30, 2016.

[4] Mozell, Michelle Renee, and Thach, Liz. “The impact of climate change on the global wine industry: Challenges & solutions.” Wine Economics and Policy 3, no. 2 (2014): 81-89. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212977414000222 via Science Direct, accessed October 30, 2016.

[5] Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Climate change will threaten wine production, survey shows.” The Guardian, April 8, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/08/climate-change-wine-production, accessed October 30, 2016.

[6] “Vitcultural Drones – Just Another Tractor?”. Discover Sonoma County Wines, August 31, 2014. http://discoversonomacountywine.com/2014/08/vitcultural-drones-just-another-tractor/, accessed October 30, 2016.

[7] Fehrenbacher, Katie. “This Startup Is Changing Farming With Drones and AI.” Fortune, May 23, 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/05/23/startup-gamaya-farming-with-drones-ai/, accessed October 30, 2016.

[8] “Octocopter! Experimental drone for agricultural research.” Medium. https://medium.com/@BBSRC/octocopter-fff46d32a351#.1mwfxtmvj, accessed October 30, 2016.

[9] “A Day Spent with 3D Robotics Out in the Vineyards.” DRNK Wines, October 3, 2013. http://drnkwines.com/a-day-spent-with-3d-robotics-out-in-the-vineyards, accessed October 30, 2016.

[10] Anderson, Chris. “Agricultural Drones.” MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/526491/agricultural-drones/, accessed October 30, 2016.

[11] “How Drones Will Help Us Grow Better Food and Wine, and More of It.” 3DR, October 16, 2014. https://news.3dr.com/how-drones-will-help-us-grow-better-food-and-wine-and-more-of-it-7bdc95338dd#.3srsx8h08, accessed October 30, 2016.

[12] Wihbey, John. “Agricultural drones may change the way we farm.” Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2015/08/22/agricultural-drones-change-way-farm/WTpOWMV9j4C7kchvbmPr4J/story.html, accessed October 30, 2016.

[13] Doering, Christopher. “Growing use of drones poised to transform agriculture.” USAToday, March 23, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/03/23/drones-agriculture-growth/6665561/, accessed October 30, 2016.


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Student comments on What, No More Wine?

  1. It is interesting how recent technological advancements in areas that are seemingly irrelevant can make an improvement in viniculture! I have no doubt that sooner than expected, we may be able to see a robot taking samples from different trees, checking acidity and ripeness and coming up with harvest schedules and adequate yeast composites.
    One question that came across me from the article is on the point about how warming temperatures will decrease the viniculture-suited lands by more than 25% by 2050. Wouldn’t farmers be able to move to Northern areas and use the lands in areas that were traditionally too cold to grow grapes? Is the analysis based on the assumption that land areas wineries use to grow grapes currently will not change with rising temperature? If it wasn’t the case, the effect of global warming might be much more significant and directly related to my life than I thought it would be!

  2. Colleen – Great blog. As a lover of wine I am unhappy to hear that climate change is having a negative impact on California wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma that if not monitored appropriately can result in decreased supply, increased demand, and ultimately increased prices. I agree with KS’s comment above that I am impressed that winemakers are taking advantage of new technologies to better harvest and tend to their crop. I, however, think it would be difficult for winemakers to move their farms to more Northern areas without a substantial capital investment and a huge lag in harvest time.

    One other observation I have is that winemakers in France are facing the same climate change impacts on grape harvest and wine making. An article from NPR suggests that winemakers have welcomed this increase in temperature because it allows grapes to mature faster often resulting in a higher rated wine. I am curious, from your research, do you know if farmers in France are also implementing such technologies as drones to better understand how their grapes are maturing and when to harvest? If not, do you think these regions in France that are entrenched in strong and classical roots to wine making would adopt such a practice?


  3. Not our wine!! Really interesting post, Colleen. I was wondering whether in addition to the mitigation techniques that you discuss in the post, major wine producers have already begun considering purchasing land closer to the poles as a long term investment. I’d be fascinated to see how firms are thinking about climate change as they develop long term investment plans and try to balance the likely success of the mitigation techniques like those you discuss with the potential need to relocate.

  4. Great read Colleen! and no I cannot do without my wine. I have never paid much attention to how climate change affects all aspects of my life so this is definitely an eye opener. Water availability obviously plays a huge part in the operations for DRNK. I am curious though if there are outside players/ partnerships that can play a role in helping DRNK limit it’s exposure to climate change? Do they rely on others for water storage facilities? If they do, how do they manage these relationships to make sure that their “suppliers” are using best practices to minimize and effects of climate change on the water supply?

  5. What I find particularly interesting is the sensitivity of premium wine production to the effects of climate change. On the demand side, more than the average farm crop, the slightest variances in sweetness, acidity and mouthfeel of a wine grape dramatically affects the demand for the final product. And with such a pedantic harvest schedule, rising sea levels and the loss of vineyard acreage, the supply of wine grapes is becoming increasingly unreliable. As you point out, one of the biggest requirements of seductive technological solutions like drone surveying is it ensuring it yields actionable results. While winegrowers grow increasingly capable of identifying crop health, I wonder if there are clever ways to identify the root cause of poor crop health. You mentioned drones can geolocate down to the centimeter. Without getting too carried away, I wonder if farmers could remotely assess individual grapes for differences in size or rotundness, and in the back end correlate this data with soil integrity, light quality, or crop location. And while there are tactics to complement technological maintenance, such as canopy management to improve soil-water balance, or night time harvesting to offset rising temperatures, or introducing winter cover crops to reduce soil erosion, are they really enough to offset the impacts of climate change? Or will farmers have to start moving the crops closer to the poles, as others are suggesting?

  6. such an interesting article. As someone who loves their wine, this was particularly troubling! It is interesting, however, to note how technology is being used in what I had always imagined a very traditional industry.

    Another article that people would be interested in reading – which frankly is pretty “out there” (pun unintended) – was posted in the guardian on 21 Sep, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/22/the-red-planet-china-sends-vines-into-space-in-quest-for-perfect-wine

    it talks about how Chinese scientists are trying to mutate vines in outer space in a quest to make them more suited to grow in the harsher climates on earth. Next phase in “climate adapted” wine production maybe?

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