Wine Industry in U.K. Braced for a Boost From Warmer Climateby
Extreme weather caused by climate change unlikley to hit crops
Investors urged to choose sites carefully in Britain
The U.K.’s 100 million pound ($144 million) wine industry will thrive in warmer temperatures caused by climate change, so long as investors carefully site vineyards and prepare for some poor harvests caused by weather shocks.
That’s the conclusion of scientists at the University of East Anglia in a paper published Friday that finds many British winegrowers may be overestimating the risks that global warming poses to their budding industry.
About two-thirds of the nation’s wine makers think climate change poses a threat to their business, about the same proportion who think it has already helped boost production, according to the stud published in Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research.
“Average temperatures that make vine-growing more viable are increasing,” the study’s lead author Alistair Nesbitt said in an interview. He said the U.K. has been warming faster than the global average since 1960, with eight of the hottest years occurring since 2002.
Higher temperatures have been a key contributor to the U.K.’s 148 percent expansion of vineyard area between 2004 and 2013. Better marketing and increasing consumer appetite in the U.K. for locally produced sparkling wine also helped, the researchers found. While vines have been grown in Britain for more than 1,000 years, recent improvements in wine-making techniques and grape selection are also transforming the industry.
The downsides of climate change are less apparent currently. Heavier rain in the June flowering season can damage yields, the researchers found. England’s Nyetimber vineyard was forced to abandon its harvest in 2012 after heavy rainfall during the flowering season.
By and large though, the study found British wine makers haven’t been hit by extreme rainfall in June. “There’s no evidence of a change of risk there,” said Nesbitt.
The study has two important messages for British wine investors. They should choose their vineyards carefully and make space in your business plan for weather shocks, Nesbitt said.
“Deciding where you’re going to have your vineyard is more important than ever when we’re in such a marginal climate,” he said. “You need to be able to build into your businesses resilience and preparedness for extreme weather events, because there’s no evidence of those disappearing.”
British wine makers have found more success in recent years when they switched from some of the heavier Germanic varieties to lighter sparkling wines, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The lighter varieties are more sensitive to changes in weather patterns, according to the paper.
Wine makers are hoping 2016 will provide another good crop. The Met Office has predicted this year will be the warmest on record because of climate change and the El Nino oceanic phenomenon. It’s not clear how much rain will fall in the crucial month of June.
“It’s too early to predict what the weather may hold in store for the 2016 growing season, but a warm spring with low frost levels would be the promising start producers are hoping for,” said Nesbitt.
The U.K. has doubled area planted with vines in the past eight years, according to Julia Trustram Eve at the English Wine Producers association. The industry is expecting production to double in the next five years from an average of 5 million bottles to 10 million and is planning to start exporting as volumes increase, she said.
In the longer term, British wine makers may be able to produce higher quality still wine as well as sparkling, because of warmer temperatures, said Ben Walgate, chief executive officer of Shellproof Plc, which owns Gusbourne Estate a vineyard in the southeast of England.
“It’s a worry, but it’s too early to say whether we’ve had the downside -- the things the doomsayers are saying will affect us on the climate change front,” he said.