“The increase in temperatures and of CO2 levels – the consequences of climate change – accelerates the maturing of grapes in wine production, affecting colour and possibly aromas”. This was the conclusion of the PhD thesis defended by Johann Martínez-Lüscher, undertaken jointly by the University of Navarra and the University of Bordeaux.
The biologist explained that if the forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of a level of 700ppm of carbon dioxide and a temperature increase of 4ºC are proved correct, “the accumulation of sugars could be so rapid that the rest of these processes that depend on this will not be capable of keeping up. This will mean that, on comparing grapes with the same concentration of sugars or degree of alcohol, the crops under climate change conditions will have poorer colouration and this will be noticed in the wine”.
In fact, “it is increasingly more frequent to find wines with a higher alcoholic degree due to the over maturing of the grape”. Nonetheless, in the framework of climate change, the consequences can vary. “For example, the changes in levels of ultraviolet radiation or the decrease in rainfall may have antagonistic effects to those caused by an increase in temperature or CO2 levels. Thus, there are many unknowns about what the future holds”, he added.
Wine in a new scenario
In this way wine production will have to find solutions in order to confront environmental challenges. “The use of slower maturing ‘clones’ (sub-varieties) could be one of the possible strategies. It would also be very tempting to substitute the varieties planted in each location by others better adapted to warmer climates, but this would to a great extent mean giving up the typical characteristics of each variety of our wines – something unthinkable to date”.
Nevertheless, as this expert pointed out, climate change can provide new opportunities: for example, the production of a type of wine in cooler climes where it was not possible before. “This is the case of the incipient wine industry in the United Kingdom where I intend to continue working”, stated the researcher.
Mr. Martínez-Lüscher’s research has been financed by the University of Navarra, the Navarre-Aquitane Cross-Border Cooperation Programme, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, and the 7th European Union Framework Programme.