Climate Change May Turn the UK Into a Global Wine-Producing Powerhouse

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In addition to rising average temperatures throughout the growing season, there are additional reasons for the viticulture industry in the United Kingdom to have cause for optimism, particularly when contrasted with the majority of the world’s more established wine-producing locations.

Grapes have a longer time to ripen in environments with lower temperatures.

It is a well-known fact that some of the most intriguing wines are made from grapes that were cultivated in regions that are on the verge of being at or just beyond the point where they may effectively mature.

To begin, places with climates like the United Kingdom often have an environment that allows for a more extended ripening period. This gives the fruit more time to develop its full flavor and complexity.

In contrast, it is believed that the distinctive flavors of some of the world’s most renowned wine regions are in danger, not only as a result of the increasing frequency of climate extremes, the shifting patterns of crop diseases, and the elevated risk of fires, droughts, floods, and storms but also as a result of warmer temperatures accelerating the timing of the various stages of grape development.

The world’s most important traditional wine regions are situated in places with typical growing season temperatures that are already higher than what would be considered ideal for the grape varietals that those regions are most well recognized for producing.

For instance, greater temperatures throughout the growing season commonly force earlier harvests in the Napa Valley of California. This is done either to maintain the acidity levels essential to the quality of the wine and its capacity to age or to regulate the alcohol concentrations.

Even minute changes in factors like the length of the growing season or the percentage of alcohol in the grapes may significantly impact the depth, balance, and distinctive expression of a wine.

Freedom to determine one’s preferences

Second, while viticulture tastes and terroirs, defined by environmental factors that shape winemaking, have continually evolved, UK producers remain relatively uninhibited by the existing typologies that define their more established and historically rooted counterparts in Continental Europe.

This is because the UK has a long history of winemaking than Continental Europe. Winemaking is inextricably linked to deep-seated attachments to location and cultural history, which hinders the capacity of producers to modify their practices in response to shifting climatic circumstances. This is especially true in the viticulture of the Old World.

Often, brands and regions are constructed around historic soil, topography, and various pairings. These soil, topography, variety pairings, and accompanying typicity have been concretized in protected geographical designations and appellations of origin.

 

Consider, for instance, the significance of the Sangiovese grape to the production of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino wines in Tuscany. This is one example of how the character of a wine-growing area can often be traced back to only one or a minimal number of cultivars.

And in the case of makers of fine wine, in particular, they often market their product as an inherited art that has been passed down through the family for centuries, with a brand predicated on a unique, characterized, and geographically positioned terroir. Changing the principal cultivar to one more adaptable to a changing environment or shifting vineyards to higher altitudes or latitudes in response to changing climatic circumstances may not be an easy way to reconcile such brands with the new conditions.

In contrast, producers in the United Kingdom, who work within a production landscape that is both young and less established, are arguably more free to define the tastes and styles of their wines to maximize the opportunities that are currently being presented by a changing climate and those that will be shown in the future.

The use of chaptalization achieves more command

 

Thirdly, for as long as latitude provides sufficient protection to grapes from conditions related to extreme heat or sunburn, English and Welsh winemakers may start to have greater flexibility and control over the alcohol levels and flavors of their wine than their European counterparts will be able to achieve through the use of chaptalization.

This will be the case so long as latitude continues to provide sufficient protection. To improve and maintain a wine’s desired level of alcohol concentration, this technique calls for adding sugar just before the fermentation of the grapes.

In several of the colder climates, chaptalization is a regular occurrence. However, several European growers have abandoned this method since higher temperatures during the growing season have increased quantities of naturally occurring sugar in the grapes they cultivate. This indicates that these producers have, in some respects, lost some degree of control over the manufacturing process they are engaging in. In the meanwhile, chaptalization is still widely used in the UK.

Reduced stress on water supply resources

In conclusion, hardly any UK growers currently irrigate their property, despite the fact that rising temperatures are adding to the need for irrigation among an increasing number of the already established vineyards worldwide. The feasibility of dry farming in UK viticulture may be more robust under a changing climate than in other wine-growing locations that have been producing wine for longer. This is significant in light of the enormous water footprint left behind by irrigated viticulture. This water footprint has led Linda Johnson Bell, a commentator on climate change and viticulture, to argue that, in a world that is becoming increasingly water-stressed, climate justice requires that dry farming become the new sustainability standard for this unavoidably ‘luxury’ crop.

Building future climate resilience into UK viticulture today

The United Kingdom (UK), like with the rest of the globe, is seeing and may anticipate much higher extremes and unpredictability in the weather and climate than in the past. The prosperous harvest of 2018 in the United Kingdom shed attention on the fact that variations from “normal” growth circumstances may give rise to profitable business prospects even at the industry’s outermost limits.

However, the extremes predicted to develop due to human activity in the climate change process are also projected to often surpass those that enable vines in the UK to yield the best fruit possible. Even though this potential exists for the English and Welsh wine business, production will probably continue to be unstable and prone to the vagaries of increased climatic risk as a consequence of climate change.

Because of dangers such as an increased risk of frost (which is caused by early bud-burst, which leaves vines exposed to spring frosts), as well as the disruption of growing seasons, inconsistent output and frequent significant losses are possible.

Lessons should be learned from the many modern commercial vineyards in the Old and New Worlds experiencing heightened climatic vulnerabilities due to failing to account for climate change within planting decisions.

For instance, through increased planting of more commercially popular but less adaptable and less heat- and drought-tolerant varieties like Tempranillo, there has been an increase in the number of vineyards that are experiencing these heightened climatic vulnerabilities.

Instead, producers in the UK should consider the effects of climate change in the planning and growth of the industry as it expands. This includes selecting the optimal planting locations, soil types, and the kinds of grapes to go with them.

These are choices that the viticulture industry in the UK has to make as soon as possible, especially considering the increasing amount of money being invested and the growing amount of land being put into production. It takes at least three years for a young vine to begin producing fruit; but, dry-farmed vines often take considerably longer to begin production, and exceptional wines are sometimes made from vines that are several decades old. This underscores the necessity of making educated decisions with a long-term perspective.

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