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Wine industry and climate change

Latest update : 2008-02-19

Today ended the two-day World Conference on Climate Change & Wine in Barcelona. Producers and scientists reflect on the environmental impact of wine production and the consequence of global warming on the industry.

Carbon dixoide storage -- rather than grapes and vintages -- was on the agenda at a wine-makers conference in Barcelona Saturday, as vintners mulled ways to reduce the industry's greenhouse gas emissions.


Not everyone is aware that wine production emits large quantities of CO2, the main gas responsible for climate change.

But that problem, along with the potential impact of global warming on the wine industry, faced more than 350 producers, scientists, winemakers from 36 countries who participated in the two-day conference that ended Saturday.

The experts included representatives from some of the world's leading wine-making countries -- notably Spain, France, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

The meeting was clouded by a series of alarming warnings Friday, with experts saying global warming would lead to "harder" and less aromatic wines.

"The consequences of global warming are already being felt. Harvest season already comes ten days earlier than before in almost all wine regions," warned French expert Bernard Seguin.

The congress was due to wrap up Saturday evening with a video conference by former US vice-president Al Gore, who won the 2007 Nobel peace prize for his work on climate change.

Spanish producer Miguel Torres told delegates he was pioneering "carbon capture and storage," whereby harmful CO2 emissions are trapped and stored underground.

At the foot of the Cordilleras of the Andes in Chile, Torres has already set up the first recovery process for the CO2 produced by fermenting grapes, he said.

"We are trying to convert CO2 into something solid, which will remain in the ground, instead of being emitted into the air," he said.

If the Chile project -- which Torres admits is still a small pilot experiment -- is successful, he intends to implement a much bigger programme in Spain, with co-financing from the regional government of Catalonia.

Deep underground storage of CO2 is currently being tested in a variety of locations worldwide, from under the seabed off the coasts of Norway and Australia, to an oilfield in Texas and a coal seam in Poland.

Carbon storage was widely discussed at the UN climate change conference in Bali last December and is one of the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with Gore.

Banrock Station Wines in Australia is another producer aiming to be a model of sustainable development.

"These are the first steps, but they are very important" said Tony Sharley, the company's scientist. "The reforestation of areas close to the vineyards" may also help reduce the carbon footprint, he said.

But the wine companies are also having to search out new areas for their vines in order to protect quality, as the earth heats up.

"We move the vines to areas higher and cooler. Vines that are planted before on the coast have moved further inland and land toward the mountain," said Torres, pointing to a new vineyard at the foot of the Pyrenees, near Lerida in Catalonia.

Other vintners were less worried.

Wine-maker Jacques Lurton told the conference that the problems from climate change were all relative.

In the northern hemisphere, climate change is "not yet a problem for wine," whilst in the southern hemisphere, Argentina and Chile, for example, still have enormous potential, and "no water problems," he said.

While admitting that some French regions, such as Bordeaux, Alsace and Moselle, were "were making wines near their climactic limit," Lurton added there was "still room for manoeuvre."

Indeed, he predicted a change in style of wine over the next 20 years, with perhaps a Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon becoming closer to those wines currently being made in the Napa Valley, California.

According to another leading winemaker Michel Rolland, "climate change has not changed the production techniques, but it might be necessary for mental attitudes to change."

"It is important that the producer uses less water, less energy, and practice a more holistic agriculture. If we do not meet these codes, wine quality will not improve," he said.

Date created : 2008-02-16