Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wine, Terroir, and the Changing Climate – How Vineyards are the Canary in the Mineshaft for Global Warming (but GIS and telemetry might save them)

By Paul K. Haeder

It’s been a pleasure recently working with some fantastic wineries throughout Washington and Oregon. They are working to pair up with local restaurants to position food growers, producers and chefs to develop a true food culture with true resiliency for impending climate change and rising fuel costs and economic complications caused by more globalization. We’ve got quite the winemaking industry in this neck of the woods with over 30,000 acres of wine grapes planted serving more than 600 wineries.

We’ve also got Washington State University working on the technical, economic, and sustainability angles of wine making and grape growing –

What I am finding is a group of dedicated artisans looking to maximize their sustainability by coming together as collectives and associations, in concert with some of the leaders in technology and agriculture, to bring their passion for this drink to the next stage of production – pooling resources, preparing for soil, weather and other conditions that will change what they grow and turning their operations green, and in some cases, zero carbon, or carbon neutral. The number of charity events and the increasing community involvement by wineries is a statement on how they see their role as leaders in this form of cultivation. They are working to adjust and improve marketing, growing and taste. There is no debate about climate change – in the case of California especially – global warming effecting the very livelihoods of the vintners and viability of the grapes.

Like corn, the grapevine is one of the oldest cultivated plants. This rich tradition has created a culture and long history of the development of the wines of the world. The analysis of geologic and climatic conditions to grow grapes is part of the total geographical history of this agricultural process. Today’s viticultural regions for real quality wine production are located in what many describe as ultra-narrow geographical regions and climatic niches that put them at greater risk from both short-term climate variability and long-term climate change than other more “broad acre crops.” We’re seeing in Washington especially these 12 regions or appellations where soil, microclimates, wind, rain patterns, and pest challenges and the total amount of sun and humidity and fog can really determine the taste of the wine and fecundity of the grapes. This terrior, or the earth influence determines wine style that a region produces -- and that can only occur as a result of the baseline climate. That climate variability determines vintage quality differences. Change is in the vine, as both variability and average conditions fluctuate and change the wine styles – this is what determines the texture and drama of wine.

This study of climate change and the impacts on viticulture and wine production has become important, according to the Inter government Panel and Climate Change, because the levels of greenhouse gases have increased and human induced alterations in Earth surface characteristics have brought about changes in the Earth’s “radiation budget,” atmospheric circulation, and hydrologic cycle. The last 100 years has seen greatest warming -- occurring during the winter and spring and at night.

All agriculture is now shifting to a much more computer-based and satellite-aided practice, because increases in temperatures can be tied to agricultural production viability by impacting winter hardening potential, frost occurrence, and growing season lengths, for many crops, but especially grapes.

The California wine industry is gigantic: 2008 California wines sales to the U.S. market edged up 2% in volume over the previous year to an estimated 467 million gallons. The estimated retail value of these shipments totaled approximately $18.5 billion, down slightly from 2007, according to Gomberg-Fredrikson & Associates. Total California winery shipments to both the U.S. and export markets increased 3% in volume to 570 million gallons last year.

But climate change – warming, changing rain patterns, snowpack shrinkages, winds, and other factors – is the biggest challenge for wine makers in California, Australia, and France, to name just a few of the more than 50 countries that have some sort of wine grape growing tradition. In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences predicted in a report that anywhere from 50 percent to 81 percent of America's premium winegrowing regions would be unsuitable for viticulture by the end of 2100. Almost all of the affected regions are in California.

There are some creative and holistic moves winemakers are making to mitigate the damage and the carbon impact of their trade on the planet. But at the end of the day, there are some stark choices to make, and sometimes that’s just throwing in the towel or moving on . . . or up. In California, it’s a matter of looking for cool winds, moist mornings, and that means moving up – in latitude or altitude, or move closer to the ocean. Napa Valley’s known for its reds, but with climate change, the industry is thinking that if climate change shifts hard and warms quickly, Napa Valley could be known for chardonnay and pinot noir. Are maybe it will have to move to BC’s Okanagan Valley. Even overseas, those questions plague vintners -- Will Burgundy become the new Bordeaux and Germany's Mosel the new Burgundy?

Winemakers over the globe met scientists and others in 2008 in Barcelona for the Second World Conference on Climate Change and Wine. Environmental awareness was stressed, and the workshops and trade shows provided the evidence: ways to limit carbon emissions, alternative energy sources, water being used more wisely. Just two decades ago winemakers would have nothing to do with the issues tied to the so-called “environment.” Now that’s almost all they talk about.

Water. It’s been recently featured in magazines like Smithsonian and National Geographic as Australia’s main concern, and that country’s make or break point, but the winemakers of that continent are especially worried: Prue and Stephen Henschke run one of Australia's finest wineries, but they are flagging under huge climate change impacts: "The country is enduring one of the worst droughts in history, with no relief in sight. We are okay with our vineyards [in south Australia's Eden Valley and Adelaide Hills], but other parts of the country are facing severe shortages. And it isn't just winegrowing; it's other agriculture as well. We're having to rethink all our practices," Prue said.

While the winemakers in Washington are starting to see climate and water and the issue of organic versus heavy fossil fuel input growing as major concerns, Prue and Stephen are beyond organic: it’s called biodynamic farming. Everything is based on sustainable practices – from the carbon footprint, the computers used, where bottles come from, how to label, where to move the product, what to do to reduce waste, and what to do with the waste stream.

At the conference, discussion about research done in the United States, Europe and Australia that suggests a long-term warming trend could create a world without great Burgundy alarmed many in the industry. It’s amazing that one grape variety could vanish due to climatic and soil conditions. Snow has to harden many grapevines, but some of the winemakers in Burgandy, including Jacques-Frederic Mugnier, see the climate effecting volume, chemistry and viability of the Burgandy grapes. "I keep records of the weather," he says, "but the changes are clear for all to see. When I was a boy we frequently had snow. Now it is rare. Spring comes earlier every year. I am afraid when it comes time for my grandchildren to replant the vineyards, they will be using syrah."

Finally, we see that in 2006 the National Academy of Sciences reported that “anywhere from 50 percent to 81 percent of America's premium winegrowing regions would be unsuitable for viticulture by the end of this century.” Almost all of the affected regions are in California. For more on this issue, go to this link:

Given this knowledge, society’s role should now shift from one of uncertainties, blame, or attribution, to one of mitigation and adaptation. While the wine industry has some leeway to mitigate fossil fuel use and sequester carbon through more efficient processes both in the vineyard and winery, the bulk of the response will likely be through adaptation. Because we know that winegrapes can only be grown across a fairly narrow range of climates for optimum quality and production, it all depends on where a region is today in terms of climate and the magnitude and rate of the future warming.

Observations show and models predict that one of the most important issues for the wine industry will be whether or not achieving optimum varietal ripeness and wine balance will occur in the warmer environment or will we be forced to change varieties or shift regions to achieve the same wine styles.

Here are two pieces on the wine industry adapting to climate change -- a video and radio piece.

And this is a great article on climate change and wineries here in Washington:,%202001%20.pdf

Check out the tools wineries are making to manage vineyards and the entire system of winemaking and wine delivery: precision agriculture tools like GPS and GIS have a role in vineyard management. Techniques for yield and mid-season crop adjustment pruning monitoring are still needed to make this monitoring more reliable. These are also key to directing insect and disease pressure scouting. For canopy management such as stopping “Blackleaf” and monitoring the quality of the sugars and volume of the grapes, the industry is still looking to engineers, scientists and computer experts for this more rarified development of non-destructive, “georeferenced” monitoring techniques remains.

Yes, it’s still about warm summers, cool summers, rain, deluges, dry spells. That’s the poetic quality of winemaking and why many go into the business, many who have had careers in fields so far afield from wine growing or anything to do with agriculture. These days the wineries are looking to climate specialists and experts in soils and watershed management and alternative building and energy to lead them into this climate change environment. Many know they too must go green, so to speak, and last year Oregon Governor Kulongoski challenges his state’s wineries and vineyards to go carbon neutral.

Governor Kulongoski made a bold call to Oregon’s wineries and vineyards: Become “carbon neutral.” The Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon Wine Board joined the Governor’s Carbon Neutral Challenge, which asks participants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing energy generation toward the goal of net-zero carbon use. That’s more than 30 wineries and vineyards committed to making dramatic shifts in their “business as usual.” Only a few of wineries around the world have gone carbon neutral; Oregon’s moves and the outcomes of this plan could influence the wine industry worldwide.

Oregon’s Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyards shook up the wine-drinking world by placing second in an internationally-renowned competition in Paris known euphemistically as the Wine Olympics. That was in 1980. The Oregon wine industry has taken off since then. The Carlton Winemakers Studio pledged to provide “a creative, state-of-the-art facility for artisan producers crafting boutique wines – it is also the first winery registered with the U.S. Green Building Council)

The Sokol Blosser Winery in Oregon was the first in the U.S. to receive LEED certification; it earned a silver rating in 2002. In 2006, Stoller Vineyards and Winery, also in Oregon, achieved the first gold rating for a U.S. winery.

The wine industry has stepped up its efforts to become more environmentally responsible in the past decade. In California, an industry group published its first report measuring the level of sustainable practices among vintners and growers in the state in 2004.

The growing efforts include changing packaging and bottling to reduce the amount of materials used and lighten the weight for shipment. Use of solar power also is on the upswing. As we see in marketing and with criticism leveled at the “greenwashing angle” of why companies shift to some “green” practices, firms are wary of touting their efforts for fear of being accused of greenwashing, this according to a survey conducted by Professor Robert Smiley, director of wine studies at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis.

What can wineries do to mitigate climate change?

Wineries can reduce their carbon output in a number of ways. Some have become certified as Carbon Neutral as previously stated. Wineries such as Wairau River Wines in New Zealand have become accredited with carboNZero certification, New Zealand’s program for organizations that reduce and offset their emissions.

New Zealand has led the world in carbon-neutrality for wineries, with Grove Mill, a Marlborough-based company, becoming the first-ever. This was followed by South Australia’s Elderton Wines and then Backsberg Estate in South Africa. Since then a few more have popped up in the rest of the world.

Gaining accreditation involves reducing the carbon output as far as possible, increase carbon sinks in the winery and then purchasing carbon credits for the remainder. Creating carbon sinks could be to plant trees, as the trees grow they absorb carbon. Many organic producers increase the organic matter in their vineyards but this will only help for a short period, as the organic matter will decompose releasing the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Reducing carbon consumption would include looking at the following areas:

Fertilizer is often added to the soil of many modern vineyards. This is sometimes to replace missing nutrients such as nitrogen, iron or to bolster organic material.

Frost protection in cool regions can be carbon expensive as well as very costly. Whether it is burning pots of oils in the vineyard or hovering a helicopter over the site, protecting vines requires energy. One of the lowest energy methods is to have windmills that can be used to move often warmer air above the vine, (known as an inversion layer) onto the vines.

Pumping in the winery uses power, but are not used as often as pumping water for irrigation. To counter this, gravity feed water systems are best.

Tractors, like all vehicles, use diesel. Minimizing tractor and vehicle use can reduce the vineyard's carbon footprint.

Fermentation by its nature produces carbon and creating wine involves fermenting grape juice. The process of fermentation causes sugars to split into alcohol and Carbon Dioxide. In recent times some wineries have considered capturing the carbon dioxide rather than vent this into the air.

Refrigeration is required in both the production of wine and the storage of wine and can be expensive to run in both CO2 and money terms. Good building design, insulation and placement can reduce this. But some form of active cooling will always be required since fermentation produces heat. Co-generation, Living Building and LEED are the architectural ways to help, as is solar power.

Packaging is a significant source of carbon. Typically half the weight and volume is wasted in a case of 12 bottles. Wineries can reduce their effects on weight and wastage by reducing the amount of glass. Recent initiatives by WRAP ( ) has resulted in less glass being used in wine bottles. However other options are becoming available, including wine in plastic PET bottles, Bag in Box and Tetra packs. All reduce the amount of packaging used over glass.

Shipping wines can be very carbon intense, but most wines are not flown to their destination instead they are shipped by sea in containers. Some methods of shipping are better than others. A typical wine box containing 12 bottles is 30cm x 30cm x 27cm = 0.0243 cubic meters or 24.3 liters of space but with only 12 bottles it ships 12 x .75liters = 9 liters of wine, under half the spaces capacity if filled completely with wine. This method of shipping in bulk, while very efficient, is limited to large branded producers who have the volume to invest in such operations and have their wine bottled overseas. Many smaller producers prefer to have control over the bottling process to ensure quality standards and are too small to ship bulk wine.

Who controls the carbon rules

Wine is a non-essential luxury good that produces 0.1% of manmade greenhouse gases. So what should a winery do to manage this? There are a number of important things a winery can do to manage climate change both to mitigate the effects, but also to reduce their own carbon footprint.

In recent times you have seen many wineries becoming carbon zero and following The New Zealand Wine Company, who make Grove Mill, Sanctuary and Frog Haven. But this piecemeal approach has created a problem, the crux of which is that each country is developing its own certification body, with each body able to set a different standard. With a range of different standard the question is, what do you include in deciding your CO2 footprint, where do you stop? Frost protection, fertilizers, harvesting the grape production and bottling many people would agree on. But what happens after the wine is made, shipping the wine to the market and moving it to the shop to be sold. What about the person buying the wine, going to the shop, chilling the wine down and recycling the glass? These could all be taken into account. Then on the flip side, how do you account for the carbon produced in making the tractor used on the winery in the first place. What is needed is an international body setting the rules!

The problem is who, and how do they get agreements quickly. After all what is green to one person is not green to another. No, the calculations to value a carbon foot print are going down a similar path to Organics. That is where each country or Bloc (as in the EU) decides on what is required to become a standard and if two countries agree to a common minimum standard then the wines can be labelled as such in the country where the wine is purchased. This type of system has many advantages, for example, if a standard is constructed but later needs to be changed perhaps due to more information becoming available, it is easier to get two countries to agree a change in a bilateral contract than an international agreement. It would also be quicker to agree.

There have been a number of standards created. In New Zealand CarboNZero was what The New Zealand Wine Company used. But since then carbon zero status has been applied to wines in Bordeaux and South Africa, with each country having their own standards. The next step is to create international bilateral agreements that will support and develop brands that the consumer will become aware of. Work is already underway between the New Zealand Australian and Californian governments to come up with the first international bilateral definition of carbon free.

Information for the above comes from: (

Check out this winery’s moves toward sustainability:

Finally, there are some interesting technical reports on telemetry architecture; here’s the abstract to one that shows the use of sensors and uplinks to satellites can make a difference:

"This paper describes recent advances in sensor technology and wireless radio frequency (telemetry architecture) with the capability for measuring changes in weather and atmospheric conditions that permit modellers to analyse the climate change, its variability and effects on viticulture across the world's major wine producing regions. When combined with GPS (global positioning system) functionality enabling geo-referenced information to be gathered and analysed in real-time, new opportunities emerge for the development of wireless sensor networks (WSN) for decision making in precision agriculture (PA). The use of WSN technologies in precision viticulture (PV) to date is mostly confined to on-farm and narrow regions within a city or in the case of a larger region the data collection is limited to monitoring weather conditions alone. This paper reviews three application scenarios: a) within a vineyard b) regionally within the state of Washington in the USA and c) cities within the Asia Pacific Region. It then details the development of a system proposed for comparative analysis of viticulture management information from two countries, namely Chile and New Zealand that have the same latitude but are at different longitude points. The paper looks at a variety of remotely located real-time sensors (telemetry devices), associated hardware devices (server, workstation, architectures and topologies) and software suitable for data collection, logging, distribution and streaming. Data gathered by the sensors is relayed via a series of repeaters to a workstation, which logs the data and is connected directly to the Internet for transmission to a server acting as the final collection and data analysis point for a comparative information matching synthesis. The data collected is to be used for building models that could enhance our understanding about the effects of climate change on grapevine growth and wine quality within major wine regions in the two countries being studied in this initial research. Finally, the paper describes variable parameters considered for analysis in this research so far in relation to plant growth, weather, climate, atmospheric influences such as climate change, pollution and also wine quality determinants such as soil, terrain and grape variety."

Finally, we have associations and some movies that add to this wine interest. UC-Davis has a huge budget for wine and grape and marketing research. Three movies about wine are there for the taking – two dramas – “Sideways” and “Bottle Shock,” and then the one about the globalization of wine and the battle against it, “Mondovino.”

This blog will continue to cover the tech-architecture-agronomic angle of wine making, vineyard management and moving wines to get to our tables. Salud and cheers:

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