Climate change: The next frontier

Some areas of Chile and Argentina are experiencing changes in the frequency and severity of weather extremes. While many winemaking regions struggle to adapt, there are some visionary producers who see it as an opportunity to explore. Amanda Barnes investigates…

Decanter July 2017Decanter July 2017

THE WINE MAP is undeniably changing. The worldwide phenomenon of climate change is creating new, once-unimaginable wine regions, while at the same time dismantling others in its path. The oxymoron is, of course, that it poses both distressing risk and thrilling opportunity for winemakers.

Belonging to a hemisphere with more water than land, global warming in South America is relatively gradual. ‘Global weirding’, however, has been a bit more dramatic, as the last two vintages testify. 2016’s El Niño, nicknamed Godzilla, caused snow in Elqui, flooding in the Atacama desert and one of Mendoza’s wettest vintages on record, while the extreme heat of early 2017 led to the worst forest fires in Chile’s history and electrical storms setting Argentina’s Pampa ablaze. On the Atlantic coast, hurricanes are becoming an almost annual occurrence and in 2016 Uruguay experienced its first tornado.

The bad news is that extreme weather events will likely become the norm. However, climate change brings greater concerns: ‘Water scarcity is the biggest threat of climate change,’ predicts Dr Fernando Santibáñez, director of Chile’s Agriculture Department, Agrimed. ‘The other problems – like increased variability and extreme events of intense rains, wind and hail – are secondary.’

Action plans are underway in Chile to prepare for the probable warmer, drier future. Water salinity, vineyard UV radiation and smoke taint detection are today’s top priorities at Concha y Toro’s US$5 million research centre; and Wines of Chile is mapping out a 40-year viability study into both existing and potential wine regions based on climate change predictions. Argentina’s industrial initiatives are more timid, as short-term economic stability pulls rank, but wine producers are already adapting their viticulture in response to the changing climate. In both countries we can get an idea of what the future might taste like and the direction their wine regions are heading…

Read the full article in Decanter’s July 2017 magazine or on PDF format: Climate change

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