Climate change, the wine industry, and you

MARK DEWOLF @drink_east



SaltWire Network


Nova Scotia was recently hit by a polar vortex and, with it, record low temperatures. These low temperatures can be catastrophic to vineyards, but the rare weather was even more devastating as prior to the cold snap Nova Scotia experienced unprecedentedly warm temperatures in December and January. The frigid temperatures were the coldest observed in Nova Scotia since 2009, and the fourth coldest observed during the last 50 years. In contrast, the weather experienced in December and January were the warmest since 1914. Francisco Diez, viticulturalist with Nova Scotia’s Perennia, the crown corporation of the provincial Department of Agriculture, says of the rare occurrence “we had a terrible combination of a warm December and January (followed by the extreme cold) ….Vines require some low temperatures to acclimatize. This allows them to increase their bud hardiness for winter. Since the conditions were so warm (prior to the polar vortex) the buds (of the vines) were not super strong. Although some vinifera (Vitis vinifera) were better able to adapt better due the physiology of the European vines … when it came to the recent polar vortex effect, none of the plants (grape vines) were at their strongest point.” According to Diez, 80 to 100 per cent of Vitis vinifera’s (grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir) buds were lost and 60 to 80 per cent were lost in the case of hybrids (hybrids are crossed of different vine species). As for the longer-term impacts Diez says, “it’s not only a one-year issue. There are two types of damage. The first one is the bud damage which will have immediate effect on production. However, there can also be can damage to the vascular systems of the trunks or in the other parts of the plant. If this is the case it can take one year, two years, even up to four years to recover. Unfortunately, something that we can’t see right now is this damage could develop over time; especially if there was an underlying injury because of crown gall disease.” The climate change issue is being felt in vineyards around the world. According to wine journalist Michelle Bouffard “it’s not just climate change. Right now, we are seeing climate chaos and it’s this unpredictability causing great challenges.” Bouffard adds, “sometimes there is a danger in thinking that regions like Nova Scotia could somehow benefit from climate change. There is no benefit from climate change … It is something that every wine region has in common.” In terms of what consumers can do to be part of the solution, Bouffard offers a few tips. • Avoid heavy bottles. Bottle weight and inefficient packaging is a major source of added carbon impact via shipping for the wine industry. She says “if the bottle is too heavy, then leave it behind.” • Be open to alternative packaging. Most wines are consumed within a week of purchase. • Look for certifications. Getting certifications that demonstrate a winery’s environmental sustainability such as organic, biodynamic, sustainable can be difficult for small producers as it typically involves a lot more paperwork. But according to Bouffard, “is a way for them to communicate their environmental stewardship to the consumer.” • Remember to buy local. Supporting your local farmers is always the right choice. Of the future, Diez chooses to have a positive outlook. Diez indicates this is an opportunity “to rethink site selection or it can be an option to change to a grape variety more adapted to the specific conditions of a particular site … the polar vortex, of course, has been terrible for farmers, but it can be used also as an opportunity to see what else can be done to support the continued growth of grape growing in the province.” Bouffard, who co-authored a book, Quel Vin Pour Demain? Le Vin Face aux Défix Climatiques / Which Wine for Tomorrow ? A Battle Against Climate Change (Dufon) also sees the opportunity for the local industry to adapt and remains very positive about the long-term success of the Nova Scotia industry. Bouffard points to other regions of the world, such as McLaren Vale in Australia, as an example of wine region that has adapted to new climatic realities. In McLaren Vale many producers have switched from Shiraz to Iberian varietals, more capable of withstanding drought conditions. Bouffard also points to Burgundy where adaptations to vineyard management techniques have allowed producers to continue producing the region’s exalted Pinot Noir, despite the changing climate. Bouffard is hosting Tasting Climate Change in Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers Atlantic Chapter this April at Lightfoot & Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley. The conference, making its first venture outside of its Montreal base, consists of a dinner focused on the best of local food and wine, a lunch-time walk around tasting feature local, sustainable products and a series of seminars designed to educate local wineries, grape growers, and hospitality workers of their role in environmental stewardship. Discover more in the programming section of Mark DeWolf, @drink_east, is a nationally recognized sommelier, creative director of Food & Drink at SaltWire Network, and leads food and wine tours to destinations around the world.