Climate change problems in Australia

Published on 07/17/2021 by Priscilla Hennekam


Duncan Lloyd - Coriole's winemaker 

Earlier this year, I did a research project about the Australian wine market for the final assessment of my WSET Diploma, where I interviewed many wine producers and asked them what problems they are facing now and what problems worry them for the future. They all mentioned the same thing – climate change. That’s the reason I chose this topic, to explain one of the biggest problems wine industry is facing.

“Climate change is a long term [problem] – and maybe short term some of the time as in droughts and major heatwaves, and you know, can cause really short-term hiccups.”

-  Chester Osborn - Chief Winemaker and Viticulturist at d’Arenberg Wines


How can climate change impact the wine industry?

Climate change is already affecting the wine industry today, changes to weather patterns are causing more extreme events that can generate problems throughout the growing season, plus ripening times are changing, affecting harvesting dates - a trend that could be a big problem in the future. Heatwaves and droughts have strongly impacted crops and extreme rainfall has been affecting grape growers, causing floods, erosion, berry splitting and fungal diseases.

In 2019 and 2020 Australian producers had very low yields, I still remember the winery I worked for in the 2019 vintage lost 50% of their production - we had a very short vintage that year. The biggest problem we faced, aside from the small crop, was the winery capacity. I didn’t stop to think about the many problems that climate change can cause for the wine industry until I worked as a Cellar Hand. We had very strong heatwaves during the ripening season that year, which temporarily stopped photosynthesis of the vines and consequently the grape maturation. Then when the temperature went down, the grapes started ripening again, but the problem was that from this stage, all the different varieties started to ripen together, reaching the required levels of sugars and ripeness at the same time. The capacity of the winery was a big issue, because all the grapes arrived at the winery at the same time, and we didn’t have enough tanks to ferment them all concurrently.

However, this was not the worst scenario that I have seen in the wine industry. In 2020, just before COVID, much of the Australian wine industry suffered from bushfires. Many producers lost some, or all, of their vineyards and either couldn’t make wine or had dramatically reduced volumes in that year, and depending on severity, it sometimes even impacted subsequent years. Those that lost everything had to replant, losing even more time and money. An unlucky few also lost buildings, current stock and even back-vintages and museum releases.

Read more about the bushfires here: Life, Vineyards and Dreams - Hennekam Wines

 

What are Australian wine producers doing?

Wine producers have been changing the way they manage their vineyards, for example using mulches to conserve water and reduce the need for irrigation, reducing the exposure of fruit on west-facing canopies and swapping out grapes for more drought and heat tolerant varieties, such as Sagrantino, Mataro, Grenache, etc.

 

How can wine producers save money and reduce the impact of climate change in the long term?

I believe that ‘precision viticulture’ will play a key role in the future for Australian wineries. The more I learn about precision viticulture, more I believe this will be the next big move for the wine industry. The first time I came across with the term ‘precision viticulture’ was at the beginning of last year during the first module of WSET 4. Since then, I have been researching a lot about this, as the new project I am consulting for in Brazil is using these techniques. However, I never thought about sharing this subject on my blog until recently, after my talk for the CSIRO, where I noticed that this subject interests a lot of people.

 

The aim is to create data using GPS, GIS, sensors, satellite, etc and then to use that data to enhance viticulture in turn creating sustainable farming; increasing productivity and saving money over the long term. This technology allows for more efficient use of water, fertilizers, labour, machinery, etc because you can have precise information about each row or even per vine, helping vineyard managers in control crop estimation, fruit maturity, pest and disease monitoring.

 

“For a challenging year with lack of winter rainfall and hot dry growing conditions, it was a good year to have the SAP-FLOW sensors. I had positive results over the 4-6 sites for yields and water savings all 6 sites there were savings of water.”

-  Travis Coombe - Viticulture Manager at Two Hands Wines.


The world is struggling with water shortages, and saving water is great for the environment, but it also means saving money as well.


“If you can reduce water consumption by 1000 gallons per month, you can save on average about $140 a year on your water bill.”

                                                                                                     -  Money Saving Water Conservation 

                                                                 (http://www.isustainableearth.com/water-conservation/money-saving-water-conservation-tips)