Walking into Trader Joe’s and quickly buying a bottle of “Two Buck Chuck,” is a staple in many people’s lives. This cheap but delicious wine may be threatened by the external force of climate change. The agricultural industry is sensitive to change, and the COVID-19 pandemic exposed its instabilities, specifically in the meatpacking industry. Its fragility will be tested again and again in the coming years as the effects of climate change continue to impact the weather patterns that farmers, specifically winegrowers, have become accustomed to. The global production of wine will be forced to adapt its methods of growing as more extreme weather threatens to destroy its perfect system of growing grapes.
An abundance of grapevines across the East Coast were present dating back to the early settlements of what we now know as the United States. It was not until the late 1790s that large-scale vineyards began to pop up across the U.S. Although the climates of the various vineyards differed, many of the owners studied the impact of weather on the quality of grapes and their wines. As observed weather patterns continued to diminish the quality of grapes growing on the East Coast, more vignerons moved to California to take advantage of its temperate climate. Its mild seasons allow for wine grapes to grow in ideal conditions during an abnormally long growing season. These well-studied weather patterns shaped winegrowers’ practices and business for centuries.
“Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified,” as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a subgroup of the United Nations focused on climate change science. These identifiable changes in the climate are caused by human activity that increases the emission of greenhouse gasses, which results in increasing the average global temperature. Temperatures and rainfall in regions known for growing grapes will increase as a result of increasing average temperatures. These changes will drastically affect regions’ abilities to successfully grow grapes. The Journal of Wine Research stated in a study that explored climate change’s impact on wineries that “individual winegrape varieties have even narrower climate ranges…for optimum quality and production putting the cultivation of winegrapes at greater risk from both short-term climate variability and long-term climate changes than other crops.”
Napa Valley is a prime example of the effects of climate change on wine growth. The mild climate of Napa County in Northern California is ideal for growing wine grapes. The region also has an array of fertile soils that allow different types of grapes to grow. This combination of weather and soil allows Napa Valley to produce the most wine in the U.S.
While Napa has reigned as one of the best growing regions for nearly 50 years, its great success is experiencing firsthand the horrific effects of climate change. The occurrence of devastating wildfires in Northern California also increased. Higher temperatures dry out wooded areas, making it easier for massive wildfires to start and spread. In September 2020, the Glass Fire damaged about 65,000 acres of land in Napa Valley. This catastrophic event annihilated the work of many wineries and demonstrated the destruction climate change can cause. Also, rising temperatures due to climate change will affect the ability of grapes to grow in Napa Valley. An increasing number of summer days during the growing season will eventually be too hot for grapes to grow. A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that by the end of the 21st century, the majority of Napa Valley will be unable to grow wine grapes and the U.S. will lose around 80% of wine production; however, Napa Valley is only one example of the massive impacts that climate change will have on the global wine industry. The melting of polar ice caps is estimated to cause sea levels to rise about 15 feet. This could result in earthquakes and floods that would damage vineyards around the world.
As the international wine industry grapples with the effects of climate change, the average wine connoisseur should also consider how climate change impacts their access to wine. If fewer vineyards can grow wine grapes, fewer manufacturers can produce wine, and the price of this beverage will drastically increase, causing the price of the beloved two-dollar bottle of Charles Shaw wine to skyrocket.
Cover image courtesy of Eat This, Not That