As recently reported in the press, leading Victorian winery Brown Brothers has acquired Tasmanian producer Tamar Ridge Estates. The reasons for the deal, as stated by Brown Brothers CEO Ross Brown,  highlight how commercial winemakers are now actively developing strategies to accommodate the effects of climate change.

“The Brown Brothers Board has been carefully considering how global warming may impact our vineyards through drought and high temperatures and recently adopted a strategy to source grapes from cooler areas,” Brown stated the company’s media release. Tasmania is fast developing an excellent reputation for pinot noir and sparkling wines in particular, and Brown acknowledges that “[Tamar Ridge] is a very sound business that ticks all our strategic objectives for growth in pinot and sparkling, and at the same time reduces the risk of drought and associated high temperatures and scarcity of water.”

Winemakers are not the only ones trying to assess the possible impact of climate change on future grape production. Dr Leanne Webb from CSIRO, and the University of Melbourne have spent years studying the effects of climate change on wine growing and what this will mean for the growers and consumers.

Climate change is throwing up three main challenges for wine growers: phenology changes, limited water access and rising temperatures. Phenology is the timing of biological events, like bud burst, and evidence suggests that earlier ripening of fruit and a narrower picking window are already occurring in places like the Hunter Valley.

Higher temperatures and the reduced availability to water, especially in inland growing regions which rely on irrigation, are by far the two biggest concerns for Australian winemakers. But according to Dr Webb, climate change actually varies regionally, with temperatures accelerating at a faster rate in the central parts of the country and a lesser rate in coastal regions. This means that regions closer to the coast like Coonawarra in South Australia are less likely to be impacted by climate change than more inland areas such as the Murray Darling Basin or the Riverland regions, which are already suffering the twin effects of higher temperatures and lower annual rainfalls.

Brian Walsh, director of winemaking at Yalumba, believes a switch a way from cooler climate grape varieties, such as riesling and shiraz, would help South Australia’s Barossa Valley to cope with higher temperatures and lower rainfall. He argues that Australia should follow Europe’s lead by defining regions that are best suited for particular grape varieties.

As in other aspects of life, adversity for some can mean opportunity for others. The UK, for example, is actually seeing an improvement in their wine growing conditions. Frazer Thompson, managing director of Chapel Down Wines in Kent, believes that over the last 20 years the growing envelope for wine in the northern hemisphere has shifted north as temperatures have risen by one half to one degree. This means that south-east England, where his winery is located, now has similar temperature and rainfall patterns as the champagne region in France. Witness the recent success of East Sussex winery Nyetimber for evidence on how the English are catching up to the French in make fine quality bubbly.

Sources: Climate Change and Wine, The Science Show, ABC Radio National 10 October 2009, Barossa’s future threatened by climate change: Yalumba, SMH.com.au, 17 February 2010