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Climate change: uncertain future for favourite wines

Purple grapes

Wine connoisseur with a taste for Pinot noir? You probably need to rethink your position. Wines made from the most popular grapes could disappear because of climate change, according to LUCSUS researcher Kimberly Nicholas.

“As a society, we must drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to ensure the future of our vineyards. Winegrowers must also adapt their cultivation to a changing climate, and dare to go beyond the most commonly grown grapes”, says Kimberly Nicholas.

Currently, only 12 different types of grapes are grown on 70-90 per cent of the total cultivated area in many countries; these 12 varieties represent 1 per cent of the total range of wine grapes cultivated worldwide. Some of the most commonly cultivated grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot noir. The reason why these varieties have become so dominant is that growers in countries of the “New World” – including Chile, South Africa, the USA and Australia – imported traditional grape varieties from Europe in previous centuries, instead of working on growing grapes that were better suited to their geographical conditions. 

However, according to the researchers, cultivating only a small number of grape varieties leaves the wine industry open to negative impacts from climate change. This is mainly because many of the popular varieties tend to ripen earlier and require more water than other types of grapes. This makes them more vulnerable to climate change, which may force traditional wine-growing regions to adapt to higher temperatures, earlier springs and episodes of frost during the growing season. At the same time, the research indicates that the grape varieties that ripen later are exactly those best suited to a warmer climate.

“The wine industry does itself a great disservice by focusing on such a limited number of grape varieties. While cultural traditions are something to be preserved, wine producers must also look beyond tradition for the future”, says Kimberly Nicholas.

The work of adapting the wine industry to a changing climate requires initiatives at various levels, according to the researchers. Growers and researchers must work together to gather and share data on ripening patterns, harvests and grapes to produce projections on which varieties will be best suited to different geographical regions in the future. When these data are available growers will be better able to select the most suitable types of winegrapes to produce in their vineyards. 

Consumers must also start to think differently and dare to be more open to drinking wines made from different grapes in today’s beloved winegrowing regions, say the researchers.

“Everyone has to adapt: winegrowers and producers, wine merchants and, not least, wine drinkers. And we must transform into a society with radically reduced emissions if we are to continue drinking wine, regardless of grape variety”, concludes Kimberly Nicholas.

Climate Change & Resilience

This research falls under LUCSUS' research theme Climate Change & Resilience


About the researcher

Kim Nicholas

Kim Nicholas is senior lecturer at LUCSUS. She is especially interested in climate change and wine, ecosystem services, and individual actions to reduce the impacts of climate change.

To Kim Nicholas personal staff page. 

About the research

The research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change:

To the study: ‘From Pinot to Xinomavro in the world's future wine-growing regions’