Study: California can kiss its vineyards goodbye

Awful as some of the climate-change predictions are, this one might hit a lot of Northern California residents where it hurts (assuming their homes aren’t gobbled up by the sea first): Global warming will dramatically impact many of the world’s most famous wine-producing regions, according to a new study.

The first-ever worldwide analysis of climate change’s impact on wine production and conservation, appearing today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests wine production will shift to new areas as climate change makes the existing ones less hospitable.

Researchers found the area suitable for wine production will shrink by as much as 73 percent by 2050 in certain parts of the globe – about 70 percent in Californa – with high potential for stress on rivers and other freshwater ecosystems as vineyards use water to cool grapes or irrigate to compensate for rising temperatures and declining rainfall.

“Climate change is going to move potential wine-producing regions all over the map,” Lee Hannah, the study’s lead author and senior scientist for climate change biology at Conservation International’s new Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Ecosystem Science and Economics, said in a news release.

“These global changes put the squeeze on wildlife and nature’s capacity to sustain human life in some surprising places,” Hannah said. “Consumer awareness, industry and conservation actions are all needed to help keep high quality wine flowing without unintended consequences for nature and the flows of goods and services it provides people. This is just the tip of the iceberg – the same will be true for many other crops.”

The researchers looked at nine major wine producing areas: California, Western North America, Chile, Mediterranean Europe, Northern Europe, Cape Floristic region of South Africa, parts of Australia with Mediterranean climate, parts of Australia with non-Mediterranean climate and New Zealand.

“Chile and California are areas with traditions of irrigation and high Freshwater Impact Index values, indicating that their freshwater habitats may be most at risk as a result of climate change impacts on vineyard water use,” the study found. “Adaptation strategies involving viticulture, vinification, marketing, land use planning, and water management can all help avoid conflicts with conservation objectives in areas of declining as well as expanding suitability.”

Another key finding from the study is that new areas will become more productive, including parts of Western North America and Northern Europe. These places at higher latitudes and higher elevations will become increasingly suitable for wine making and sought after by vineyards as they search for the climatic conditions that are ideal for wine grape growing.

According to the study, the greatest area of increasing wine production suitability is in the Rocky Mountains near the Canadian-U.S. border, putting at risk species such as the grizzly bear, gray wolf and pronghorn.

“Climate change will set up competition for land between agricultural and wildlife – wine grapes are but one example,” said Rebecca Shaw, the study’s co-author and associate vice president for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Land, Water and Wildlife program. “This could have disastrous results for wildlife. Fortunately, there are pro-active solutions. We are creating incentive-based programs with private landowners to provide wildlife habitat as we expand our capacity to feed a growing planet in the future under a changing climate.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    Here is an issue that can unite Left and Right : wine. The Left may also be worried about the effect on marijuana cultivation.

  • GV Haste

    “said Rebecca Shaw, the study’s co-author and associate vice president for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Land, Water and Wildlife program.”

    Uh, this does not lend credibility to the conclusions.
    I mean, one can only imagine Rebecca Shaw’s expectations and opinion prior to the study being done.

  • JohnW

    Damn. I was counting on a fine bottle of wine (or several) when Armageddon arrives.

    Looks like the most immediate climate change crisis (for those who don’t think it’s a hoax) is water, or lack thereof. Texas is in dire straits with a multi-year drought, which even they attribute to climate change. The Great Lakes, last refuge for the thirsty, are at record low levels. It’s a great argument against gun control. Everybody has a constitutional right to use a firearm as an alternative to dying of of a parched throat.

    Invest in water stocks. You may die of thirst, but at least you’ll be rich.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    I wonder how the worry warts would react if there was global cooling? It happened when the Vikings were in Greenland & when Krakatoa blew up.
    Damn. I have to agree with Sniper John. Lack of fresh water is a far bigger problem.

  • Common Tater

    That darned old Sequester is to blame.

  • Elwood

    It’s Bush’s fault!

  • JohnW


    Glad you agree that lack of fresh water is a far bigger problem. It is indeed very scary and a reality right now, in Texas towns that have had to truck in drinking water.

    That said, methinks climate change and lack of fresh water are not separate issues. The latter follows from the former. It’s just that thirst and lack of water for agriculture are likely to do us in before SF Bay inundates Walnut Creek.

    Solution. Let Texas secede now. That way, they won’t have any claim on water from other states. They can keep their oil. The rest of us get to keep our H2O.

  • JohnW

    @7 It’s all Bush’s fault.

    Which Bush?

    There’s G.W. Bush the oil guy whose policies while POTUS weren’t exactly to the liking of the Sierra Club. Then, there’s G.W. Bush the eco-friendly ranch owner, who built his off-grid ranch home with geo-thermal cooling & heat, passive solar and “grey water.”

    Then, there’s the G.W. Bush who, before round two of his tax cuts, wondered out loud to his cabinet whether that might be going to far — until his Great Satan Veep shut down that self-doubting line of thought by saying, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”

    Now, we hear that “don’t mess with Texas” Bush has become quite the painter. His stuff is really, really good.

    Who knows? He may soon catch up with his wife and daughters and “evolve” on same-sex matrimony.

  • Elwood