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Goodbye Australia, hello Scandinavia

Published:  23 July, 2008

Climate change may herald the end of warmer wine-growing regions in countries like Australia and see the emergence of new viticultural areas such as Scandinavia, predicted influential Australian viticulturalist Dr Richard Smart.
Speaking at last week's Cool Climate Symposium in Christchurch, New Zealand, Smart said that global warming would be the single most important issue for the generation entering the wine industry today.

Predictions that temperatures could rise by 2C may not appear that significant but could have serious repercussions for warmer wine-growing areas in particular. Some of the well-established inland irrigation regions in Australia will find it very tough, since there's a limit to how hot you can grow wine grapes and get a decent wine,' Smart noted. Here the predicted temperature rise would have a great impact.'

Cool climates would not escape either, said Smart, who alluded to the possibility of a stylistic shift for that cool-climate classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The rug will be pulled from under Sauvignon Blanc when the climate changes. Add 1C to Marlborough and it will be similar to Napier, and we know that Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc has not got the same reputation. Add 2C and you're up in Auckland.'

Climate change was a recurring theme throughout the conference, with a number of speakers referring to its effects. Michael Mackenzie of Jacquesson was one who had noted more extremes in his region's climate, with colder winters and hotter summers that had brought the vintage forward in Champagne by around two weeks in recent decades.

Global warming looks likely to redraw the world wine map, with some wine-growing countries affected more than others, according to Smart. If you look at a temperature map of the world, South Africa does not extend far enough south to get cooler and would be in a hot position while not having new cooler areas to develop. Australia has it better, since it has Tasmania and Southern Victoria; and New Zealand is better off. Chile and Argentina are limited by high rainfall in the south. And in Europe, viticulture will move northwards and we

could find Scandinavia becomes important.'

The possibility that the Gulf Stream could reroute would spell bad news in the vine's traditional heartland of Western Europe. Smart said that the resulting colder winters could lead to vine death in the region. It could be that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are replaced by existing and new cold-resistant varieties such the aptly named Valiant and more prosaic Brianna - the latter a new genotype developed by another Symposium speaker, Professor Paul Read of the University of Nebraska, to survive the chilly climes of the US Midwest.

I've spent all my life working with climate ratings, and then the climate started to change, so I'm back to square one!' says Smart, who has been closely involved with planting vineyards in Tasmania at Tamar Ridge based on homoclime studies from New Zealand.

Smart will be one of the speakers at the first world conference on Global Warming and Wine, to be held in Barcelona on 24-25 May.