Climatologists to the rescue: Mediterranean wineries are at a climatic hotspot

    To help agricultural producers in the region cope with changing weather patterns and make strategic decisions now for the future, scientists are researching new farming techniques and creating climate forecasts. The Mediterranean basin, which comprises the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is a climatic hotspot. It is experiencing faster-than-average increases in temperature and may suffer large rain losses in the coming decades. Winemakers are among those already feeling the effects.

    “Climate change is not just a thing of the future, it is happening now. We see an increase in average temperatures, and this is already having an impact on grape cultivation, ”said Josep Maria Solé Tasias, coordinator of VISCA, a project that develops forecasts and pruning techniques to help vineyards adapt to change. climate. One shock is that higher temperatures cause the grapes to ripen too early, before their aromas have had a chance to fully develop. “This is something that worries wineries a lot,” said Solé Tasias, a civil engineer at Meteosim SL, a Spanish company that offers meteorological services.

    In southwestern France, the famous Merlot and Sauvignon blanc grapes from the Bordeaux region are expected to be victims of climate change, so winemakers are testing hardier grape varieties from southern and eastern Europe. Another solution is to find plots of land further north or colder to plant in the future.

    But small wineries will find it difficult to make such large investments, says Solé Tasias. So VISCA has been testing some innovative agricultural techniques to see if they can minimize the damage. These include “crop forcing,” which involves pruning the vines so that the grapes ripen later in the growing season once temperatures have dropped. But deciding when to prune is difficult – too early or too late in the growing season would affect the harvest.


    VISCA has developed seasonal forecasts that are helping farmers assess the best times to apply these techniques. They use detailed data about the vineyard, including location, soil type, and grape variety, to estimate when the grapes will bud or ripen, as well as to predict temperatures and rainfall. But unlike short-term weather forecasts that can accurately predict whether there will be a frost or a warm sun, seasonal forecasts up to six months ahead are much less certain. Knowing how to use them for decision making is complex, says Solé Tasias. “Farmers at this moment do not know exactly how to use them, they are used to making short-term decisions,” said Solé Tasias.

    A seasonal forecast might say, for example, that there is a 60% chance that there will be a particularly hot summer. If a farmer delays the ripening of his grapes based on this assumption, he may lose money if summer turns out to be normal. “Farmers have to understand that their decision can result in losses,” said Solé Tasias. To help with this, VISCA has worked with some wineries to create an action list based on each short-term and seasonal forecast; for example, buying more chemicals to deal with a possible increase in the number of pests or pruning the vines to delay grape harvest, detailing the financial risks associated with each option. The options and risks will be adapted to each vineyard or winery. And the more information researchers have about the vineyard, the better they can predict, they say.


    Long-term climate forecasting is particularly difficult in the Mediterranean region, says Dr. Alessandro Dell’Aquila, co-coordinator of the MED-GOLD project, which is developing climate services for producers of pasta, olive oil and wine. “ It has an inherent unpredictability because there is a lot of noise due to large-scale (atmospheric) movements and disturbances, ” said Dr. Dell’Aquila, a climatologist at the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development. (ENEA). The tropics, by contrast, are more stable, which means that seasonal forecasts for coffee, tea, corn and other crops in parts of Africa and South America could be more accurate. But seasonal forecasts will remain vital for Mediterranean farmers despite their uncertainty, says Dr. Dell’Aquila. The long-term impacts of climate change in the Mediterranean are likely to be severe. “The Mediterranean could look very different in the coming decades. We may have complete animal or insect species.


    EU policy must change to help producers adapt to climate change, he says. The rules governing the composition of wines, for example, could be changed to allow producers to use different grape varieties, even grapes from different regions, without changing the name of the wine. “This could be very important for consumers because they want to go to the supermarket and find a (Chianti), and the name of this wine is clearly defined in some EU standards.” Meanwhile, producers must act now. “Wine producers should start thinking now where they can buy new parcels of land and start planting grapes as an investment for the next 10 to 20 years,” said Dr. Dell’Aquila.

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