A little over a month ago, we attended the II International Climate Change and Wine Conference here in Barcelona, Spain. Having been our first conference with a professional camera man in tow, our goal was to: interview as many speakers as possible to give us a good breadth of knowledge as to what the issues are that are impacting our vineyards, give wine consumers a better understanding as to how wine culture may change, and finally, learn how we as wine lovers may support sustainable agriculture. However, despite our best efforts, when a question was posed to us in an article on the immediate impacts of climate change, we quickly realized that we failed to interview one of the key researchers on how climate change is currently impacting grape vines, Dr. Gregory Jones. Hence, what we’ve provided below is a Q&A with Dr. Jones, along with a series of links where you can find more information on his research.
Tell us how your research intertwined wine and climate change? Did it start with climate change and slowly morph into the inclusion of vines, or were you always a die-hard wine fan who feared the loss of your favorite past time?
I started studying climate, viticulture and wine about the same time. While I consider myself a climatologist (formal training), I focused my work on understanding the role climate plays in grapevine plant growth, fruit composition, yield and quality issues. Originally, I was more interested in the basic structure and interaction, but climate variability and change issues were evident in many of my studies and rose to the top as an important issue to study.
Did you consciously hope that wine would raise the discourse of climate change, or was it merely happenstance that wine has become the perfect catalyst to communicate the human impact on the planet?
Yes, I knew that people could better identify with wine as a measure of climate change than say some more obscure crop, other plant, or animal. Wine offers two things … clear climatic requirements for production and quality and a romantic, Bacchanalian enjoyment. Besides these issues, wine also is not all ‘losers’ in the climate change impacts. Many places are ‘winners’ in that they become more suited or viable when they were not previously.
In comparison to other crops such as corn, beef and soybeans, what percentage of CO2 does winemaking contribute to climate change? And relatively speaking, is this a large/medium/small amount?
This is not known with any certainty, although I have seen others quote that the entire wine production stream is only 0.1% of the global CO2 output. There are numerous entities working on better understanding the viticulture (sink) and winemaking (source) issues of CO2 but we have much to learn. What is absolutely clear though is that wine production is much, much lower that most broad acre crops for various reasons (use of fertilizers, herbicides, tractor passes, etc.)
At the conference, Richard Smart emphasized that the winemaking industry needs to adapt to the impending climate change. Do you agree with his sentiments or do you feel that we should place a greater emphasis on prevention?
I think for any sector of society that a combination of mitigative and adaptive strategies are needed, and this includes the wine industry. Unfortunately, most of the research shows that what mitigative measures we can likely do or are willing to do are simply not enough. Even the IPCC states that we have entered into more of an adaptive mode.
What are the least difficult, and most effective, changes a winery could implement to prevent and/or adapt to climate change?
Vineyard and Winery operations need to look at their entire production portfolio in terms of energy. By doing so they will identify relatively simple things that can be done via efficiencies of scale. No one thing or few things will make a great impact, however a holistic ethos in terms of sustainabilty will provide benefits not seen with blinders on.
In what ways do you feel the conference was, or was not, successful? And was there anything you were not able to communicate at the conference that you would like to share with us now?
I think the conference was good overall in terms of broadening the discussion of climate change. We need to continually educate others because only with increased awareness can individuals rationally understand the science behind the issue, our role in it, and how best to mitigate/adapt. Probably the hardest thing to overcome in this arena is the immediate concerns versus the long-term impacts. Most of us deal with immediate concerns that have great impact (financial problems, severe weather damage, poor health, etc) … climate change is not immediate nor of great impact, therefore we have an urgency problem or a risk management problem. Not till we as society truly see the risk will we respond in an appropriate manner, and even then it may be the headlights in your eyes kind of response!
Assuming that you participate in the next conference, what subjects do you hope to tackle, or is there research that you are currently doing which you hope to conclude by that time?
Accumulating more data to fully understand the range of potential impacts. For example, we still have not fully integrated data from some wine regions … what are they experiencing, is it different than what is happening in Europe or the US? I also hope to do some more grapevine growth modeling that will give us some clues to their climatic thresholds, which may allow us to know when and where to shift varieties.
At the end of the day, when all of your fast and furious research is said and done, is there a Spanish or Portuguese wine that clears your mind of all the random statistics still floating in your brain?
I am a huge Tempranillo fan, more a Ribero del Duero fan than Rioja. I also like Verdejo, Albarino, and Grenache. But most importantly, I like balanced wines with relatively low alcohol (12-14%) that allows the fruit, acid, and tannins to work in harmony.
Gregory, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, as we know that you’re quite busy, and wish you all the best in your research!!
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