Climate change could bring about a shift in agriculture practices worldwide since factors like temperature, rainfall, humidity, etc., are projected to change from traditional patterns to new ones. In Napa Valley, California, winemakers are trying to stay one step ahead so that their revenues will not get significantly affected in the future.
The grape growers association in Napa Valley has been educating its members on climate resilience, a set of practices that will reduce greenhouse emissions. Programs have been created in English and Spanish that teach farmers methods to cut down the use of water, boost soil life and health, set up habitats that benefit wildlife, avoid releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and reduce the need for tractor work. Members of the community have so far been receptive to these ideas.
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“Farmers are naturally risk-averse, and climate is pretty risky… The climate discussion can sometimes get pulled into the political vortex, but one thing that makes Napa special is that there is a dedication to the climate cause and finding solutions, irrespective of political stances,” Molly Moran Williams, industry and community relations director for the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, said to Forbes.
Farmers are also being advised to compost rather than burn the vine cuttings, since composting is a good way to sequester carbon and cut down environmental pollution. Big wineries have started looking into capturing carbon during fermentation.
At present, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular variety produced in Napa Valley, accounting for almost 65 percent of grapevines in the region. However, under warmer growing conditions, these grapes might become overripe in terms of sugar accumulation while remaining underripe in their flavor during harvest. This would change the taste and quality of the wine, eventually affecting sales. To avoid such a scenario, wineries like Larkmead have embarked on a long-term plan of integrating new varieties of grapes in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon.
“This summer, the Larkmead team is preparing the land for what it calls the research block — an experimental 3-acre parcel with grape varieties known to thrive in warm climates better than Cabernet can. Some of these are old-school California heritage grapes such as Charbono, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Chenin blanc; others are tried-and-true varieties from hot regions in Italy, Portugal, and Spain, including Aglianico, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, and possibly Albariño,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Trade war impact
The American wine industry has also been negatively affected by the ongoing trade conflict between the U.S. and China. California is the most affected by this development since it accounts for almost 95 percent of U.S. wine production.
“The value of U.S. wine exports to China dropped by 25 percent in 2018, when the first retaliatory tariffs hit, from 2017… While China is the industry’s fifth-largest export market, it’s been viewed as a big opportunity for growth. Vintners worry that years of work cultivating business in the country could be ruined if tariffs persist and Chinese wine drinkers come to view American bottles as too expensive,” according to Bloomberg.
For 2017, the value of wine exports to China stood at US$78.7 million. But this year, the numbers are predicted to be as low as US$30 million. China’s free trade agreement with Australia is also affecting the American wine industry negatively. The winemakers are hoping that any trade deal between the U.S. and China will also include the removal or at least a reduction in the Chinese tariffs on wine.