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Home » Ep 2 – Dr Gregory V Jones – Wines And Climate Science

Ep 2 – Dr Gregory V Jones – Wines And Climate Science

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Nick Breeze

Climate journalist and host of the ClimateGenn podcast.

SPEAKERS

Nick Breeze, Dr Greg V Jones

Nick Breeze  

In the second episode of the Alentejo climate and sustainability series, I’m speaking with winemaker and climate scientist Dr. Greg Jones, who has co authored climate and wine research papers looking at the vulnerability of certain regions to climate change. One in particular that is relevant to this series titled ‘Climate Change & Global Wine Quality’, published in 2005 states, “Other regions currently with warmer growing seasons, i.e. southern Portugal may become too warm for the existing varieties grown there and hot climate maturity regions may become too warm to produce high-quality wines of any type.”

A couple of factors that are important in responding to this deduction are as follows. Mitigation is still essential. Every one of us, every business, every wine business, must play a part in the decarbonisation of human systems. Doing so is a collective responsibility that runs all the way through the wine business, from the vineyards, to how wine is communicated and consumed. But this alone is not enough wine producers have to go further in building resilience, regenerating soils, and ecosystems.

This is as much about stewardship as it is about survival. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC recently released a report that states adaptation is critical, because climate impacts due to human-caused global warming, are now unavoidable. Here, Dr. Jones outlines some of the impacts we can expect in regions such as Alentejo, which are among the world’s most vulnerable to heat increases and drought conditions.

He also gives us his view on why regional certification programs such as the Wines of Alentejo Sustainability Programme play a crucial role in the sharing of knowledge, as well as providing the framework by which actions and progress can be measured. This second episode represents a broader view before we zoom in and meet the producers in Alentejo and hear their fascinating stories about the actions they are taking to boost resilience and protect the quality and reputation of the region. 

Nick Breeze  

Okay, Greg, it’s very good to speak to you. When you researched the Alentejo region, what were the climate conditions that defined the viticulture of that region?

Dr Greg V Jones  

So the Iberian Peninsula is a kind of a mix of a little bit of maritime, to a little bit of continental, to a little bit of Mediterranean climate. The region of Alentejo is in the southern part of Portugal, it’s just far enough inland that it has less of a coastal influence. So it’s a fairly summer dry, winter wet, but again, not quite so wet as it is in the north of Portugal, or in Galicia.

Nick Breeze  

And can you talk about what your findings indicated would be a result of the heating based on the projected warming scenarios that we’re familiar with?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Sure. So the framework by most Mediterranean climate type of regions, and clearly, Alentejo is much more of a Mediterranean style area, most of the areas worldwide that have similar climates are seeing a further drying of a seasonal climatic difference. So for example, having summer dry winter wet kind of environments are becoming even more summer dry, and slightly more winter wet. So what that really means is that the areas like Alentejo are warming during the summertime, have less rain conditions during the summertime, so more dependent upon the soils holding moisture over winter into the summer. And we’re seeing that not only in Alentejo, but we’re seeing it in areas in Australia, parts of South America, and Chile and Argentina and also in the western United States too, that places that have similar kinds of climates.

Nick Breeze  

Okay, you’ve just highlighted a couple of impacts, but what are the potential challenges going forward that are going to really start being on the radar of producers in an area like Alentejo?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, I think one of the big issues, of course, is dealing with the events that are challenging to grape growing. So what are what are those kinds of events? Well, number one, heat events during the middle of the summer, are of course, problematic. Not having enough water, or during drought periods where water becomes even more scarce, being able to hydrate the vines in any way, shape, or form is definitely a challenge. You know, I think that the other thing is, when we talk about climate change, we don’t often consider that cold events can become more problematic. What I mean by that is that all of our observations from a climate stance and looking at the past data and also looking at the future modeling efforts show us that even though warming occurs, cold events don’t go away. So what we think is that the plant system becomes less used to those cold events. So for example, if you’re in a region that used to have periodic spring frost, and you go through 20-30 years without spring frost, and then you have one, that one spring frost can be much more detrimental, because the plant system is not quite as in tune to it. And I would argue also that the human system is not kind of prepared for it either. So once you stop experiencing something, then you’re not quite as ready to deal with that, and we’ve noticed that even in places that have extreme winter cold,  like in Niagara in Canada, or in eastern Washington, where Winters can get pretty darn severe in terms of their cold. If it’s not cold for quite a few years, then you have one event happen, that one event tends to be more damaging. So again, I think that there’s issues on both ends of the spectrum, severe events, such as frost, potential for more thunderstorms, hail events that are problematic. Parts of Iberia doesn’t get as much hail but the potential for summertime hail events is greater in our modeling efforts moving forward, a warmer atmosphere hesitancy to create more intense thunderstorms and potentially produce hail heavy rain events.

Nick Breeze  

How substantial do you think these these changes are going to be actually on the style of wines produced in regions?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, I think extreme events are less damaging to style. And they’re more of a full crop risk issue. You know, when we look at climate, you can kind of define it in three different forms. You look at individual events, extreme events like this. And that’s really a crop risk issue, then you can also look at climate variability, and climate variability drives production and quality variations, vintage variations, so to speak. But when we talk about stylistic changes, I think it’s broad shifts in the longer term climate structure and regions that really play the prominent role. So for example, if you’re in a region that is, has been ripening a given variety right to its kind of margins, or maybe even to its sweet spot, and you warm by one or two degrees Celsius, then what you’re doing is you’re ripening that variety, to a very different stylistic standard. Cannot winemakers still play that back to maybe historical styles, it’s possible, but there’s always going to be a limit, where if you are growing a given variety, in a climate that has become so warm, sugar levels are clearly going to go up, as they have, we have really good evidence of this worldwide. And so as sugar levels go up, you naturally end up with a different style. You end up with bigger, bolder wines that potentially have higher alcohol, less acidity, a little bit different balanced structure. So winemaking is a little more challenged.

Nick Breeze  

We also hear a lot about mitigation of climate effects by reducing emissions, this kind of whole sustainability drive, if you like. And it is obviously critical. What are your thoughts on the need for adaptation and resilience building?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, I mean, I think it’s critical. I think, if you’re in agribusinesses, and you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing relative to making a much more resilient, less vulnerable system, then you’re going to be challenged in the future. So I think all of us need to be doing this. Agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution. That’s pretty clear and so if we can be better stewards of our ecosystems, our terroirs that we function in, then we can be a better part of the system in terms of mitigating climate change, but also reducing vulnerability. So I think it’s critical for every operation to have some sense of that relative to wine production, but also production of other large broadacre crops as well.

Nick Breeze  

Okay. And certification programs in the wine industry are rising and trust in these schemes is obviously critical. What are the thoughts you have on the need for these schemes in general, and how they can best succeed?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, you know, I think  the various schemes, of course, that have developed have largely been either wine region specific or country’s specific and I think that’s perfectly fine but I really hope that somewhere along the way, we come up with some better global standards on this. The idea that we talk about aspects of conventional farming, organic farming or biodynamic farming, I think that’s wonderful but I think we really need to have better global standards. It’s going to be a hard, hard road as we know, anything we try to do globally in trying to standardise is a challenge. So I think the best thing we can do is develop regional schemes that really work for those regions but tie them into a broader understanding and framework at the global level. There’s, there’s fear of maybe over diluting the issue as well, by producing too many things that people either can’t achieve, or it appears too complicated to even get involved in.

Nick Breeze  

Okay, so you think that we are in a stage which is quite embryonic in a way, that we should be sharing knowledge much more broadly and trying to come up with  universals, if you like?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Yeah, I absolutely believe sharing knowledge across the wine sector is really important. If I figured out something I can do here in my vineyard, then why not share it with people in Alentejo. We all need to be better stewards and if somebody can figure out how to do any one little component of our farming practices, our management practices, then we need to, we need to share that information as best we can. And some of the schemes that are out there are really doing that in a very profound way, both within regions, but also at a global level, too. 

Dr Greg V Jones  

Okay, so what you’re saying is that, really, if we could share knowledge much more dynamically, then that could actually feed into the whole universal certification and understanding of standards?

Dr Greg V Jones  

Yeah, I totally agree.

Nick Breeze  

Okay. And just finally, as a climate scientist, and a wine producer, what are the main challenges generally, for the industry that you see, as you face the future,

Dr Greg V Jones  

We could talk about what’s happening in the vineyard, we could talk about what’s happening in the winery, but we also need to talk about what’s happening in the marketplace and I think that one of the big challenges that we have moving forward is, how to deal with moving a very heavy product around. I mean, the I can go into a store here and buy wine from all over the world and that’s perfectly fine but are there ways in which we can do that such that it’s more sustainable in the long term? We know that glass is relatively sustainable but but to ship it around is a challenge. So can we come up with something that consumers are interested in purchasing a product in a different type of packaging that really allows us to be better stewards in that framework? I think expectations are kind of a real challenge. It’s kind of like, if you look back at the move from using natural cork to screw caps. Initially, when all that started, it was a pretty complicated situation and yet, here we are today, where that is a fairly prominent use in the in the industry. So, I just think that we have challenges in the vineyards, we also have challenges in the winery but we have to really be able to look at the marketplace too and integrate all of that together.

Nick Breeze  

So you think there’s work to do because there’s what you’re talking about is there’s a perception of a bottle of wine and it used to be, especially a perception of a heavy bottle of wine had some sort of correlation with quality and if communicators and all these people that like myself or others on Instagram, or wherever they happen to be, were able to somehow communicate with the consumer in a different way. There’ll be maybe perception could change.

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, I think all of us are consumers and consumers in a changing environment like we have right now, we need to be adaptable. We need to understand the efforts that people are doing relative to growing any crop, let alone wine, and what those efforts mean to us as a consumer. So we need to say yes, we’re willing to adapt  to new products and new frameworks behind production.

Nick Breeze  

Okay, good. 

Dr Greg V Jones  

Well, wonderful Nick, I appreciate it.

Nick Breeze  

Thanks for listening. In the next episode, I’ll be speaking to Ian Richardson from Herdade do Mouchão, a historic estate in Alentejo. Mouchão is an example of an integrated estate comprising vineyards, forests and grazing land with rich biodiversity and which under Ian’s care is in the process of converting practices and adapting to new climate realities. Thank you for listening.

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