The wine industry must quickly and dramatically change the way it does business if it hopes to survive the impacts of global warming.
That was the stark message delivered last week by a Spanish wine expert who has studied the challenges climate change is already posing to winemakers in his country.
"If business continues as usual, in 50 years who is going to give a damn about wine? That's not going to be our biggest problem," Pancho Campo, founder of the Wine Academy of Spain, told about 100 people who attended a seminar in Sonoma on climate change.
The event at Gloria Ferrer Winery was billed as the first U.S. conference focusing on the impacts global warming will likely have on the wine industry.
Several studies have predicted that some of the world's most prized grape-growing regions could eventually become unsuitable for growing fine wine grapes if global temperatures continue to rise.
But last week's event was unique because it detailed not only how winemakers may be able to adapt to climate change, but also how they can minimize their own emissions today and help avoid the worst-case scenarios of global catastrophe.
"It's not about 2050. It's about today," said Paul Dolan, co-owner of Mendocino Wine Co. in Ukiah and a leader in the industry's sustainability movement. "We have to arrest the carbon emissions going into the atmosphere in the next five years."
Global temperatures have increased 1 degree, on average, since the Industrial Revolution. The increase is responsible for droughts, glaciers' melting, sea levels' ris-ing and many species' going extinct, Dolan said.
Some scientists believe the global changes under way may be manageable if emissions -- particularly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels -- can be reduced soon.
"But with one more degree, all bets are off," Dolan said.
Those sorts of stark predictions troubled many attendees, who included major players in the North Coast's wine industry as well as rank-and-file professionals who care about the direction of their industry.
"It just really flabbergasted me and scared the you-know-what out of me," said Shirley Buchignani, tasting room manager of Pedroncelli Winery in the Dry Creek Valley.
Buchignani said she has lived in Sonoma County for more than 60 years and the climate changes she has witnessed during that time period are undeniable. More heat spikes and fewer spring frosts in the vineyards are just two examples.
"I talk about it to everyone now," Buchignani said. "I'm going to do my little part, but I can't afford to buy a Prius."
Temperature changes are already influencing the way people manage their vineyards in Sonoma County. Santa Rosa's Paradise Ridge Winery, for example, protects its grapes from heat spikes by pruning the vines so they have a thicker canopy of leaves, winemaker Dan Barwick said.
He plans to find ways to make the winery more energy efficient, including exploring the installation of solar panels.
"I think it's important that everyone in the wine industry understands the carbon footprint that results from their production of wine and understands what they can do to minimize that," Barwick said.
There is no shortage of information and support in the wine industry about how to reduce energy use, reduce waste and promote environmentally friendly farming practices. Since 2001 the industry has published a workbook that helps California wineries assess and improve the sustainability of their operations.