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Berger: Adapting to climate change


In wine terms, a technical paper called "A window into hotter and drier futures: Phenological shifts and adaptive practices" isn't very romantic, and it certainly doesn't sound like it would be of interest to wine lovers.

But it may well be the most important bit of wine writing anyone has done in the past decade.

The subject of global climate change has already had an impact on the worldwide wine industry, and this technical paper puts forth an early and vital strategic plan for every place in the world where wine grapes grow.

Whether the Earth is actually warming may still be open to debate among some people, but three agencies in Australia are taking the issue seriously.

The Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Department of Agriculture and its affiliated State Natural Resource Management Programs spent three years studying the effects of climate change seen thus far and what we may well experience.

The results are scary for grape growers, winemakers and consumers, say Aussie scientists.

A point of reference here: Australia is one of the world's leading scientific investigators into grapes and wine, and has two of the world's finest wine institutions, as well as the authoritative Australian Wine Research Institute.

Australia has already seen warmer temperatures affect its wine industry and is taking steps to deal with changes.

The 297-page report released a month ago has thus far been pretty much ignored by most wine lovers and wine publications.

The reason is that scientists use hard science. As such, the report is fairly technical and thus of no interest to people who are scouring the Earth for bottles of iconic wines (as well as mortgage re-fi's to afford them).

The Aussie project wasn't just theoretical.

Project analysts developed in-the-vineyard gadgets designed to create mini-environments for vines that closely simulate hotter growth conditions. That allowed scientists to see what effects a 2-degree-Celsius increase in temperature would have on wine quality.

Part of the paper addresses what measures growers and winemakers will have to take under varying climate conditions.

This is the first stage of a multi-year study that aims to create various templates for treating grapevines, grapes and grape juice, based on various climate-change scenarios.

A second phase of the study has just begun. The corporate announcement said:

"With the continuing support of Dr. Paul Petrie of Treasury Wines Estate, Dr. (Victor) Sadras' team (will) delve deeper into the practical tools available to growers to mitigate higher temperature effects."

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have joined the next phase of the study.

Sadras was quoted as saying, "We found higher temperature will have — and are already having — the greatest effect on wine quality and the logistical issues around compressed harvest."

Consumers may not have to worry about this for a few years, but winemakers around the globe are beginning to see changes in the way they have to react to a "normal" vintage.

Indeed, to hear the Aussies about this, such a phrase is becoming pass?

Wine of the Week: 2012 Edna Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast ($15) — There is a slightly floral and citrus-y aroma in this attractive and soft white wine, as well as a very delicate note of dried herbs.

So instead of the grass of many cooler-region sauvignon blancs, this wine is slightly more flowery, and a nice accompaniment for light Asian foods such as Cantonese seafood.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes "Vintage Experiences," a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.