Wine or Wildlife: Which Do We Want More?
The cultivation of grapes to make wine is extremely sensitive to climate. The term ”terroir” (from the Latin word for “land,” terra) describes the particular qualities that geographical features give to wine made from grapes grown in one place (Burgundy in France) versus another (Cream Ridge, New Jersey). Viticulture therefore provides a “good test case” for assessing the impact of climate change on an ecosystem.
Whether you’re an oenophile or not, a recent study on wine and climate change in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science offers some troubling predictions about the effects of wine production on the environment and wildlife.
Wine Production is Migrating North
Viticulture has traditionally been concentrated in places with a Mediterranean climate, in countries such as Italy and Greece and in regions including California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys. As temperatures have risen and rainfall fluctuated and even lessened, growers in search of a suitable climate for their grapes have been moving to other areas, with huge implications for “habitat quality.” Growing wine grapes entails the introduction of sterilizing chemicals and fertilizer as well as increasing demand on freshwater reserves, both for irrigation and for “misting or sprinkling” grapes to cool them, the study‘s authors write.
Based on 17 different climate models, the researchers predict a loss of up to 47 percent of land in Chile where, thanks to a Mediterranean-like climate, wine grapes are now cultivated. 59 percent of the land devoted to viticulture in western North America (most of which is in California) will be rendered inappropriate due to heat and loss of rainfall. In Australia, 74 percent of wine country will be lost; in Europe’s Mediterranean, 85 percent of the land currently hospitable to grapes will no longer be by 2050.
In the past decade and a half, growers have established vineyards in places such as British Columbia once considered too chilly. No less a region than the Rocky Mountains near the border between the U.S. and Canada has been demarcated as possibly suitable for viticulture one day, says Lee Hannah of Conservation International and one of the study’s authors.
Vineyards vs. Colorado’s and China’s Wildlife
Conservations have also been seeking to turn that very part of the Rocky Mountains into “a Yukon-to-Yellowstone corridor for unimpeded migration of various kinds of wildlife, like pronghorn.” Rebecca Shaw, another study author and a scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, explains to the New York Times that grape growers moving into other regions has the “potential to threaten the survival of wildlife,” especially as mature vineyards offer little to native species and are indeed “visited more often by nonnative species.”
Indeed, China is in fact the world’s fastest-growing wine-producing region. As Hannah tells AFP,”all of its best wine suitability” is located precisely where pandas live.
The transformation of more parts of the earth into vineyards seems inevitable, at the expense of native wildlife. What do we want more, protecting pronghorns and panda bears or making sure we have enough petit sirah and pinot noir?
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