Terror vs terroir: how climate change is an urgent threat to the wine industry

The first ever International Symposium at Vinexpo Bordeaux 2019 was a powerful call to action from prestigious guest speakers, each offering a different perspective on the science, impact and prognosis of climate change on viticulture and the planet at large, and how the wine industry can adapt.


The impressive line-up of speakers at the opening Symposium, Tuesday morning, spoke volumes about the significance of its subject, with a cast- list that included veteran CNN European Correspondent Jim Bitterman as host, and video addresses by both Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Lagarde’s hard-hitting introductory address posed more questions than answers. “This is running faster than us – hence the urgency” she said. Lagarde quoted Sir David Attenborough, saying, “The problems that we recognise need to be grappled with, and faced now. Otherwise, if we just go on business as usual, hoping for future technological breakthroughs, we are heading for catastrophes that we cannot anticipate, and which will be dreadful,” concluding with this call to action: “So the time to act is now. I hope the debates at Vinexpo Bordeaux will be fruitful, and you can deliver on the promise we have to make to future generations.” Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, echoed this: “At our current rate, we are not going to reach the Paris agreement temperature goals.”

Christophe Navarre, Chairman of Vinexpo Board, highlighted the local as well as global effects of climate change: “You can feel it, you can see it; we just had frost a few days ago in the vineyards of the Jura, some in Bordeaux, Cognac, elsewhere. I used to say that the best marketing director for a wine brand is the climate – rain, warmth, sunshine, all at the right moments. Hence this industry is very exposed to changes in climate.”

This point was further asserted by Alain Rousset, President of the Regional Council of New Aquitaine, saying, “The beautiful colours of the countryside synonymous with wine-production are visibly changing every year and it’s symptomatic of the changes in the soil and the seasons: all of this affects the grapes. We have a massive challenge ahead of us, scientifically, academically and technologically.”

Striking a more pragmatic note, Allan Sichel, President, Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) spoke of a likely increase in atmospheric temperature of two degrees by 2050. “We must anticipate, adapt and innovate.” he said. “Over the last ten years we have invested more than €2m in research into how to adapt cultivation and wine-making methods. In the meantime we are adapting and creating new grape varieties better suited to changing conditions.”

Michel Jarraud, Secretary General Emeritus of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) put it bluntly: “You can negotiate with terrorists but you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics. Carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases can only warm the atmosphere. Our journey has been from doubt to evidence”

Jean-Robert Pitte, President, Society of Geography and the French Wine Academy, said, “Yes, we could live without wine on Earth. But wine has been an important, almost sacred, part of human culture for thousands of years, since early civilisations. We have to accept that there will be some changes to the terroir, we have to adapt our palate to new flavours, we need to invent and accept new wines.”

The overall message was one of stark warnings and scientific facts: climate change is an increasingly urgent threat, its causes are undeniably man- made, and its effects on the planet and therefore all agriculture, including wine-making, could be devastating.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)