Mason Spink, president of the British Columbia Grapegrowers’ Association speaking at the BC Wine Industry Insight Forum. - Image: Barry Gerding

Okanagan wine industry lacks climate change plan

More research needed to assess Okanagan warming trend

A lack of research contributes to an absence of long-term strategies for the Okanagan grape growing industry to deal with the impact of climate change, says a leading U.S. industry researcher.

Gregory Jones, director of wine education for Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, says minimizing and adapting to the risks posed by a warming temperature for the grape growing and wine industries is critically important.

“We know climate change is happening and for every one degree change in our temperature trend, that generates consequences that we need to think about and be prepared to deal with,” Jones said.

He said that’s important to both the agriculture and tourism industries because they interface on so many levels, yet there is a lack of awareness on how to move forward. That realization was discussed widely at the the recent BC Tourism Industry Conference in Kelowna, where many tourism industry people talked about the importance tourism will play in preserving our province’s environment in the years ahead.

Jones was speaking via video hookup about climate change at the inaugural BC Wine Industry Insight Forum held in Penticton on Tuesday.

Jones cited one example in his Willamette Valley region where some grape growers have already begun working to produce grape crops without irrigation.

“A new group has formed called the Dry Root Society to look at non-irrigation grape wine production. That work is important for changing landscapes that are dependent on irrigation,” Jones said.

Jones said climate change is having a global impact on the wine industry, as it has opened up opportunities for wine industries to start up in other countries, both on higher elevation landscapes and coastal regions.

He said the wine industries in India and China are exploding in growth, saying that China will soon be among the top three or four wine producing countries in the world.

“Brazil and Southeast Asia are starting to export wines, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia are operating more on a wholesale level. Russia has gotten tired of importing everyone else’s wines and is starting to produce their own,” Jones said.

International economics have also created new wine markets, new wine styles, changing wine selling demographics globally, and new purchasing trends.

“I just returned from Europe and it is very common there now to come across wine vending machines,” he said.

For the wine industry, Jones said the warming trend in Oregon or the Okanagan Valley impacts the grape harvest, what kinds of grape crops can succeed in a warming landscape and how to deal with heat stress episodes where wine vineyard plants literally shut down to survive.

“Sometimes the fruit ripen too early, or there is a sugar ripe level that is reached before the flavour/aroma development,” he said.

Other climate change impacts he noted are soil fertility quality and erosion, impact of CO2 on vine fertilization, water availability and altered or new diseases and vine pests that affect grape production.

“You see the potential for new pests to be driven to a place they never were before by climate change where they have no natural enemies allowing them to proliferate,” he said.

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