Climate Change May End California Wine Industry

Zinfandel grapes, quite possibly the Idaho panhandle's signature crop in 2155. | Photo: Anachronist/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons License

If you've got a cellar full of that newly popular old vine Zinfandel from the San Joaquin Valley, you might consider holding on to it: Climate change might well drive inland California vineyards out of business by the mid-century. That's according to a newly released report by the group Conservation International.

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The report, "Climate change, wine, and conservation," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, projects a loss of between 25 and 73 percent in current wine-growing regions around the world, and the outlook for California is dire: aside from a narrow strip along the coast and an even smaller area high in the state's mountains, most of California will become unsuitable for grape growing.

The red areas are where wine grapes mostly won't grow in 40 years, according to the report. | Image via Conservation International

As the climate warms, present-day wine country will experience fewer of the cool summer nighttime temperatures required for maturation of quality wine grapes, and irrigation water will become increasingly hard to come by even for potentially water-thrifty grapes.

The study's authors expect a 70 percent reduction in California wine country, and what amounts to the extinction of viticultural areas such as the Napa Valley, Temecula, and the old plonk factories of the Central Valley lately repurposed as "old vine" boutique vineyards.

The damage doesn't end with the near extinction of California wine country, according to the report's authors: as vintners pack up and move to places like Eastern Washington and Idaho's Snake River drainage new vineyards will displace what had been wild habitat, endangering animals such as pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears.

Just another reason for California to kickstart its non-carbon energy industry a little bit more forcefully, lest we be reduced to shipping our Zinfandel in from Spokane.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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