Wine, Weather, and Climate Highlight Need for Observations

By: Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Publisher: Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Published: April 15, 2014

A unique education program was held on Capitol Hill the evening of March 25 —one that highlighted the link between Federal investment in Earth science and observations and the cha ching of the U.S. economy.

As part of the Grains to Grapes program hosted by the Alliance for Earth Observations and Wine America, participants learned of the impacts of weather on the wine sector at home and abroad and the opportunities that exist for the U.S. agriculture and business sectors to utilize weather data to their advantage

The Congressional Wine Caucus estimates that the wine industry adds $162 billion annually to the U.S. economy, as well as 1.1 million jobs. Many experts believe that grapes are the “canary in the coal mine” for much of our agricultural sector.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici & Dr. Antonio Busalacchi

The Honorable Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s 1st District and Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee provided remarks stressing the contributions of NOAA and NASA in helping better understand the impacts of weather and climate. She noted support for the Weather Forecast Improvement Act (which subsequently passed the House on April 1, 2014), the National Drought Information System (NIDIS), and the need for continued and improved weather and climate information to better protect economic sectors such as the wine industry.

University of Maryland atmospheric scientist and Advanced Sommelier, Antonio Busalacchi, provided invited guests with a brief tutorial on the grape vine life cycle and how the phenology is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. For example, Busalacchi noted that grapes grown on east-facing slopes exposed to gentle morning sunlight produce more complex wines than those from grapes with a western orientation and exposure to the hot afternoon sun. In addition, a large diurnal cycle (changes between day and night temperatures) helps to develop the compounds within the grapes that produce richer flavors, while cool nights are critical for the acid level.

“Fine wine is a balance among fruit, sugar, acid, and phenolic compounds,” noted Busalacchi. “That balance is extremely fragile and everything from rainfall to temperature impacts what is produced.”

Observed changes include:

  • Major wine producing regions around the world have seen a rise in observed temperatures;
  • The number of frosts have declined in Napa and Sonoma Valleys;
  • Higher average mean temperatures and a longer growing season have resulted in increased alcohol levels at harvest. For example, alcohol levels at harvest for Bordeaux, France have increased from 11-11.5% in the 1940’s to a 2010 potential for Merlot at 15.5% and higher.

Busalacchi explains that the implications of weather and climate on grapes as an agricultural product is great and has the potential to result in lower quality wines over time. However, areas such as Oregon, because of its higher latitude and proximity to the ocean, may benefit from more consistent and favorable growing days. The same holds for vineyards at higher altitude. Some Old World wine regions will benefit from fewer frost days and a decrease in mildew and disease.

Weather and climate information will be key for grape growers and wine makers going forward, as they often make decisions on a time-horizon of at least fifty years on what to plant and how to manage their vineyards. Regardless of whether producers are in warm or cool regions, wines will almost certainly lose their traditional character, forcing wine makers to adapt; an advantage for New World wine regions like the U.S., where growers are not restricted to what, where, and how they can grow grapes by appellation laws, which are common in Europe

Paul Walsh, The Weather Company’s vice president for analytics, views these changes as an opportunity to integrate weather data and consumer analytics, yielding much more sophisticated information products based on this so-called environmental intelligence, “Whether managing risk or creating targeted advertising campaigns, this is a great opportunity for U.S. business.”


Sponsors of the Grains to Grapes event include PlanetiQ, The Weather Company, and Harris Corporation.

Reprinted from Institute for Global Environmental Strategies with permission.