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GEODATE

Volume 35, Issue 2 2022

GEODATE

Volume 35, Issue 3, 2022

Future directions of viticulture and oenology

Anne Holland, Editor, Geodate

Viticulture is the cultivation and harvesting of grapes, especially for the purpose of winemaking, whilst oenology is the science of winemaking. 

This economic activity is influenced by biophysical, ecological, economic, socio-cultural, technological, organisational and political factors that affect current and future directions of the industry including the spatial patterns of production and demand, and production methods.

While political factors can vary over a short period of time and affect patterns of trade, other factors affecting this global economic activity are causing long term changes and these are considered below.

The impact of climate change

Viticulture is a branch of agriculture and, as such, is influenced by biophysical factors, including climate, topography and soils. These biophysical factors (or terroir) determine the specific types of grapes that may be grown in an area and influence the character and quality of the wine produced from the grapes.

Figure 1: Adelaide Hills Vineyard

Temperature is a key influence on viticulture as it influences many aspects of the grapevine’s development and the acidity and sugar content of the ripening grape. Temperate climates are ideal for grape production as temperatures are warm enough for flowering, fruit-set, and ripening. Most grape production occurs between latitudes 30-50o N and 30-50o S. On average, grapevines also require 700-800mm of rainfall during the growing season.

Climate change is affecting current spatial patterns of production and will continue to do so in the future. As air temperatures become warmer, some traditional areas of viticulture, including large areas along the Mediterranean coastline of France, Italy and Greece, are likely to see a decline in production as the climate becomes unsuitable for grape production. Areas that are currently too cool for viticulture (notably polewards of 50o N and S of the equator) may, however, become important wine-producing regions. For example, China has seen a large increase in grape production as northern regions become warmer and in southern England it is now possible to produce world-class sparkling wine. 

In Australia, climate change will affect viticulture in all 71 wine regions, although the exact impact of climate change will vary from region to region. It is predicted that by 2100 a 3oC rise in temperature will occur in most regions; this will result in intense heat waves and increased aridity that are likely to inhibit the production of quality grapes, particularly in the Murray Basin over-ripening. Consequently, some wine companies, including Brown Brothers, are now establishing vineyards in the cooler climate of Tasmania. Similarly, as temperatures warm, vineyards are being planted at higher altitudes where the climate is moderated. At higher altitudes, the increased diurnal range of temperature also benefits the quality of grapes by allowing the fruit to ripen more slowly and retain more of its acidity. As the intense sunlight encourages the grapes to develop thicker skins, the grapes develop more intense flavours. As temperatures warm, viticulturalists are also seeking locations where they can continue to grow cool-climate graphs; this includes planting vines at higher altitude (for example on Mount Canobolas in New South Wales), and planting vines on slopes with a southerly aspect, where temperatures are cooler, rather than the traditional north-facing orientation, (for example in Australia’s Yarra Valley).

Where it is impossible to move a vineyard’s location, climate change may force the replanting of vineyards, either using vines that can flourish under the new climatic conditions or using vines that are grafted onto more drought-resistant rootstock. In Bordeaux, where vineyards can only grow grape types permitted by the appellation authorities, climate change has caused authorities to trial and approve six new grape varieties (four red and two white varieties) for production in the region. The economic impact of replanting vineyards is likely to vary; in regions traditionally producing warm climate, production of more heat-tolerant grapes may have a negative impact on the quality of the resulting wine, whereas in regions traditionally producing cool climate wine, growing grapes more suited to warmer climates may boost wine production. 

Viticulturalists will also have to manage other risks resulting from climate change. These include damage from the increased risk of bushfires and extreme weather events such as hailstorms. These rising sea levels will flood some major wine-producing regions (such as the Swan district in Australia). The rising salinity of groundwater will affect the growth of vines in vineyards close to the coast. 

Climate change is changing spatial patterns of production, but it is also resulting in changing production methods within the vineyards. During the growing season, higher temperatures and intense sunlight require the grapes to be provided with greater shade and protection; this may be achieved by pruning the vine later in the season and limiting leaf thinning of the vine. As the climate becomes drier, saving water will also increase. This may be achieved by applying mulch to reduce moisture loss from the soil, using water saving irrigation techniques or using recycled water such as in Australia’s McLaren Vale where recycled waste-water from the Christies Beach Waste Water treatment plant is being used for irrigation. Dry farming where vines rely mainly, if not solely, on rainfall rather than irrigation is also now being used in some wine regions, such as the Sonoma Valley in California where slits are cut into the ground to better absorb and retain the rainfall in the soil. Although dry farming produces a lower yield per acre (2-3 tons per acre compared to 4 or more tons per acre), the quality of the resultant wine is considered by many to be superior. 

Harvesting is also being affected by climate change. In the warmer, drier conditions, grapes ripen earlier, and there is less time available to harvest the grapes. This has meant that vineyards now require greater investment in machinery to harvest and process the fruit faster; however, to reduce the impact of bushfire smoke tainting the grapes, the fruit may need to be harvested by hand to avoid breaking the grape skin. The high temperatures may also necessitate harvesting at night to avoid damage to the fruit. When grapes are tainted by smoke, the wine they produce can be unpalatable; this being the case, some wineries have chosen to diversify by producing spirits such as brandy to use the spoilt wine.

Sustainable viticulture and wine production

Many vineyards have traditionally been farmed as monocultures using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to counter pests and diseases and irrigation to supplement rainfall. There is, however, growing concern about the environmental damage caused by the excess use of chemicals, water and energy in the production of grapes and wine, as well as the health risks associated with chemicals used in food production. As a result, there is a rising demand for sustainably produced wine, despite the higher retail price of the wine as a result of the higher costs of production and the greater risks from pests and diseases.

One sector of growth in sustainable wine is certified organic and biodynamic wines. Organic wine is made from grapes farmed using no chemicals other than natural products, such as manure, whereas biodynamic wines are made from grapes produced in vineyards where the whole ecosystem is considered important in contributing to the quality of the fruit; this includes using preparations to promote biodiversity in the vineyard, harvesting according to the astronomical calendar, using companion planting and allowing animals to free roam amongst the vines. Although sales of organic wine are currently only a small percentage of global wine sales, they are predicted to increase from 2.4% of the global wine market in 2020 to 4% by 2024, with global biodynamic wine sales have increased 700% from 2017-to 2021. However, there is no universal standard for organic wine, which may hinder the future of sustainable wine production. The rising demand for sustainable wine is encouraging many vineyards and wineries to enter this sector of the market. Still, certification costs may be prohibitive for small producers, and organic viticulture is more suited to wine regions in warm, dry climates compared to wetter, colder areas. 

Sustainable wine may also be produced in vineyards and wineries that practise sustainable methods, such as integrated pest management, but may not be certified as organic or biodynamic. In the last decade, there has also been a growing trend for the production of ‘natural wines’. Natural wines are made from grapes, usually grown following organic or biodynamic methods, and harvested by hand; there are no also added inputs in the production of the wine, so the wine ferments naturally and is unfiltered and unfined, resulting in a cloudy appearance that adds texture and complexity to the wine. There is, however, no official certification that a wine is a ‘natural wine’.

Europe is the largest consumer and producer of organic wine. In 2020, Germany, France and the UK consumed 30% of the global organic wine (by volume), and Spain, Italy and France produced 70% of global organic wine, with organic vineyards in Spain increasing 522% over the last 10 years. In Australia, organic wine production is still a niche market, but from 2016 to 2019, organic wine production (by volume) increased by 51%, with domestic consumption increasing by 28% from 2017-to 2018. Sweden is the largest importer of organic wine produced in Australia, importing 49% of Australia’s exports of certified organic wine. Still, organic wine exports are only 0.5% of all bottled Australian wine exports.

Changing market for wine

Younger wine drinkers are becoming an increasingly large sector of the wine market. Whilst younger consumers in emerging markets, such as Brazil and China, prefer premium wine, in established wine markets the younger generation is demanding a wider variety of wines including natural wines, low or no alcohol wine and vegan wines. Younger customers also want easily accessible purchases of good wine that have ‘shelf appeal’ to them. Wine companies are responding to this demand. For example, the I Heart Wine Company based in the UK specialises in producing a ‘fun-loving accessible range of wines’ based on customer preferences in grape variety, and uses social media and television advertising to sell ‘uncomplicated enjoyment at a fair price’ targeted at women aged 25-54.  The company, which sold more than 31 million bottles in 2020, with over 23 million sold within the UK, is ranked the 10th wine brand in the UK market.

Changes in packaging

Changes are occurring in the way that wine is being packaged, largely in response to changes in shopping and drinking patterns as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and environmental concerns. Although the 75cl glass bottle is still the main form of packaging, alternatives include the more portable bag-in-box for bulk purchase of lower-priced wine and single-serve packaging in small bottles and cans. The growing popularity of canned wine is its ease of transport (important in online sales), ease of recycling and a smaller size that allows consumers to monitor their alcohol consumption more efficiently. Some wine is also being packaged in 75cl PET bottles (for example, Wolf Blass Green Label wines) to reduce the carbon footprint of transporting the wine as plastic is lighter than glass. 

The marketing of wine bottles is also changing as labels become increasingly crucial in selling the brand. Wine brands, such as 19 Crimes and Walking Dead, are using digital marketing and Living Labels to engage customers with the brand’s identity; using the Living Wine Labels App, customers can scan the bottle’s label and view brand-related content such as stories of convicts shown on the 19 Crimes wine labels. In Australia, using the marketing tool of Living Labels and augmented reality increased sales of 19 Crimes wine from 100,000 bottles in 2014 to over a million bottles in 2017. In addition, as customers access the App, they also provide the company with important information on consumer purchasing behaviour.

In the European Union, it is now mandatory for a company selling wine to provide details about nutrition and ingredients and warnings concerning consumption on the wine label. Many companies are now using electronic labels or E-labels (known as the U-labels in the EU). The information is provided in a digital format using QR code technology. As outlined below, digital technology is also being applied to packaging to reduce the incidence of fraud in online sales.

Digital trends

Online sales of wine

An increasing percentage of wine is now purchased online with social media being used to promote products. Although this trend was evident before the Covid-19 pandemic, online sales of wine have grown at an accelerating pace and this is a trend that is likely to continue. Wine companies are also offering online tasting events and virtual reality wine tastings where consumers wear virtual reality headsets to be ‘in’ the setting of the vineyard whilst tasting the wine in their own home. These online events are enabling wine companies to attract a larger audience from a wider geographical area and are particularly being used to engage younger customers. 

As online sales of wine increase, there is an increasing risk of fraud with sales of counterfeit vintages estimated to be worth $4.3 trillion in 2022. Digital technology, such as blockchain, is now being used to monitor the production and shipments of wine. Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags placed on wine bottles create an ‘intelligent bottle’ that allows purchasers to verify that bottles of wine are authentic, whilst RFID tags placed in packaging allow wine sellers to monitor shipments and the conditions in which the wine is being stored. In addition, the RFID tags allow purchasers to access interactive information about the wine, as well as keep track of their wine stocks.

Figure 2: Blockchain and RFID technology in winemaking

Digital technology in the vineyard and winery

Sensors for soil moisture have been used for many years within vineyards but more recent technological developments are allowing more detailed digital measurements to be taken of the vineyard environment including conditions of the vine; this data allows management to be more specifically targeted to areas of need, allowing ‘precision viticulture’ that saves money, time and improves environmental sustainability of the vineyard.

Images from satellites and drones flying above the vineyard have also developed in accuracy and are being used to manage the vineyard. Drones can obtain information about the incidence of diseases, drought or nutrient deficiencies whilst satellite images are even able to determine the ripeness of grapes under the vine canopy. This information, which can be obtained remotely, provides the potential for the viticulturalist to predict dates for harvest as well as to detect problems with the growth of the vines. Drones are also being used to replace labour in the application of chemicals and can be used to deter birds from damaging the vines.

Ground robots that move between the rows of vines are also being used to record digital data to inform decisions about managing the grapevines. The ‘VineScout’ robot developed by the VineScout Project in Europe can monitor and record data about weather conditions (such as relative humidity and temperature) as well as the physical properties of the vine canopy. These agri-robots are also being used to perform operations that have traditionally been done by hands, such as pruning and spraying vines, mowing between rows, removing weeds and adding mulch.

Within the winery, digital sensors used in tanks and barrels allow the winemaker to continually monitor the winemaking process. Traditionally samples of wine had to be taken from the tank or barrel and sent away for testing; this inevitably led to a delay in adjusting the development of the wine whereas continual monitoring allows for small adjustments to be made immediately when required. RFID technology can also be employed to monitor the use of oak barrels and the conditions under which the wine is being stored. Oak barrels are an important, but expensive, an asset in the winery with each barrel having a distinctive flavour profile that is imparted to the wine. RFID tags help the winery monitor the use of each barrel as well as identify individual barrels, which can be a difficult process when they are stacked high.

Conclusion

The economic activity of viticulture and oenology is experiencing changes arising from climate change, concerns about sustainability, and changing consumer demand (that has, in part, been driven by the Covid-19 pandemic). Digital technology is helping to drive some of these changes as well as providing the producer with more detailed and accurate real-time information to adapt to the changes. As artificial intelligence continues to be developed, grape growers and winemakers will be better able to apply this data to predict and manage processes in the vineyard and winery.

Student activities

1. Create a table to summarise the biophysical, ecological, economic, socio-cultural, technological, organisational and political factors that influence the future directions of viticulture.

2. Describe how climate change has affected spatial production patterns in viticulture.

3. Investigate how climate change impacts a particular wine region in Australia.

4.a. Define the term sustainable wine.

    b. Explain why consumer demand for sustainable wine has increased.

5. Explain how consumer demands for sustainability have affected processes in the vineyard and winery?

6. Explain the advantages of digital technology in the sale of wine.

7. Define the term ‘precision viticulture’.

8. Use the Internet to research and summarise how satellite imagery will aid viticulture. The webpage https://www.sspi.org/cpages/how-satellites-put-a-better-wine-in-your-glass is a good starting point.

Bibliography

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Boiling, C. (2021, November 30). The new technology coming your way. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from Canopy: https://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/Canopy-Articles/the-new-technology-coming-your-way.html#:~:text=Artificial%20Intelligence%20(AI)&text=It%20can%20gather%2C%20interpret%20and,use%20it%20to%20improve%20production.

Cooper, L., & Barnott-Clement, D. (2021, October 28). Australian wines changing as industry adapts to warming climate. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from ABC news: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-10-28/climate-change-and-the-australian-wine-industry/100532530 

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French, P. (2020, February 5). Sales of organic wine rise by 47% in the UK. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from The drinks business: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2020/02/sales-of-organic-wine-rise-by-47-in-the-uk/ 

Future Drinks Expo. (2022). 10 ways the future of wine is changing faster than you think. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://futuredrinksexpo.com/en/blog/insights-64/10-ways-the-future-of-wine-is-changing-faster-than-you-think-255.htm

Green, M. (2021, March 2). I Heart Wines sales exceeded 31m bottles in 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from Drinks International: https://drinksint.com/news/fullstory.php/aid/9424/I_Heart_Wines_sales_exceeded_31m_bottles_in_2020.html 

Market Research.com. (2021, July). Global organic wine market-2021-2028. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.marketresearch.com/DataM-Intelligence-4Market-Research-LLP-v4207/Global-Organic-Wine-14782635/ 

Mocatta, G., Harris, D. R., & Remenyi, D. T. (2020, June 16). How Australia’s wine industry can adapt to climate change. Retrieved February 25, 2022, from University of Tasmania: https://www.utas.edu.au/research-admin/research-news/how-our-wine-industry-can-adapt-to-climate-change#:~:text=Temperatures%20across%20all%20wine%20regions,are%20expected%20in%20many%20areas.

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