Greek Vineyards and Climate Change
This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.
By Mina Coutsoucos, Climate and Society 2014
If one takes a journey into the Greek history, it is evident that wine has been integrated into Greek tradition and daily diet for thousands of years. References from the ancient Greek texts such as Plato‘s Symposium, to Byzantine times and up to modern times, making it an important part of Greek culture and the source of viticulture’s art for the rest of Europe.
Vineyards for grape cultivation and wine production can be found all over Greece. The long period of cultivation, over more than four millennia, has resulted in over 300 endogenous varieties including the famous Assyrtiko. More than a drink with dinner, wine is also an important export commodity for Greek economy.
Grapes, particularly a number of wine varietals, prosper in temperate climates such as the Mediterranean. Climate change, which for Greece translates into higher temperature and less precipitation, poses a threat for the future cultivation and production of high quality wine. Regions that currently favor wine grape cultivation due to the climate may not be favorable in the future. This could change the pattern of cultivated land and affect the grapes’ – and consequently the wine’s quality– which could impact the economy with fewer exports.
Moreover, the extent of cultivated areas is a major constraint. As one of the smallest European countries, Greece does not have large areas of land for cultivation. If the pattern of cultivatable areas for grapes changes, it could lead to the decrease of their availability. This poses a huge problem because without land for cultivation, technology will not be able to help.
Working in Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) this summer, I learned about the usefulness of crop models in assessing the impacts of climate change on crop yields. Crop models take under consideration the plants’ biological functions (photosynthesis, respiration, consumption of water and solar radiation) and give as a result the plant’s responses in different environmental variables.
While currently the research area of AgMIP doesn’t include grape cultivation due to limitations its plant physiology poses, it is a potential area for future research and development.
Meanwhile, research performed from other independent researchers and research teams show that the rule of thumb “the higher the temperature, the better” for grapes will no longer apply because the optimum temperature for grape cultivation will be exceeded, negatively impacting growing regions. Moreover, the rise of carbon dioxide is estimated to decrease soil fertility in the long run, impacting the grape’s nutrients and thus the wine’s taste for growing regions across Europe. Less precipitation will have serious implications since irrigation techniques might not suffice for water availability.
Research areas for mitigating climate change impacts on grape cultivation could be, but not limited to, development of agricultural-models for simulating grape vine’s responses to different environmental variables according to their physiology, research on potential land availability for vine cultivation driven by climate change, development of improved cultivars, and improvement of techniques for water storage and irrigation.
This research could lead to adaptation techniques that would assist grape-farmers’ decision-making to insure wine grapes will continue to thrive in Greece and help sustain the Greek economy.