Do you have a favorite wine region? Better keep an eye on it!

Here’s a conversation starter. Will your favorite Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot be available in just a few decades? 

According to a study released in March by scientists with Conservation International and the Environmental Defense Fund the concern is that by 2050 many areas now hospitable to wine production will shrink by more than 70 per cent.

The decline is due primarily to climate change; noticeably Mediterranean climates around the world. This is not happy news in California, but also sweeps across the wine regions of  Mediterranean Europe, the Cape in South Africa and Mediterranean Chile and Australia.

1880 View of Lake Vineyard, now Huntington Library

1880 View of Lake Vineyard, now Huntington Library

Viticulturists have encountered changing climate and conditions, pest adaptations and environmental circumstances requiring new technologies from the earliest winemaking efforts.

If you’ve been following my interest in the California Mission Era you may recall the story of the old San Gabriel Mission grapevine. And do you recall George S. Patton Jr.’s family association with the San Gabriel Wine Company? 

Georgie Patton with family wine grapes.

Georgie Patton with family wine grapes.

A recent Huntington Library exhibit featured artifacts from the Patton-Wilson-Shorb families, including wine bottles and documents from the Southern California family wine company. The original grapevines were once grown on the family property, Lake Vineyard, which was later sold to Henry Huntington to settle Shorb’s bad debts.

Have you yet grown tired of hearing how much we enjoyed our trip to Morro Bay last month? I hope not, because my enthusiasm has already sparked plans for future visits.

Rotta Vineyards

The Central Coast wine country is particularly beautiful and popular with wine enthusiasts, collectors and all who enjoy gorgeous landscapes  The rolling hills of gracious vineyards, even before they begin to leaf, are simply stunning.

Scenic Croad Vineyard

Paso Robles Wine Country offers approximately 26,000 vineyard acres, and about 200 wineries. I say “about” 200, because the number is continuing to increase.

Many open to the public for wine tasting, and we found a few new favorites. The oldest winery we visited was the Rotta family winery.

Rotta Wine Tasting Room

The original 1856 vineyard and winery was sold to Joe Rotta in 1908 and it has been operated by the Rotta family ever since.

Some of the original vines are still cultivated with a technique called dry farming–that means no irrigation, but dependent on natural rainfall. The old Zinfandel vines reach down deep into the soil for the moisture, and produce a smaller, sweeter grape.

Will climate change affect the ability to continue non-irrigation practices? Viticulturists are already asking those questions.

Cement Water Cistern Rotta Winery

Croad Vineyard in Paso Robles is owned by Martin Croad, a New Zealander. The grounds of this winery were by far the most beautiful of all we visited. The Croad label includes delicious red wines, a favorite,Taranaki, a blend of Zinfandel and Mouvèdre.

Mouvèdre has been grown in California for more than 130 years, but is known as a finicky grape. The vines are thirsty and not a good choice for novice growers. Paso Robles and Bandol, France may be the world’s best spots for growing this temperamental grape because of the sunny and hot daytime climate and cooler nights. Paso Robles, unlike Northern California, has limestone soils that contribute to a good Mouvèdre harvest.

The final stop was Opolo Vineyards, and for me, the interest came primarily through the back story of the vineyard’s inception.

Camarillo neighbors Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols invested together in Paso Robles vineyard land, starting small, but continuing to buy prime grape-growing property, expanding a personal hobby into a thriving business. The vineyard is one of the more recent–newer kids on the block. The majority of the Opolo vineyards have been producing fruit since 1998. I like a success story, and their wine is excellent, too.

Paso Robles is California’s fastest growing wine region and a beautiful part of the state.  It’s been called “the buried treasure of California’s Central Coast” and is still being discovered by Californians raised with the belief that the ultimate in wine production was all the way north in the Napa-Sonoma region. Paso Robles is only 3-4 hours from Los Angeles–a nice weekend drive.

It remains to be seen what affect climate change may eventually have on the California wine industry. With an unusually dry winter this year the wineries were already speculating about what it means if we go several years without significant rainfall.

Will economies around the world be affected by a shift in grape-growing potential?

Other countries previously thought to be totally blocked from the market are getting into the act.

And the unintended consequences? Here’s just one.

Two Chinese provinces, Sichuan and Shaanxi, currently home to more than 1,600 wild pandas, plan to establish 44,000 acres of vineyards. Vineyard expansion will severely impact the habitat for giant pandas, already endangered.

If this topic interests you, I suggest you set a google alert to “climate change and wine production” and see how many articles pop up with implications, environmental versus economic, affecting us all–not just here in California.

I hope wisdom prevails. What do you think?

56 thoughts on “Do you have a favorite wine region? Better keep an eye on it!

  1. Interesting! And, sadly, makes sense, as changes in global temperatures will effect all crop growing regions. On a happier note, have you been wine tasting in the Edna Valley/Arroyo Grande Valley region? If not, it’s another must-visit on one of those upcoming Central Coast visits. :)

    • Hi Linda. No, I haven’t done any wine tasting in the Edna Valley/Arroyo Grande Valley region! How delightful to find more, and once again, a little closer to home! I think it’s so interesting that the regions just continue to expand. Thanks for the suggestion. I’m eager to do a little investigating! :-) I hope you and your family have a lovely loooong weekend. :-)

  2. I have tasted Chinese wine, Debra. BLECH!!! (But, in a decade or so, they will probably surpass everyone else.)

    The Napa Valley must be my favorite, because it is the only wine region I have visited more than once. It would be very sad to see that region change, though it has endured upheaval for millennia. It’s obvious in the landscape.

    I never thought to start hoarding wine because of climate change. I drink it too quickly….. ;)

    • I think I remember you mentioning the Chinese wine when you were there not that long ago! I wonder what made it poor quality. I’d be curious to know if it’s our American taste and being accustomed to a sweeter grape, or if even the Chinese don’t like it much! It’s early in their production and they will probably develop interesting varieties over time! The Napa/Sonoma region is really beautiful, but there are others, too. For most of my life we never talked about California wines south of San Francisco, but that has definitely changed! ox

  3. Even before our accelerated climate change, California has been prone to seven-year droughts — I have lived through several of them. If everyone, businesses and individuals alike, would conserve water all of the time and acknowledge the fact that we live in a dry state with occasional fluke rainfall, we could learn to manage our resources better. We could start with banning lawns and golf courses.

    • I, too, have experienced those same droughts, Sharyn. I remember the summer I kept a vegetable garden going by taking gray water by bucket loads to irrigate the plants. We were on water rationing and it was very serous. I don’t know why Californians are so reluctant to understand how limited our water supply really is, and to be more resourceful overall. I do see some changes on the city level. Our freeway systems and some of the area off-ramps have recently been planted in succulents and other very drought-resistant landscaping plans. Of course, there are still the automatic sprinklers that often go on even in the rain…so we have a long way to go! I hope you’re doing well! Good to hear from you!

  4. An interesting topic, Debra. All the ramifications of climate change. I think we are just starting to see the harm we have done.

    Since I haven’t as yet been to Napa, or Californian wineries, I think I need to stay closer to home in my choices. Climate change has, in a way, spawned a growing wine industry in the midwest. Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan (especially Michigan) even Illinois are seeing vineyards making an impact, with good results.

    Your pictures are so inviting – and exciting. I’m thinking we all better “bottle up” for the long haul.

    • I spent a few minutes googling about winemaking in Michigan, Penny. I was so surprised. I had no idea that states with such cold winters could grow grapes! I would think the vines would be damaged irreparably, but apparently not! I don’t imagine California does a lot of talking about midwest wineries, hahaha! So I certainly haven’t heard anything about the wine regions you mentioned. Adaptability is key to survival, and I think we’ll be finding that in the future new varietals will be introduced to accommodate changes in climate or other ecological concerns. It’s all very interesting to me, but it remains to be seen if any of these changes will really be in my lifetime. To hear the news reports it is going to happen tomorrow! LOL! I hope you have an enjoyable weekend, Penny! :-)

    • Interesting, Claire! So you’re seeing some changes in terms of regions expanding their grape growing, too! From what I’ve been reading even small incremental changes in climate affect the sweetness in a grape, and so warmer climates may need to be flexible and include new varietals, and of course, if previously “too cold” regions can grow more “at home” it will effect the wine economy. It’s fascinating to me to consider the adaptability, and then it does bring other concerns about ecological impact everywhere. I’m not all that critical–I think everyone is just trying to figure it all out. I am good at seeing problems, but I sure don’t have all the answers! :-) I hope you have a good weekend, Claire.

  5. I think the best we can hope for is that the regions that find they are newly perfect for grape and wine production (or anything else different) are conscientious and minimize the impact on their ecosystems. All this change is making everything fragile, and I hope it encourages us as occupants of this home to start treading ever more lightly.

    • You said it beautifully, Janine. We do need to at least develop a keen attentiveness to the reality that we can’t go about wasting and abusing, and not expect effects on our fragile world. I think in time we may stop making climate change and ecological concerns political, and instead think in terms of what is best for us all, and perhaps our joint efforts in cooperation can make us leaders in the way forward. For now, I’m afraid most Americans are slow to change. But we can all try to do a bit more. I hope you have a lovely weekend, Janine. A three-day weekend can be very refreshing! :-)

  6. I’m aware, and it is interesting. As far as the US is concern, Washington (state) regions could be the big winner.

    We love our 4+ days in the Central Coast region. I recall going to Rotta, and their Black Monukka impressed me. We also visited Opollo! …. and of course many more!

    • I find it really interesting that you also visited Rotta and Opolo, given how many wineries there are! I recall the Black Monukka, too, and I’ll have to go back through our inventory and see if that is one we brought home. I’ve been enjoying hearing from other Californians telling me about other wine regions I haven’t previously visited. I can easily remember when the only wine regions ever mentioned in our state were Napa/Sonoma, and now it seems the whole state is involved in growing at least a couple of varieties. I really didn’t realize the scope! Climate change has so many ramifications, and this is just one–and over a long period of time I would suppose. It’s just one of the most recent alarm bells I’m hearing in the news! Hope you have a great weekend, Frank…maybe a little golf? Dancing? :-)

  7. I always enjoy touring wine regions. There’s something so relaxing about it and no matter the time of year, it’s always so interesting. Of course, I’m yet to tour the wine regions of CA but now you’ve tempted me! I do hope the Chinese stay out of the wine industry – they don’t have room for it and they’re not a country of wine drinkers anyway. They need to look after what they’ve got first – the pandas! xx

    • From what I hear, there is already some wine production in China. That truly surprises me! Have you heard much about this climate change concern and the wine connection, Charilie? The articles I read mentioned Australia as another country of concern. Nothing is happening so quickly as to raise alarms, but apparently wine growers are considering growing different grapes that may be better suited to a warmer climate. And it does open up the market, of course, to other regions that previously were considered too cold. It’s a complex problem, and I am sure I understand very little of it, but it’s interesting to me! Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

  8. Hi Debra:

    Thanks for writing this interesting article. I always assumed wine-production was on the rise and would continue that way forever. We have a lot of wineries in both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

    • Remember when the only California wine regions were really Napa/Sonoma? Isn’t it amazing that almost the entire state has something to offer in wine production. We even have some wonderful wineries down in Temecula and San Diego County. I haven’t been to any in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties, but I love the region, and will make a point of noting them next time we are up that way. Perhaps over time there will be some interesting new varietals that adapt to warmer, drier climates. I have a fascination with California’s water “issues” and the topic continues to lead me towards new and complex issues for the state. Thanks for stopping by, Tom!

    • You have some wonderful wine regions in your country, CCU! You might enjoy following the science of the industry. With changes in climate affecting all regions, there will undoubtedly be many interesting adaptations you’ll discover over your lifetime. It makes a fascinating study–I think so anyway! :-) I’m glad you found the topic interesting, and I always appreciate your comments! Thank you.

  9. Thankfully, I think wine will out-last me. But if it doesn’t, there’s always beer.
    Great post, I may have to take a trip up there, it’s only two hours from Ventura.

    • I don’t think I’ll be too affected by climate change in the wine regions, either, Hansi. I’m not getting any younger–and fast. LOL! You are sooo close to the Paso Robles area. I’m pretty sure it’s Hwy 41 from Morro Bay to Paso Robles, and the wineries are all along the way. For you it really would be just a short excursion, and I am sure it would be most enjoyable.

  10. I think we’re a pretty resourceful lot and the climate has always been changing. If the Romans could enjoy good wines why shouldn’t we? (I have a glass of red at my side, to complement the brie, of course)

    I do have to concede that we do some worrying things though. :)

    • I tend to agree with you that we are resourceful lot, Johanna, and that our ability to adapt to change will take us into new strategies equipped to deal with many aspects of climate change. My concerns via the wine industry are mostly economic, as regions perhaps lose the edge they’ve previously held because of their “perfect” climate. THe other aspect of adaptability that is a concern to me, though, is that we don’t often ask enough questions. If we do “this” than “what” will happen? I’m quite skilled at identifying problems. hahahah! I, like most people, I suppose, don’t have any of the answers! Thanks for sharing, my friend.

    • I don’t know if I’ve ever had an Argentinian wine, Tammy. I have enjoyed Chilean, and I think I’ll make a point of seeing if I can find an Argentinian Malbec. I enjoy trying out different regions. I’ve enjoyed Australian wines, and although the climate is so similar to California, they remain very distinctive. I’m very far from being someone with a “talented” palate, but I enjoy learning about the industry and seeing what I can pick up along the way! Thank you so much for your comment. I enjoy hearing from you.

  11. I didn’t realize that wine making is being compromised by climate change, but it makes sense. I like mellow wines. The ex once ordered a super expensive red wine and I had a couple with dinner and was sick afterwards as it was too strong for me.

    • Hi Marie. Sometimes a strong, rich wine has too much tannin for a more sensitive stomach. I can get a headache from some. Oregon has some lovely wines, and there was a time when your climate was considered too cold and wet for good grapes. Now the industry is seriously looking at more production in Washington State…so northern climates are warming to the idea. It’s all quite interesting. I don’t know where the worry and concern is more hype than reality, but I tend to think it’s worth watching! Thank you for your sharing, Marie. :-)

  12. The thought of grapes in place of pandas is horrifying, fond of wine though I may be. Even if other areas become (current) Meditteranean in climate, I’m sure a quality unique to areas like the Cape will be lost. Wines using the same cultivars and in similar climates in SA or in Australia have their own different characters.

    • You’re right, Col. We can adapt our wine regions to the climate change conditions, but we will lose the particulars of our favorite regions. Climate change, and the unintended consequences of expansion and adaption, really is a concern. I hope wisdom comes out on top…I’m not always realistic! :-) Thank you so much for your comment. I enjoy hearing from you.

      • Glad you do. Although I don’t find the prospect amusing I suppose it would be out of character for me not to comment that the prosepctive new vineyard ownders are not likely to Panda to us …

  13. A fascinating and informative post, Debra. Only last week I read a news item about the report on the BBC website, which mentioned that one of my favourite wine-producing areas, Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, is exactly the kind of area under threat. I guess the tiny British wine-growing industry may expand and Normandy may start to produce grapes as well as apples, but it will be very hard for so many areas of the world to lose such a lucrative industry. :-(

    • I was so interested to hear that you heard a news report about climate change and wine production in southern France! The majority of stories that come to me have been focused on California, but of course, reference the potential impact is worldwide. I don’t know how long the concern has been studied, but it seems that all of a sudden there is much talk. I agree with you about the economic impact. There will be vineyards and wine production available for consumers, but to the regions dependent on the grapes for economic health are going to be strained. This is just one more in the ever-expanding list of changes to be watched. I find it very interesting and can get caught up in the story, and then I realize that individuals are being negatively affected and it gives me a long pause to think of what they are facing. Human resilience is a necessary quality!

  14. Gosh, Debra, that is one consequence I never would have thought of. My favourite wine ever was from my father in law’s home brew. I never asked him where he got his grapes from. Now I’m thinking I need to be a whole lot more savvy.

    • Kate, I would be very curious about your father in law’s home brew! That it is a really good wine, one you enjoy, is even more impressive. Almost weekly, and sometimes more than once a week, I hear some new “dire warning” about climate change and the effect on other environmental conditions. I still hold out hope that we will get our priorities straight and be more attentive…I’m an overtly optimistic person, which doesn’t always translate as realistic! *sigh*

  15. Oh, no! A wine shortage – that cannot be. Hmmmm….very interesting and I really enjoyed your pictures. Had no idea – I think it’s interesting how even just a few years ago (my parents generation, I’m 46), wine in the US wasn’t really that big of a “thing.” It’s interesting to see how that trend has changed. Enjoyed this post! Have a great weekend. Deb

  16. Climate change is such a serious threat to… And this is where the greedy capitalists have missed the plot… industry as well as wildlife! Things (including vineyards) are moving north to follow the climate. It isn’t just the birds in our garden that are affected – though they are one of the first and key indicators of climate and environment issues.

    • I share your concerns and frustration, Martin, with the effects of climate change. And “greedy capitalists” are the most difficult for me to tolerate–although, my personal outrage doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. We need to all pull together–not sure if that will ever happen. I’ve been reading a book about President Theodore Roosevelt and his environmental efforts. Although he left office in 1909, the problem people he encountered were even more “unenlightened” than we are today! Opposition to his introduction of the forestry service was shockingly violent. Our skills may move forward over time, but human nature doesn’t seem to evolve very much! :-) Some of the winery issues aren’t going to be too much changed in my lifetime, I suppose, but I do find it another harbinger of things to come. I hadn’t really thought much about the migratory birds…now you have me following another trail! I’m not sure whether to thank you or not. I get quite absorbed in these topics. Work suffers. Ha!

  17. This is fascinating and a consequence of global warming I had never thought about before.. I’m sure many haven’t either. The whole scenario is so frightening when you think of the myriad of ways our world will be effected.. excellent article, Deb! xx

    • The news reports have just started highlighting the affect of climate change on wine production, Barb. I’m starting to hear more and more news reports and I’m sure there will be more. I don’t think we can live in a heightened state of alarm, but awareness isn’t a bad thing. I also think we tend to be more creative in our problem solving than we sometimes highlight right alongside the dire warnings. I’m hopeful we’ll get some of these issues figured out…but I also hope that expansion and change doesn’t come at the cost of negatively impacting other species. It sure is complex!! Thanks for your interest and comment, Barb.

  18. On an unrelated note: Tonight’s the night! (Last night and tomorrow night too):
    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/two-upcoming-sky-events/

    BFF and I just enjoyed a peek at the Planetary Triple of Venus (bottom), Jupiter (left) and Mercury (right) in the night sky just past sunset. We’re going to head out again in a few minutes when the sky is a tad darker.

    You should be able to view it tonight and tomorrow at sunset (if clouds don’t get in the way).

    • I was aware of the triangle, Nancy, but couldn’t get a clear view! It was too low in the sky and our trees are too plentiful. If I had a little more freedom that night I might have headed out in the car! My daughter did report a clear view and I was so glad for that. She wanted to show the girls–and they fell asleep! LOL! I’m glad you got a good view. I do love these planetary alignments. This was a good one! :-)

  19. Fascinating Debra! Mike and I love visiting wineries on all of our trips. I had no idea this was a concern. Mike, being the economist, is familiar with it. He’s hoping to start researching wine in the next few years, so I imagine, I’ll continue to learn some more about this. :)

    • Hi Kristy! I find the “warnings” very interesting. I don’t think wine regions are going to disappear, but perhaps wine producers will need to look at new varietals and of course, the opening for more competition is going to come into play. Every day we hear something new to “worry” about, so after a while I don’t really know if some of the concern is exaggerated. But I do find it very intriguing to follow, and when it’s a good story, I love to share it! :-) I think we will be hearing more about this one. I set a google alert, and I’m getting news stories from all over the world, so it’s becoming a hot topic!–no pun intended! :-)

    • You know, we didn’t stay at Opolo’s bed and breakfast because we were actually staying in Morro Bay, but we took note! I’d love to stay there another time. I enjoyed the people at the winery, and everything about that general area was so enticing! We are in Morro Bay again this weekend, and I’ve noticed how Opolo and several other Paso Robles wineries are represented even in the Albertson’s grocery liquor department. The wine distribution is very different from what we are offered in Los Angeles…it’s been fun to check it all out! :-)

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