Is global warming heating up the VA wine industry?
Those who don't consider destructive wildfires and droughts enough reason to fear global warming should consider its latest possible consequence: destruction of the California wine industry. A group of scientists reported to the National Academy of Sciences on July 10 that an increase in the number of sweltering summer days could devastate warm wine-growing areas. But while California's taking the heat in this particular study, might the Virginia wine industry be headed for cold hard cash?
According to Brad McCarthy, a winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards, the problem arises when the weather climbs above 95 degrees, causing the vine's stomata to close up, shutting down the plant's respiration system.
The study predicts danger for California's Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara counties and elimination of the region's wine producing capabilities late in the 21st century. The study claims that in the future, only the Sierra Nevada and small coastal areas in California will be safe for premium grapes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In addition to lowering the boom on almost all of California's wine production, the researchers report that wine growing conditions could improve for the Northeast and Northwest. While McCarthy admits that it's possible global warming could be a boon for Virginia wine production, he places stock in more concrete ways that Old Dominion wine is climbing the food chain.
"In this business it's never just one thing," he explains. "It's the move from hobby tourist wineries into professional wineries that can sell next to all the wines in the world."
Although it seems global warming could mean smooth sailing for Virginia wine– if a death sentence for hotter areas– the study noted that humid climate provides vineyards with other sorts of challenges– like fungus.
McCarthy says Virginia winemakers have already adapted to the fungal problem, creating an opening in the vine canopies to allow sunlight to penetrate and dry the fruit. "We can circumvent this problem just by managing the vineyard properly," he says.
Virginia's humidity and rare but unpredictable heat waves may keep area vineyards hopping, but many aspects of the local terrain keep Virginia wine destined for a long and prolific life.
"Our soils are poor, and grapes like poor soil," says McCarthy, "and we have good elevation that protects grapes from the frost."