March 30, 2017

Climate Change Could Benefit Northern Wines

Research by Paul Huttner, chief meteorologist for Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), suggests Midwest wine growers may benefit from climate change. Huttner said his work looking at how climate change is impacting viticulture in northern regions of the USA reveals that warming is very likely a good thing, in the long run, for colder climate wines. However, he warns, extreme temperature swings in fall, winter and spring will continue to pose a threat.

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The meteorologist presented the findings during his keynote address at the recent VitiNord 2015 conference held in Nebraska City. He shared some interesting, viticulture relevant points from his talk in this MPR blog post, ‘Climate Change. A Boost for Northern Wines?’ Here are a few of them, quoted directly from Huttner’s article:

  • Extreme temperature swings are bad for vines in any season, but abrupt swings from warm to extreme cold in late fall and spring can be the most damaging.
  • Physical mitigation for collar season cold events is difficult. Large land areas. Fans, sprinklers, local heating all problematic and of limited effectiveness. ‘High tunnels’ have shown promise, but require constant management as temperatures change.
  • Local, meso-scale site selection is critical to maximizing productivity. ‘High & dry’ seems best combination. Anecdotally, a SE facing slope with morning sun exposure and northwest wind protection may provide the most moderating temperature profile by quickly warding off any morning chill/frost potential, and limiting extreme heating of soils, leaves, fruit, and trunks in warmest late afternoon sun, followed by rapid temperature drops in colder seasons after sunset.
  • Wind protection in winter can be important. Winter dew points in the Northern Plains can be much lower than the desert southwest. Dew points often reach single digits above or below zero in the Upper Midwest in winter. Compare to dew points in the 20s and 30s in places like Arizona. Think ‘Arctic Desert.’ Windy conditions in extreme cold/dryness can rapidly leach moisture from vines causing damage. Wind protected areas from northwest winds may offer greater protection.
  • Ideal vineyard mesoclimate? High ground. SE facing slope, significant wind buffer to the north and west. Modifying body of water adjacent to site could also help in fall season?
  • Warmer winters will help northern wine culture overall, but limiting factor is still rapid extreme temperatures changes in fall, winter and spring.