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Sour grapes: Climate change shock for wine trade

Glyn Kirk | AFP | Getty Images

A host of extreme weather, from cold snaps and sharp frosts to downpours could threaten the U.K. wine industry, according to new research.

Academics at the University of East Anglia looked at the relationships between four factors grape growing areas: temperature, rainfall, extreme weather events and how much the vineyards produce.

Alongside this, they surveyed producers of wine in the U.K., hearing their opinions on the relationship between climate change and English wine's success.

According to a release from UEA on Thursday, this enabled researchers to "identify opportunities and threats to the industry for the first time."

"The UK has been warming faster than the global average since 1960 and eight of the warmest years in the last century have occurred since 2002," Alistair Nesbitt, the lead researcher on the study, said.

"Producers recognized the contribution of climate change to the sector's recent growth, but also expressed concerns about threats posed by changing conditions," Nesbitt added.


Even though the wine industry in the U.K. is much smaller than its European rivals, Italy, France and Spain, U.K. vineyards have been enjoying something of a renaissance.

According to figures compiled by English Wine Producers, there were 470 vineyards in England and Wales in 2014, with 6.3 million bottles produced that year, up from 4.45 million in 2013. English sparkling wines have won several prizes for their quality.

Nesbitt went on to explain how he and his team wanted to see if potential future climate change could make U.K. wine making more viable. This was done by analyzing sensitivity to "climate variability" in the past.

"We found that while average temperatures over the growing season have been above a key minimum threshold for 'cool-climate' viticulture for two decades, wine yields vary considerably."

Both threats and opportunities had been identified, Nesbitt said.

"While rising average temperatures are important, the impact of short term weather events such as cold snaps, sharp frosts, and downpours will continue to threaten productivity," he added.

One key finding from the report showed that the months of both April and May had become warmer over the past quarter of a century. While this signified an earlier start and "lengthening of the season", there was still the potential for problems.

"When warmer temperatures occur in April there is potential for increased vulnerability if a May air frost follows," Nesbitt said.