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The effects of Climate Change on the Phenology of grapes

Posted : 29-Mar-2015

It was Earth Hour yesterday, Saturday 28th March 2015. Earth Hour is an initiative started by WWF and began in Sydney in 2007. Participation worldwide has reached over 100 countries and the numbers are climbing. It is called Earth Hour as a gesture of committment to fight global climate change. 

The Harbour Bridge before the lights were turned off.

Sydney Harbour Bridge before and after Earth Hour      

And after!

In Australia, the agricultural industry is one of the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.  

Climate change is definitely affecting grape growing in the Hunter Valley.

Phenology is the study of plant and animal life-cycle events, especially how these are influenced by the seasonal and interannual variations in climate. Grapevine phenology, quality and yield are very dependent on climate (Garnaud Climate Change Review, 2008:5). 

It once was, that the traditional start day for picking our grapes was “the day after Australia Day”, that is, the 27th January.

These days picking is starting in the first week of January, that is, things are warming up. To summarise, the effects of climate change on our industry are: earlier budburst; harvesting in a warmer climate; the compression of harvest date, and the negative effects of weather extremes.

Anecdotally, I think the same thing is happening to our olives. For example, this year we have been harvesting and processing since early March, when we usually start in April.

So long as we can get water, that is, rain at the right time or irrigation, then dryer conditions mean less juice produced but with better flavours. The best years in the Hunter Valley are usually the drier years – lower yields but better fruit. So potentially warmer years should mean better wines.

Assuming the change is not catastrophic, the most likely change to practices will relate to more economic use of water for irrigation. This has already started with more sophisticated moisture monitoring and selective irrigation (Adina has already installed such equipment).

                   Our wine glass remains 'half full'.