Global Warming Is Making Australian Shiraz Less Alcoholic, Winemaker Says

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"Global Warming Is Making Australian Shiraz Less Alcoholic, Winemaker Says"

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Reuters has a feature story up this week on how climate change is impacting shiraz — Australia’s world-famous red wine — and the details are sobering.

Reporter Jane Wardell spoke with Australian winemaker Nick Glaetzer, who has moved his shiraz operation to the southern state of Tasmania — a region that is about 38 percent cooler than in the traditional grape-growing region Barossa Valley in southern Australia. The reason Gleatzer did it, he said, is because increased heat and dryness in the Barossa are impacting the quality of grapes, making it difficult to produce wine.

And Glaetzer is not alone. Currently, the Tasmanian shiraz industry is growing at a rate of close to 10 percent per year, while Australia’s wine industry has steadily shrunk 1.9 percent annually for the last five years. And the shiraz produced in Tasmanian is less alcoholic, Glaetzer said — about 15-20 percent lower in alcohol content than the shiraz produced in the Barossa.

At the same time, winemakers are funding a government-backed experiment to simulate how global warming will impact the Barossa vineyards in 30-50 years, and trying to figure out how to successfully produce shiraz in those drier conditions. What they’re finding is that, if the shiraz is able to be produced, it will likely be unrecognizable.

“If the projections are right, a shiraz in the Barossa in 50 years’ time may well taste totally different to what it does at the moment,” Michael McCarthy, an Australian government scientist studying the wine industry, told Reuters.

According to the Tasmanian Climate Change Office, temperatures in Australia’s main wine regions are projected to increase by between 0.3 and 1.7 degrees Celsius by 2030 because of global warming. Scientists predict the area will get dryer, too, with a recent U.S. study showing the area’s autumn and winter rainfall may drop by up to 40 percent by the end of the century.

Because of this, the Reuters report said 73 percent of Australian land currently used for winemaking could become unsuitable by 2050, citing a study by the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings stand to have a big impact on the economy too, as Australia’s wine industry is worth about $5.3 billion.

Despite this, Australia’s government — headed by prime minister Tony Abbott — is one of the least climate friendly. Abbott, who in 2009 said the science behind climate change was “crap,” has employed an anti-climate agenda in the country that’s included angering world leaders by downplaying the issue, axing Australia’s climate commission, and abandoning greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Abbott is likely to get his wish this week when the Australian parliament looks to finally have enough votes to become the first country in the world to get rid of its carbon tax.

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