Which is more important, pandas or pinot?
Researchers say that is a question conservationists and wine-growers will have to answer in the coming years as climate change sparks a hunt for cooler places to grow wine grapes, even if those places are home to sensitive animal populations.
Already, big players in the $290 billion global wine industry are eyeing land in northern climes as rising temperatures force them to consider growing in places other than the most popular spots in the Mediterranean, Australia and California.
But an anticipated 25 to 73 percent loss in suitable growing area in the current major wine-producing parts of the world by 2050 may put water resources and wildlife on a collision course with the wine industry, researchers say.
The regions of Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley in France along with Tuscany in Italy are expected to experience big declines in suitable land area, said the study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, much more land area to grow vineyards is anticipated to open up in northwest America and northern Europe.
“When we started out, we thought this was science fiction, and now we are pretty sure it is science fact,” said Lee Hannah, lead author of the study that maps how wine-making regions around the world will change as temperatures heat up.
Faced with a loss of millions of acres, some growers are switching to different grape varieties, but by 2050 many places will be simply too hot and dry for any varieties, Hannah said.
The report also notes that plans must be made to protect the habitat of wild animals while converting ranch land into agricultural regions that may need to be fenced to keep animals out, according to coauthor Rebecca Shaw of the Environmental Defense Fund.
“The real call in this paper is to help us think ahead about what is coming and how we need to develop strategies for private land owners and farmers and ranchers to benefit from protecting wildlife at the same time as they grow the food that is going to feed the planet in a changing climate,” said.
Another big concern is how China will cope with the changes without harming pandas by infringing on their natural habitat, researchers said.
“Ironically, China — which is the world’s fastest growing wine-producing region — happens to have all of its best wine suitability in panda habitat,” Hannah said.
China’s forest-tenure reforms that hand over control of forests to local communities could be a danger to panda habitat if those localities choose to clear the way for agriculture, including wine-growing, he said.
Most European-style wine currently grown in China originates from a peninsula near Beijing. But conservationists hope that China’s government will take steps to plan ahead and protect panda habitats.