Climate Change…and Wine?

wine_cheeseThe Science Sundays lecture series explains how climate change affects California’s wineries
On a warm and sunny Sunday in this temperamental summer, it’s easy to let your mind wander away from the various environmental problems plaguing the world today. That stuff is depressing—for example, a gulf that seems to be more oil than water, covering its wildlife in a slick, crude sheen while stalling local fisheries and economies to near insolvency. Not to mention the silent moans of countless trees lost to deforestation. And, of course, there are the lovable polar bears and penguins, already on the endangered species list, that see their habitat melt away due to the increase of greenhouse gases and annual temperatures.  

Makes you just want to take a minute to sit down in the afternoon breeze, pop the cork off that vintage California Pinot Noir bottle, and forget about all the world’s troubles with a nice glass of red, right?

Well, not so fast.

As part of a monthly lecture series entitled “Science Sunday,” which is hosted by Katherine Moore and celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Lisa Sloan and David Graves gave a revealing presentation demonstrating the adverse effects climate change has on California’s vineyards and wine production.

You might want to hold on to that bottle a few more years.

Sloan, a professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences at UC Santa Cruz, displayed a series of models representing potential geologic scenarios in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area while describing the changes in climactic patterns within the next 50 years.

Sloan predicts a three to four degree Fahrenheit temperature increase, a disruption in the delivery of water from snow packs, as well as more fog and upwelling.

“If Greenland were to melt completely,” Sloan stated in her lecture, “we would experience a 21- foot rise in sea level.”

“Antarctica would be 10 times that,” she added.

All this data translated into two slides that became the feature of Sloan’s presentation.

In Santa Cruz, the rise in sea level resulted in some radical geographic modifications. Pacific Avenue would be completely flooded, putting an end to the panhandling problems, lack of parking, and threatening to submerge the Good Times headquarters. Beach Hill would become, as Sloan put it, “Beach Island,” completely surrounded by flooded neighborhoods and looking like the tip of a community iceberg, if icebergs still exist by then. The yacht harbor would score some new real estate.

“Those of you waiting for a boat slip will be in luck,” Sloan joked.

San Francisco would see new Bay Area geography develop with an exceptional rise in sea level. The North Bay’s waters would extend to Mill Valley and all the way up to Napa. In Pittsburg and Antioch, the waters would flow over to the Interstate 5 toward Stockton.

The one person in the room not laughing at the joke going around about the sea level rise creating new beachfront property was Graves, who would see his Saintsbury Vineyard in Napa drown and dissolve.

Part of Sloan’s climactic data came from Saintsbury Vineyard in Napa where Graves, co-founder of the winery, serves as a managing partner and leader in utilizing sustainable agricultural methods, such as 85 kilowatt solar panels and recycling water.

Graves illustrated the fragility of wine grapes in general, emphasizing their sensitivity toward even the most minute weather changes.

“If it’s too cold, the grapes will have lower sugar levels and unripe and unbalanced flavors,” Graves pointed out in his lecture. “If it’s too hot, the grapes become overripe and have lower acidity retention.”

He noted the importance of a “Goldilocks middle” in which the grapes have consistent sugar levels, ripe and balanced flavors.

Pinot Noir, which is one of Saintsbury’s featured wines, is the touchiest of grapes, only having a four-degree spectrum (from 57 to 61 degrees) for proper maturation and flavor. If temperatures continue to rise, not only will Saintsbury’s wine casks run dry, but the whole Napa region’s Pinot Noir producers will find themselves in a climate unsuitable for that particular grape. This would not only disrupt the local economies in Sonoma County, but would also jeopardize California’s ability to continue producing wine.

In the end, it is impossible to predict what the future for the wine industry holds. Any model is only a guess based on conjecture produced from empirical data. The lecturers stressed that what is most important is that people become aware of the problems we face and work toward climate change.

Science Sunday, which is held every third Sunday at the Seymour Center, is one way for locals to become familiar with the environmental and marine worlds around us.

“Science isn’t esoteric,” Moore, manager of Membership and Donor Stewardship at the Seymour Center, explains. “It has an impact on people’s lives. Science Sunday helps people know about the world and how to make it right.”

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