Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia
Photo: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia
07 Sep 2018
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What does your vineyard look like now? What will it look like in the future?

A research team from the University of Tasmania (UTAS) is using climate science to provide the Australian grape and wine community with information, tools and practical management options to face the challenges of short-term climate cycles and long-term climate change. 

Led by Dr Rebecca Harris, the project employs a multi-disciplinary approach to integrate climate science, species distribution modelling and viticultural expertise.

‘Inter-annual climate variability has always posed a challenge to the wine sector. Spring frost, heatwaves at flowering or just prior to harvest and bushfires can inflict large financial losses’, said Dr Tom Remenyi, a member of the UTAS project team.

He said the incidence of such events was projected to increase with ongoing climate change.

Image: Tourism Australia

Dr Remenyi said discussions with grapegrowers and winemakers had highlighted the need for fine-scale regional projections across Australia and forecasts of inter-annual and decadal climate variability driven by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

The team hopes to identify how the weather risks for all wine regions may change into the future across a range of time-scales.  

Dr Remenyi said the sector is already highly adaptive and innovative, driven largely by an existing climate that is highly variable. These tools aim to help grapegrowers and winemakers choose adaptive strategies with the best long-term returns. 

‘Responses such as changed irrigation and canopy management can be employed to combat short-term variability, while decisions about vineyard position, orientation and variety choice are already being considered by some growers to ensure the long-term viability of their vineyards.’

The UTAS project aims to provide both short-term predictions and long-term projections of climate across Australia, with a focus on regional climate indices tailored for the grape and wine community, including:

  • identifying weather risks particularly important to grapegrowing within different wine regions, i.e. timing of heatwaves and frosts
  • developing region-specific indices of ‘heatwave’ and variety-specific indices of heat accumulation, i.e. growing season length
  • assessing the variability and trends in these climate projections of near and mid-century conditions
  • assessing the impact of these changes across different phenological stages of grapevines
  • consolidating available high-resolution climate information in an accessible and useful form
  • identifying regionally relevant adaptation options to improve the sustainability of each wine region in the short, medium and long term as climate conditions continue to change, and
  • improving understanding and uptake of climate information to empower grapegrowers to plan for the future years and decades.

Image: Wine Australia

The team has also produced a tool that allows the rapid comparison of any region now, with any other region globally into the future, ‘allowing users to identify what the vineyard conditions are going to be similar to into the future.’

Dr Remenyi said short- to medium-term adaptation strategies would enable vineyards to optimise their operations as the suitability of climate for their current products evolves. For example, information about the likelihood of weather and climate risks in the coming season could be used for planning and reducing costs.

Dr Remenyi said improved knowledge of conditions expected over the next decades could help growers and winemakers position themselves to take advantage of new opportunities and markets.


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