Climate change isn't all good for UK wine, according to new study

01 April 2016

There might be cause for the UK wine industry to experience some benefits from climate change, at least in the short term, but a new study from the University of East Anglia suggests this isn't without its pitfalls.

There's little doubt that we're being affected by climate change in the UK. Lead researcher Alistair Nesbitt, from the UEA's School of Environmental Sciences confirmed that the country is warming up at a faster rate than the global average, with eight of the warmest years in the last century occurring since 2002. The study, according to Nesbitt, 'found that while average temperatures over the growing season have been above a key minimum threshold for "cool-climate" viticulture for two decades, wine yields vary considerably'. There has been 'non-linear warming during the growing season over the last 50 years' in central-southern and south-eastern England, it stated.

Nesbitt said: 'We wanted to see whether potential future climate change may make wine-making more viable in the UK by first analysing sensitivity to past climate variability.'

The downside for the industry is weather variation and extreme weather such as frost, cold snaps and downpours. The research drew correlations between high yields and an absence of these factors, compared with lower-yields in years with cold and wet weather, spring frosts, and more. 'However, when warmer temperatures occur in April there is potential for increased vulnerability if a May air frost follows,' said Nesbitt.

Vulnerabilities in the UK to this changes in weather is exacerbated by a move towards grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 'These grapes are more sensitive to our climate variability,' Nesbitt explained.

If you want to predict annual yield variability in the UK, the study suggests that June rainfall is the best indicator. 'It’s too early to predict what the weather may hold in store for the 2016 growing season, but a warm spring with low frost levels would be the promising start producers are hoping for,' Nesbitt added.

The study reported that land in the UK used for viticulture had increased by 148% in the last decade, reaching 1,884 hectares.

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