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Guest column: Can wine weather the storm?

Spokesperson: Paul Braydon, head of buying, Kingsland Drinks Group 

Climate change is affecting and disrupting activity in vineyards all over the world. Extremes of warmer and cooler weather, wildfires, hail, winds, sudden frosts and unforeseen fluctuations in weather are impacting the delicate process that goes into growing, cultivating and making wine. Wine producers, growers, and makers are learning to adapt to these ever-changing conditions – and so are consumers.  

Winds of change 

The impact of climate change on wine is vast but there are two clear factors: Unpredictability, which is stifling the industry’s ability to forecast and plan; and reliability, as the extremes we’re experiencing change typical characteristics wine regions work hard to maintain.   


Unpredictable weather is here for the long term now, and with it arrives a host of problems. Soaring temperatures are opening the door to drought and natural disasters such as the wildfires are becoming increasingly common. If we look at these factors alone, producers are navigating unreliable crops and significant changes to terroir which is redefining what they produce and how it tastes. These conditions also demand more management and more investment; they’re compensating with more water, for example, and more irrigation. There’s also no guarantee they’ll have the volumes they’ve built their businesses on. It’s challenging, to say the least.  


Sadly, wildfires are inevitable based on previous years, and it’s a given that earlier harvests, higher yields, and different flavour profiles will be key themes in 2023 and beyond. As a result, if temperatures continue to soar, the industry will look towards cooler climates. In real terms, this could be a shift from Australia to Tasmania, or from Burgundy to England, whereby the cooler climates are increasingly more favourable 


We can certainly expect this to be the case across the board as the industry is forced to look at more heat tolerant grape varieties.   


The consequences will be – if not already – felt right through the supply chain, ultimately driving cost increases which inevitably cut into margin and get passed on to the consumer. When wine reaches the consumer, will they accept the changes the industry has had to make? For example, will they take a wine from Tasmania versus Australia, or England versus Burgundy, and, critically, can we deliver at the right price?

Come rain or shine  

Research has shown that older vines aged 35 years plus are able to cope better with climate change and extreme heat due to their genetic diversity. So, a look to the past is actually a way to help. Many wine regions have older vine material in areas suffering from extreme heat including Rioja (Spain) the Barossa (Australia) and California (Lodi, USA). 


We work with Barón de Ley in Spain in developing their Rioja Blanco in the UK market – a fresh, ripe white Rioja made from a blend of Viura, Tempranillo Blanco and Garnacha Blanca – showcasing the special character of Rioja’s indigenous white varieties. These grapes are from vineyards situated at a high altitude where the influence of the Atlantic climate provides ideal conditions for making fresh white wines with elegant, crisp acidity (Waitrose £8.99).  


We’re also looking towards more heat resistant vines and late-ripening varieties such as Syrah (Shiraz), Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre (Monastrell/Mataro) rather than the likes of Pinot Noir, and Trebbiano instead of Riesling.


Conversely, if temperatures continue to rise, some of the early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay may become more widespread globally in areas that are marginal from a climate perspective, such as northern Europe and Tasmania. This is potentially good news for the producers of English sparkling wines, and we could see more northerly vineyards being planted in the UK if this trend continues. Some of the “cooler” countries and regions such as New Zealand would see more diversity of plantings, such as merlot and grenache, as more varieties become viable. 


Vineyard management practices are also important, such as increased irrigation and innovative methods to protect grapevines in extreme heat. For example, our producer partner Andrew Peace uses an organic “sunscreen” on vines in extreme heat to protect the leaves and grapes. 

What can we do to tackle the challenges?   

At Kingsland Drinks, we’ve worked hard to ensure the breadth of our supply base, working with over 100 producers, which automatically gives us a level of proofing against the conditions we’re seeing. 


We’ve always championed lesser-known grapes and regions, so our customers have been able to engage the consumer outside of the typical wine making regions for some time.  


We were also the first UK company to bring wine into the UK in bulk flexi-containers, a method that is now industry standard. We pack around 120 million litres per year, so it represents an enormous carbon saving versus bottled at source products, estimated at around 40% less CO2 per bottle. 


Our commitment to being environmentally sustainable is intrinsic to who we are and how we operate, but we are now expanding our wider sustainability work across economy, society and environment both inside and outside the business as a strategic priority. As a result, we’ve launched our Thirsty Earth sustainability strategy which seeks to create a better society and drinks industry for all, now and in the future. 


As part of this, we’ve implemented a sustainability questionnaire for all suppliers. It helps us work with suppliers to ensure our supply base is as sustainable as possible or - at the very least – encourages them to take steps towards building a better drinks industry.  


Andrew Peace is an excellent example of a wine producer working to be best-in-class. We’ve partnered with Andrew Peace in Australia to trial a new transport method recently. On the road now, we’re bringing three flexi tanks of wine – the equivalent of 100,000 bottles of wine – on one truck. It triples the volume we can move in one journey and lessens our impact on the environment.   

For a long time, the wine maker has been committed to minimising its impact on the environment and improving the sustainability of its operations. It’s a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, for example, and has installed 1574kw of solar panels in recent years. It reuses 100% of the winery’s wastewater, and all waste is used as compost or stock feed. Its efforts are countless and stretch to using sheep to help reduce slashing and provide natural fertilizer. Andrew Peace is a brand that sits in our portfolio because they share our ethos of working hard to set a positive benchmark for the industry when it comes to sustainability. 

In summary 

Global warming and climate change are posing challenges for all wine producers, and there’s no time to lose when it comes to finding solutions.  

17 February 2023 - Paul Braydon Kingsland Drinks Group, Head of Buying