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Study predicts sour grapes for Tuscan wines

Imagine a world where Chianti wine is made in Scandinavia.
A wine harvest worker snips off grapes at a vineyard in Tuscany, Italy — a job that could become extinct locally in decades, Florence University experts say.Fabrizio Giovannozzi / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Imagine a world where Chianti wine is made in Scandinavia.

It could come to just that by the end of the century, experts in Italy warn, if climate change continues unchecked.

A study by Florence University linking the effects of rain and temperature to wine production found that increasingly high temperatures and intense rains are likely to threaten the quality of Tuscan wines. Italy's farmers association warns that the cultivation of olive trees, which grow in a mild climate, has almost reached the Alps.

"This rise in temperatures will continue in the next years, and they will be too high and unfavorable for the quality of wine," as they cause the grapes to over-ripen, said Simone Orlandini, an agronomist at the university in Florence and co-author of the study.

"Even if temperatures go up 3 or 4 degrees Celsius (37 or 39 degrees Fahrenheit) it will be a big problem, and not only for Brunello," he added in a telephone interview last week. "It will be warmer and rains will be more concentrated in fewer events, thus damaging the earth which will not be able to absorb" all the water.

Orlandini said that a rise in temperatures would geographically push wine production to the north, allowing regions like Scandinavia to join the industry.

Tracking quality
The study, which was published in VQ wine magazine, compares quality checks on some of Italy's most famed wines — Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Classico, Barolo, Barbaresco and Amarone — to the weather conditions of the past three or four decades.

The research shows that while warmer temperatures per se favor wine quality, the rain that comes with them is often bad news.

The dangers stemming from climate change have been garnering increasing attention.

The world's leading climate scientists warned during a gathering in Paris earlier this month that global warming is so severe it will "continue for centuries," leading to a far different planet in 100 years.

A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that if nothing is done to change current emissions patterns of greenhouse gases, global temperature could increase as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If greenhouse gas emissions get under control — something scientists say they hope can be done — the best estimate is about 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wine makers in Tuscany seek to downplay the risk.

"I don't foresee harmful effects within the next 20 years," said Filippo Mazzei, whose wine company 9 miles north of Siena produces 700,000 bottles a year, mostly of Chianti Classico. "We are in an area with a temperate climate, and I do not think it faces an immediate risk. I am not saying it is unfounded, but a range of 100 years is not very significant," he said.

European Union nations announced Tuesday an ambitious target to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2020, in one of the boldest moves yet to contain global warming.

'Challenge' ahead
Coldiretti, an Italian farm lobby, said measures should be taken to tackle the threats.

"In Italy, there's a significant shift in traditional agricultural areas for olive trees which almost reached the Alps," it said in a statement. "These processes represent a new challenge for the farming industry," which should increase investment and infrastructure.

Coldiretti said seasonal shifts, fewer but intense rainstorms and the reduction of water reserves could also increase the risk of desertification in certain areas.