Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Warming likely boost to vineyards

NZ grape growing forecast to expand with climate change but stonefruit, pipfruit orchards may suffer.

Climate change is forecast to make huge tracts of land ripe for grape-growing in New Zealand while threatening vineyards in some of the world's most celebrated wine regions.

A major study by Chilean and Californian researchers gauging the effects of climate change against global wine production over the next four decades found New Zealand's potential growing area could rise by 168 per cent.

New Zealand's climate is forecast to warm by at least 1C by 2050, while the average rate for the world has been put at more than 2C.

The study found that within this period, areas suitable for growing grapes could shrink by as much as 73 per cent in parts of the globe.

While wine producing locations such as California and the Mediterranean stood to lose vine-friendly land, new areas would open up in New Zealand, western North America and Northern Europe.

The paper identified potential expansion and opportunity in Canterbury, Marlborough coastal areas, inland of Wanganui and west from Martinborough to Masterton.

Scientists say climate change could also change the way our wines taste - and bring a shift to new varieties that perform better in warmer weather.

"Some zinfandel, out of California, is grown in Hawkes Bay, but very little - if the temperature got a bit warmer, it might become an option in other areas," said New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive Philip Gregan.

"There are literally hundreds of grape varieties around the world that could grow in New Zealand."

With a value of $1.2 billion, wine is our eighth largest goods export.

The industry was already expected to grow, bringing hundreds of millions more dollars in market opportunity, he said.

"The ability for the industry to expand quite considerably is there and it may well be enhanced through climate change.

"There are two questions - what is the effect of the spring and autumn troughs, and can you get the grapes ripe before the autumn rains arrive?"

Research by AUT had shown the effects of climate change were inconsistent across wine regions and varieties. In the extreme north and south, an increase in temperatures appeared to have influenced regional vintage ratings favourably in white wine varieties but not in red vintages.

Eco-friendly winemaker Peter Yealands expected Marlborough would expand further southward into currently cooler areas.

His Yealands Estate winery, in the Awatere Valley, was in a prime position to benefit from warming as temperatures there were half a degree cooler than the Wairau Valley, the region's main growing area.

But while climate change presented a boon for grape growers, there were down-sides for other industries, said Victoria University climate scientist Associate Professor James Renwick. Stonefruit and pipfruit orchards could be deprived of the winter chilling needed for their seasonal cycle of growth.

"So for a lot of New Zealand, I'm sure those kind of crops won't be suitable," Dr Renwick said.

"We may become more of a wine and grape-growing nation, and certainly, more subtropical-type crops may be more suitable, especially in the North Island."

Other potential negatives included more floods and cyclones, sea level rises, and more plant and insect pests.

Rising values

- NZ Herald

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