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Global Warming is hurting Spain's vineyards

Global warming is killing vineyards in southern Spain, forcing grape growers to move to cooler areas in the Pyrenees and threatening the lucrative Spanish wine industry.

Winemakers from Spain are trying to adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change: shading vineyards, developing heat-resistance crops and moving to cooler mountainside locations.

According to Jose Manuel Moreno, Professor of Climatology at the University of Castilla La Mancha, temperatures may rise by 7oC by the end of the century. Moreno explains why the warming is problematic: “Warming will harm plants that last more than one season, such as grape vines, the most. Agriculture will need to change, and there will be winners and losers.”

Spain is Europe's largest grape-growing nation. The average maximum day temperature in Spain during the summer is 29oC. In Malaga and Cadiz, the most southern wine-growing regions, temperatures can rise as high as 40oC during the summer months. As the major European wine producer closest to the equator, Spain is particularly vulnerable to climatic changes.

Xavier Sort is Technical Director at Miguel Torres SA, the Barcelona-based producer of Sangre de Toro wine. He worries: “Any increase in temperature in Spain may make it impossible to produce wine in lower areas.” Currently, his company is buying fields in the peaks of north eastern Spain, where the weather is cooler. “There may be a move of wineries into the Pyrenees in the future,” said Sort.

What happens to the wine when the mercury goes up?

The growing temperature is such a threat to Spanish wine, because it significantly changes the biological processes. Heat and sunlight increase sugar levels in wine grapes, which can boost alcohol content beyond what is palatable. Hotter weather may also curb grape acidity, changing the flavour of the wine. Unexpectedly rainy and cold seasons can devastate a year's crop.

Small changes can already have huge impacts. Bernard Seguin, a scientist at France's National Institute for Agronomic Research, said: “One degree of climate change makes wine-growing regions in the Northern Hemisphere similar to regions 200 kilometres further south. To me, this is the most direct and striking example of the warming until now.”

WWF has recently interviewed José Luis Oliveros Zafra, a farmer from Castilla La-Mancha in Spain. Witnessing the same impacts as the winegrowers in his region, he has suffered huge losses because of climate impacts. Zafra believes that people and nature will not have time to adapt, if the changes keep occurring as fast as they do now.

Climate change is happening now and greenhouse gas emissions are the main culprit. WWF is asking both industry and governments to reduce CO2 emissions, increase the use of renewable energy and implement energy efficiency measures.