With its perfect temperate climate, Northern California is world-renowned for its ideal winemaking conditions. But in the coming years, climate change is threatening to change all that. According to a new Stanford University study released yesterday, rising climate temperatures could shrink Northern California’s viable vineyards by as much as 50 percent over the next 30 years.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Stanford University scientists used a climate system computer model to apply scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to Napa Valley and Santa Barbara county in Northern California. Through this experiment, scientists found that Northern California’s wine country could experience increasingly warm days during the growing season, with temperatures reaching 95°F or higher.
Scientists also predict that the number of unseasonably warm days will also increase, with about ten more extra-hot days per growing season. As winemakers know, wine grapes are quite delicate and sensitive – these changing conditions could all lead to a steady decline in wine production in California’s traditional wine country.
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Noah Diffenbaugh, fellow at the Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment and co-author of the study, urges high-value commercial wine growers in Northern California to start thinking about this climate change when planning for the future, by planting more heat-tolerant vines and shading crops with trellis systems, or by investing in more hospitable climates. The study notes that, as Northern California temperatures rise, conditions in points north like Oregon’s Yamhill County and Washington’s Walla Walla County may become ideal.
"It's risky for a grower to make decisions that consider climate change, because those decisions could be expensive and the climate may not change exactly as we expect," Diffenbaugh told the LA Times. "But there's also risk in decisions that ignore global warming, because we're finding that there are likely to be significant localized changes in the near term."