No wine left behind: How Germany wants to adapt to climate change

Climate change, friend or foe of the German vineyards? [EPA-EFE | Ronald Wittek]

Winegrowers are facing unprecedented challenges from climate change, like hot summers or water shortages, but the warmer climate also favours certain types of cultivation. The German government’s adaptation strategy is designed to help the winegrowing sector, but to what extent does it help them in practice? EURACTIV Germany reports.

The grapevine is a very resistant plant. It needs little water, lots of sun and healthy soil and Germany’s wine regions have offered these rather simple conditions for many centuries.

However, for some time now, the natural resources in certain places are no longer sufficient and additional measures are needed to secure the grape harvest.

This is mainly due to extreme weather conditions, such as drought or heavy rain, which are favoured by climate change.

In extreme heat, the grapes are threatened by sunburn but drip irrigation – once forbidden – provides relief.

During long rainy periods, soil erosion is a threat, and greening measures to protect the soil in the vineyards help here. These methods are part of the adaptation strategy with which the winegrowers react to changes in the climate.

Climate change also has positive effects, said Klaus Schneider, a winegrower from the Palatinate and president of the German Winegrowers’ Association (DWV), because riesling, for example, achieves a higher quality today than it used to.

The reason is the shortened vegetation period of the grapes, which ripen earlier because of the warmth that sets in earlier.

Nevertheless, adaptation strategies to the changes by the climatic change are necessary and are welcomed, stressed Schneider.

European winemakers grapple with environmental questions

Proud of their wines, Europeans are also concerned about the industry’s widespread use of pesticides, while winemakers themselves will have to adapt to rising temperatures. From Bordeaux to Riesling and Champagne, EURACTIV takes a look at changing wine-making practices.

German Adaptation Strategy

The German government’s Adaptation Strategy (DAS) is designed to meet the challenges caused by climate change and create a political framework for the effective implementation of adaptation measures.

The Ministry of the Environment (BMU) together with the national Environmental Agency monitors the DAS’ progress. The strategy takes into account agriculture, and thus also winegrowing.

Cultural landscape researcher Eckhard Jedicke from the University of Applied Sciences Geisenheim in the Rheingau wine region is leading a project to research climate adaptation in these areas, identify solutions to problems, and implement them in exemplary fashion.

For the so-called “KliaNet-Weinbau-Projekt” (Klianet Winegrowing Project), Jedicke and his team of scientists use the information they receive directly from the German Weather Service, but also from winegrowers themselves. This transfer of knowledge from research to practice is an essential part of the DAS.

But it is not enough, Jedicke complained, saying there is a lack of financing concepts.

“It must be worthwhile for the winegrowers to implement climate adaptation measures. At the moment, we can only tell them what is in store for them. There is a lack of financial incentives to really get involved in sustainability.”

“No transfer between subsidies and practice”

Schneider criticised above all purely regulatory interventions from politics and cited as an example the prescribed use of expensive pesticides. He also called for a lively exchange between research, teaching, practice and industry.

“This exchange must then be accompanied politically,” he stressed.

Legal regulations for action, on the other hand, are a ‘no-go’ for him, because the winegrowers who are concerned about their image work cleanly anyway: “The profession is always ready to adapt to things that really bring positive and sustainable innovations.”

If it were up to Jedicke, the cultural landscape researcher, financial support would be needed for precisely these adjustments.

The objectives, sustainability strategies and biodiversity strategies are correct but the transfer to politics and above all to subsidies is not taking place and this can also be seen in the recent decisions on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), said the researcher.

France's Languedoc winegrowers are already adapting to climate change

Over the past 30 years, the harvest of France’s Languedoc wines has progressed by three weeks and the alcohol content of the wine has risen by four points. Faced with the already sensitive impact of climate change, the region’s winegrowers are adapting their practices and grape varieties. EURACTIV France reports.

Thus, creating the political framework, the original reason for initiating DAS, still seems somewhat thin and remote from practice. And the call for support for ecological measures within the framework of the CAP is once again in the limelight.

The next DAS progress report will be published in five years’ time. By then, it should be easier to assess the effects of climate change on winegrowing, and the data available to researchers should be more meaningful.

However, the need for a political framework that would make organic viticulture financially viable is likely to remain of paramount importance even then.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Gerardo Fortuna]


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