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British Columbia’s wine industry facing major climate-change challenges

Vineyard scene in Okanagan Valley.

Wine growing areas in Canada’s western province of British Columbia (BC) have been severely impacted by compounding climate change-related crises this past year, including an extended deep freeze last winter, ongoing drought, and widespread wildfires this past summer.

In response, the BC Wine Grape Council (BCWGC) recently commissioned an assessment of the BC wine industry, and it has come to some alarming conclusions. It reported that 29% of BC’s 5,132 vineyard hectares are estimated to have succumbed to winter damage. Another 30% are estimated to suffer from permanent viral disease and require replanting to avoid mass spreading, meaning that up to 3,032ha of vines will need to be replanted. Estimated costs for the replant are between CA$162 million and CA$317 million.

The BCWGC study urged the Canadian federal and provincial governments to fund the vine renewal programme or face a significant contraction in BC’s wine industry.

‘The challenges facing grape growers and winemakers today are unlike anything we have experienced in the past,’ said BCWGC chair Ross Wise MW. ‘Climate change disasters along with increased incidence of virus and disease pressure are threatening the economic viability of our industry and we need funding in order to combat these major issues.’

The BCWGC study confirmed an earlier Winter Bud Damage Report, which estimated a vineyard crop loss of 54% across the board, resulting in a 20% reduction in vineyard and winery employment (totalling almost 400 lost jobs), a CA$133 million decrease in the total revenues of BC vineyards and wineries, and a CA$100 million reduction in government tax revenues attributable to BC wine, with further economic impacts on wine tourism-related hospitality and accommodation businesses throughout the province.

Christa-Lee McWatters, the Wine Growers British Columbia (WGBC) board chair, said, ‘The replant funding outlined in this study is in line with federal and provincial investment seen elsewhere in Canada and is certainly warranted given the significance of the economic impact of BC’s wineries. In 2019 the total economic impact of the BC wine industry was CA$3.75 billion with CA$440 million in tax revenue alone.’

A WGBC news release noted that in order for the replant programme to be successful, industry stakeholders agreed that specific programme guidelines would be required to ensure the health and vitality of the new plantings.

This news comes in the context of a global drop in wine production, primarily due to extreme weather events. For example, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) recently announced that global wine production is set to fall to its lowest level since 1961 this year, hit by soaring temperatures and extraordinary flooding. Fueling that decline are expected drops of 12% and 14% in output in Italy and Spain, the world’s biggest and third-biggest producers in 2022, respectively.

It’s not all bad news however. Several BC winegrowers note that this shakeup is also a timely opportunity to plant better-adapted grape varieties in more appropriate locations than has been done previously. Winemakers are optimists by nature, so maybe there is a silver lining in this news.

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The post British Columbia’s wine industry facing major climate-change challenges appeared first on Decanter.

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