Grape growers face change

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 09:50 04/08/2014
Marlborough Young Viticulturist of the Yea
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
IN TRANSITION: Stock graze among vines in a sheep-farming area near Ward.

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Marlborough grape growing subregions once seen as too cool will be perfect sites for growing grapes in the future, experts say.

Lincoln University senior lecturer Glen Creasy, who specialises in viticulture, said climate change meant New Zealand's grape growing regions, including Wairau Valley, were becoming warmer.

Creasy said the change would force growers to consider planting in cooler regions and adapt to different varieties of grapes.

"We have been expanding out to the east for a while and it's just going to get warmer but that doesn't mean good grape growing still can't happen in the Wairau Valley.

"Wairau has been planted out already and the further east you go with the ocean will change the quality of the grapes."

A paper published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted the area in New Zealand suitable for viticulture could more than double.

Wairau Valley was becoming a more popular grape growing region and Creasy predicted more of Marlborough's sauvignon blanc would be grown near Ward.

Winemakers might not be able to make the same styles or even varieties of wines they have made in the past, he said.

"As it [climate change] goes on, it's going to get different styles and different varieties, but I'm talking 50 to 80 years from now."

Frosts could be less frequent, more harsh and come later in the year, while harvest would happen earlier, he said.

Plant & Food Research viticulture and oenology science group leader Dr Damian Martin said winemakers and growers were planting further west of the Wairau Valley and the Renwick township.

"I don't imagine we will get any further west though. There are new developments south of Ward but it's not going to take off in any rapid expansion."

The region would be hit with "extreme weather" before climate change occurs, Martin said.

"There will be big fluctuations season to season. It could be rain, it could be temperature, it could be storms."

"People need to prepare and be vigilant . . . people need to take a pessimistic view of what the weather might do and adopt strategies. It would be wrong to be optimistic. We need to expect the worst but hope for the best."

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- The Marlborough Express

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