Weather shocks could threaten UK wine industry, despite climate change making Britain more viable for the industry

Francesca Washtell
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Staff At Denbies Vineyard Harvest The Current Crop As Experts Predict Exceptional Year For British Wine
Cold snaps, sharp frosts and downpours are all threats to the UK's wine industry (Source: Getty)

The idea of climate change turning the UK into a viable wine-making region may have boosted the industry in recent years, but weather shocks could threaten its overall productivity.

Cold snaps, sharp frosts and downpours could all disrupt the UK's home-grown wine industry, according to research from the University of East Anglia, which found that year-to-year climate variability and hazardous weather at key points in the growing season have left the industry highly sensitive to the elements.

The research, published in the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Production, also found that popular varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot noir are more susceptible to UK climate variability than traditional varieties.

Frosts were also found to pose a particularly high threat to yields if they occur at critical times such as soon after bud-burst in spring.

Maturing industry

Over the last decade there has been a boom in English wine production and UK wine producers are currently hoping for a bumper 2016 season. The amount of land used for viticulture (vine growing) has increased by 148 per cent – with around 1884 hectares (the equivalent of 2638 football pitches) currently devoted to the industry.

However, the quality of English wine has increased with the boom in quantity. Producers are receiving global recognition for their premium quality wines - in particular English Sparkling Wine, which is out-classing other more famous sparkling wine-producing regions.

Researchers from UEA studied the UK’s main grape-growing regions and looked at the relationships between temperature, rainfall, extreme weather events and yield. They also surveyed wine producers for their views on the role of climate change in the success of English wine.

By combining this data, they were able to identify opportunities and threats to the industry for the first time.

"The UK has been warming faster than the global average since 1960 and eight of the warmest years in the last century have occurred since 2002. Producers recognised the contribution of climate change to the sectors recent growth, but also expressed concerns about threats posed by changing conditions.

"We found that while average temperatures over the growing season have been above a key minimum threshold for ‘cool-climate’ viticulture for two decades, wine yields vary considerably," lead researcher Alistair Nesbitt, from UEA’s school of environmental sciences, said.