A new study of climate change and wine grapes published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paints a dire picture for wine grapes and wildlife. Two Cornell University experts – both with field and lab backgrounds that, in part, focus on sustainable grape production – urge lovers of both not to panic. With some thoughtful adaptation, there’s still a plenty of room and resources for everyone.

Justine E. Vanden Heuvel is an associate professor of horticulture who is actively involved in viticulture teaching and research, the latter focusing on optimizing flavors and aromas in wine grapes, and improving both the environmental and economic sustainability of wine grape production.

Vanden Heuvel says:

“On the whole, viticulture in the Northeast will not be critically endangered in the near future as a result of climate change. Variability in climate will be a bigger issue than just warmer temperatures – for example, our crazily early bud-break last year and then subsequent frost damage at some sites. We grow cool-climate cultivars here and can move towards warmer climate cultivars when necessary, or cultivars that push bud later, or cultivars that ripen earlier.

“You could argue that many of our cultivar choices in the Northeast are already more sustainable than in many other growing regions. Vinifera are susceptible to a large number of fungal diseases, but Concord is actually quite disease resistant and is the vast majority of acreage in New York State. Most hybrid cultivars have some disease resistance, and Cornell’s new cultivar Arandell doesn’t require any fungicides at all when grown in the Finger Lakes region. Also, consumers of local wines in the Northeast tend to be more accepting of seeing cultivars on labels that are not seen on the West Coast, so it will probably be easier for New York growers to change cultivars to respond to climate change.


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“One of the weaknesses of the current conversation is the sustainability discussion is focused almost wholly on water use, which is really only part of the picture. Water use is an area where New York does really well, since in many years we have ample precipitation. But if I had to make a generalization, it would be that California is currently more sustainable with respect to use of sustainable viticultural practices. Due to precipitation and humidity, grape growers here have to spray vinifera grapes much more frequently to prevent fungal infections. West Coast growers also have large sustainability certification programs. We are not there yet, with the exception of the new Long Island Sustainable Wines program that has just been initiated.”