| HOBART, Tasmania, July 14
HOBART, Tasmania, July 14 Young Australian
vintner Nick Glaetzer's winemaking-steeped family thought he was
crazy when he abandoned the Barossa Valley - the hot, dry region
that is home to the country's world-famous big, brassy shiraz.
Trampling over the family's century-old grape-growing roots
on the Australian mainland, Glaetzer headed south to the island
state of Tasmania to strike out on his own and prove to the
naysayers there was a successful future in cooler climate wines.
Just five years later, Glaetzer made history when his
Glaetzer-Dixon Mon Pere Shiraz won a major national award - the
first time judges had handed the coveted trophy to a shiraz made
south of the Bass Strait separating Tasmania from the Australian
Glaetzer's gamble embodies a major shift in Australia's
wine-growing industry as it responds to climate change.
A study by the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences found that up to 73 percent of Australian land
currently used for viticulture could become unsuitable by 2050.
As the country's traditional wine growing regions including
the Barossa, the Hunter Valley and Margaret River grow ever
hotter and drier, winemakers are rushing to the tiny island
state of Tasmania. Average summer temperatures there are
currently about 38 percent cooler than in the Barossa.
Temperatures in Australia's main wine regions are projected
to increase by between 0.3 and 1.7 degrees celsius by 2030,
according to the CSIRO, Australia's national science agency.
The hotter temperatures would reduce grape quality by 12 to
57 percent, the agency's modelling shows. But in cooler
Tasmania, warmer weather could be a benefit because current
temperatures can get too chilly for some grape varieties.
Wine makers are so concerned about the impact of global
warming on the A$5.7 billion ($5.3 billion) industry that they
funded a government-backed experiment in the Barossa vineyards
to simulate the drier conditions expected in 30-50 years' time.
For wine lovers, the upshot is that Australia's iconic
shiraz is already changing - Glaetzer's version is 15-20 percent
lower in alcohol content than its Barossa cousins - and could be
unrecognisable in half a century's time.
"If the projections are right, a shiraz in the Barossa in 50
years' time may well taste totally different to what it does at
the moment," said Michael McCarthy, the government scientist
heading up the Barossa experiment.
HOT, DRY AND EXPENSIVE
The flight south comes as Australia's wine industry emerges
from a disastrous few decades, blighted by a high Australian
dollar and a lengthy grape glut that saw exports plummet.
While the national wine industry has shrunk 1.9 percent
annually from 2009 to 2014, the Tasmanian state industry is
growing at a rate of close to 10 percent per annum, according to
the Tasmanian Climate Change Office.
"We are investing increasingly in Tasmania ... because it's
one of the cooler areas in Australia to grow grapes and if we
are going to have climate change, you might as well start in a
cooler climate," said Cecil Camilleri, the manager of
sustainable wine programs at Yalumba, the 165-year-old
winemaking company that has snapped up three Tasmanian
properties in the past 15 years.
The average temperature in the Tamar Valley in the northeast
of the state is around 17 degrees celsius (63 degrees
Fahrenheit), peaking at 22 degrees in the summer - well below
the Barossa's typical summer spike into the upper 30s.
Treasury Wine Estates, the world's No.2 wine
company, last year purchased Tasmania's White Hills vineyard.
The move was a geographical hedge as well as part of its
strategy of owning or controlling vineyards that supply grapes
suited to its luxury wine portfolio.
The company has sold its vineyards in the Hunter Valley
north of Sydney where the world-famous Lindemans brand
originated, citing its concern that the region will become "hot
and dry and expensive."
Barossa winemakers, meanwhile, aren't sitting back waiting
for their vines to wither.
Yalumba is enforcing a change in the irrigation technology
used by its growers from broadacre systems, which provide water
to large swathes of land, to microsystems, which target specific
areas, ensuring each drop of water counts. It is also
encouraging growers to use graftlings, wine varietals that are
grafted on to rootstocks, that have drought resistance as one of
"There's a lot of season-to-season adaption happening right
now, because climate change is happening now," said Yalumba's
Camilleri. "It's happening incrementally and we are adapting
The government-backed "winter drought project", throwing
tarpaulins over rows of vines, is designed to simulate reduced
rainfall of between 15 and 20 percent that the region is
projected to experience in 2030-50.
"If less winter rainfall has the impact we hope to
demonstrate in this experiment, that's going to have some pretty
major ramifications for the whole of the Australian industry in
terms of yield, productivity and maintenance of productivity,"
said McCarthy, lead researcher at the South Australian Research
and Development Institute (SARDI).
The group is investigating whether drip irrigation, which
wets only a small portion of the vine rootzone, will be enough
to supplement natural rainfall, which wets the entire rootzone.
Adding to vintners' woes, the rise in temperatures means a
greater proportion of fruit is ripening in a shorter time
window, resulting in a compressed harvest period that is putting
pressure on vineyard facilities and management.
Treasury Wine Estates' national viticulturalist Paul Petrie
said his company was looking for ways to "put harvests back into
a more reasonable timeframe."
'NOT A NEW THING'
Not everyone shares the concern. Australia's current
Conservative-led coalition government is playing down the role
of climate change on Australian agriculture.
Since taking leadership of the country last September, Prime
Minister Tony Abbott, who in 2009 said the science behind
climate change was "crap", has abolished the independent Climate
Commission, the body created by the former Labor government to
provide public information on the effects of global warming.
Abbott has also introduced legislation into parliament to
axe Labor's Climate Change Authority, which advises the
government on emissions-reduction targets, and to repeal its tax
on carbon pricing.
Abbott dismissed climate change as a factor when unveiling a
A$320 million short-term drought relief package for farmers
earlier this year: "If you look at the records of Australian
agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good
times and bad, tough and lush times. This is not a new thing in
The Climate Commission had warned in its 2011 Critical
Decade report that wine grapes and other temperature-and
water-sensitive crops needed to adapt to climate change "or move
to locations where growing conditions are more amenable to their
($1 = 1.0680 Australian Dollars)
(Editing by Emily Kaiser)