The Future of Wine

There is a somewhat obscure field called “Future Studies” by some, “Futurology” by others. It’s not science fiction. The Wikipedia entry on the issue describes Futurology this way:

“the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. In general, it can be considered as a branch of the social sciences and parallel to the field of history. Futures studies seeks to understand what is likely to continue and what could plausibly change. Part of the discipline thus seeks a systematic and pattern-based understanding of past and present, and to determine the likelihood of future events and trends.”

I’ve long been a fan of this branch of the social sciences and the Internet holds a significant cache of fascinating sites that delve into possible and likely futures. However, very few people who seek to clarify the future ever deal with the issue of wine.

The Future of Wine is one very comprehensive set of linked speculations and forecasting into the future of humanity. The future timeline is “a lengthy and detailed timeline – running from the present day, through the next century and well beyond, all the way to the end of the universe itself.” It includes one entry on wine:

YEAR: 2050
By 2050, many of the world’s most famous wine-producing areas have been rendered unsuitable for traditional grape growing and winemaking, with climate change having severely impacted land use, agricultural production and species ranges. The area suitable for wine production has declined by almost 85 per cent in some regions. California, Mexico, the eastern USA, Southern Europe, South Africa and Australia are particularly affected

In response to the crisis, many traditional vineyards have shifted to higher elevations with cooler conditions – putting pressure on upland ecosystems, as water and vegetation are converted for human use. Others have made use of genetic engineering, or indoor growing methods such as vertical farming. Geoengineering efforts are also getting underway, but have yet to be successful on a global basis.*

Although many regions have been devastated, others have actually benefited. This is particularly noticeable in the Rocky Mountains near the Canadian-US border, the westernmost parts of Russia, and Europe which has seen a massive shift northward in the areas suitable.

Wine & Climate Change

Speculation on the impact climate change may or may not have on wine growing isn’t uncommon in mainstream media. We’ve seen it raised here and there over the past decade. What’s particularly interesting about this speculation is the perceived impact that the response to climate change on wine growing will have on those regions where winegrowers move their activities: “putting pressure on upland ecosystems, as water and vegetation are converted for human use”. It’s a rarely considered issue.

This entry in the Timeline is set for 38 years into the future. I possess little to no knowledge of the science behind climate change theory. What I am sure of is this. If climate change stresses established growing regions more and more, the first response will be to adapt viticulture to the changes rather than give up the brand equity of wine growing regions that have flourished and provided the foundation for the global wine trade. The Bordelais, Burgundians, Champenois and Napans won’t easily be giving up on the enormous value that has been built into the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and Napa.

There is a lot more in this speculative entry into the Future Timeline that deserves unpacking. The idea of genetically engineered grapes suitable for warmer climates makes obvious sense. The more speculative (and interesting) idea is the concept of focused geoengineering to alter the climate in and around wine growing regions. This kind of science seems like magic at this point. But then there is Arthur Clarke’s third law to consider: “”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Finally, there is the question of where the dedicated, non-interventionist winemakers might take their winegrowing in the event of catastrophic climate change devastating the traditional wine growing regions. There is already a great deal of discussion about the future of English and Canadian winegrowing in the wake of climate change. But you don’t hear too much about the Rocky Mountains. But it makes sense. Of course the number of cooler, higher elevation areas that might be suitable for winegrowing in the event of a significantly warmer climate are numerous.

Beyond Climate Change

Although it is the only specific entry on wine in the Future Timeline, this futurist project could easily be absorbed through the filter of wine and winemaking. The Timeline speaks to the impact of robotics, mineral depletion, the advent of fusion energy technology, human migration due to climate change, virtual reality and the artificial intelligence advances that powers it, nanotechnology’s impact on industry and manufacturing, dynamic political disruption due to unemployment resulting from automation. These and other future events would have huge impacts on the production of wine.

The study of or speculation on the future of wine and winemaking is largely an academic pursuit. While current interest in how climate change will impact wine and what the responses to it might be, this is a very secondary concern to most people in the industry. They tend to be more immediately concerned with sugar levels, finding a crew to pick grapes, encouraging visits to the winery and financing options for vineyard development.

Crafting a “Future of Wine” timeline would be a fascinating project that would require us to think about the future of technology, the environment, social relations, politics and much more. Furthermore, creating such a timeline might even be spur us to consider new ideas.

Be that as it may, I highly recommend It is a provocative, well-developed, frightening and even optimistic description of our future. Spoiler Alert: There is wine in our future.


5 Responses

  1. Helene - September 16, 2018

    Astute comment, thank you. We in the UK already have seen higher quality (and more consistent ) red wines, even from the capricious Pinot Noir. Ditto for earlier harvests in Champagne. Climate change is upon us, I am sure, but it may not be quite as obvious as Global Warming?

  2. John - September 17, 2018

    A professor from Stanford predicted a similar result back in 2011. My favorite professional futurists include Faith Popcorn and Watts Wacker (who passed in 2016).

  3. Sam Prestianni, Free Range Flower Winery - September 17, 2018

    We’re betting on sustainable winemaking practices that go beyond grapes, specifically, using flowers as a fundamental part of the fermentation process — and no grapes at all. Such so-called garden winemaking traditions are thousands of years old. Combining these Old World traditions with 21st century innovation, we aim to broaden the conversation about wine long before 2050. Now’s the time.

  4. Tone Kelly - September 27, 2018

    As one who did technology forecasting for much of my career, I learned that what often changes when you go out 30+ years isn’t what you think today’s trend would suggest. Think outside the box. How about Pot as a major competitor to wine as a major relaxant? Imagine global warming affecting food stocks to the point that grain goes to food and not to beer or booze. There is a real process for doing these extrapolations and it can result in a more robust scenario.

  5. Sam Prestianni - September 27, 2018

    Tone Kelly, I couldn’t agree with you more. We’re already seeing a 15% drop (I believe) in alcohol sales (not sure about wine, specifically) in Colorado where cannabis is 100% legal. The great variety of products being developed on both the recreational and medicinal sides — and the incredible range of CPGs on the way — point clearly toward cannabis as a new competitor for consumer discretionary dollars.

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