In the past two years climate change has taken its toll on wine making in Greece by causing the grape harvest to decrease at an alarming rate, according to a recent Euronews report.
The phenomenon is worldwide — and it is not new. Vineyards across the world are shrinking, which limits production and results in increases in the price of wine.
In Greece alone, this year’s grape harvest was down 30 percent compared to 2018. It is exactly half of the harvest which was gathered in 2017, according to the chief oenologist of one of the wineries on the island of Santorini.
Stella Papadimitriou, from the Hadjidakis winery, explains that grape harvests has been steadily decreasing every year for the past decade, and she attributes the decrease to rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns.
Winemakers also believe that higher temperatures are also changing the character of the grapes which do remain on the vines to be harvested. For instance, Santorini wines, which are noted for their sharp character, can become sweeter and more fruity with hotter summer temperatures.
The complete character of different wines may change in the future if temperatures continue to rise, according to vineyard owners.
Papadimitriou says that “In 2019, the current harvest is 30 to 40 percent less than what it was in 2018. But if we compared it to 2017, then we are talking about over a 50 percent reduction.”
“The actual vines will certainly continue to exist even in the most difficult areas, but the quantity of grapes will decrease and the quality will change. All we can do, since we cannot go against climate change, is to gradually change some of the techniques that we employ,” she adds.
Specifically, the oenologist believes those changes will have to be implemented in the vines themselves. Changes in vineyard irrigation and protection against sunburn for the growing grapes are some of the measures that should be taken, in her opinion.
In Santorini, grapevines are pruned into a low, circular basket so that the leaves grow around the grapes, protecting them from both the relentless summer sun and the wind.
This idyllic Greek island is believed to have some of the oldest vineyards in the world. According to archaeologists, vineyards have existed on Santorini since 3500-3200 BC.
Local winemakers say some of their vines’ roots are centuries old. Due to the volcanic soil and strong winds, the vines on the island are free from diseases and pests and most farmers are able to cultivate their vineyards according to organic guidelines.
According to the Euronews report, at the Gavalas Winery, the all-important harvest time, the high point of any vineyard’s annual calendar, has gradually changed in recent years.
“From year to year there are small differences; some years are hotter, some are less so. Last year we started around July 28-29. The year before last, it was August 5th and this year, we started around August 8,” says co-owner Vagelis Gavalas.
“But,” he adds, “we have noticed that in general, compared to 30 or 40 years ago, we start about two weeks earlier because the temperatures have gone up and the climate is hotter.”
Since rain patterns have become more and more unpredictable due to climate change, and the climate is gradually getting warmer, the irrigation of vineyards, once rare in Greece, is an option that many winemakers are now considering all across the country.