World Congress on Climate Change and Wine

Paul Symington attended the III World Congress on Climate Change and Wine in Spain, on the 13th and 14th April.  This event was organised by The Wine Academy of Spain and Pancho Campo MW.  The featured guest speaker was Kofi Annan, past Secretary-General of the UN and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2001.  Kofi Annan spoke eloquently at the conference about the responsibility that all involved in wine have to help combat climate change.

There were many speakers from all over the world, including New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, France, USA and Italy.  The overriding theme was the increased average temperatures that have been measured over the last 40 years in many of the world’s wine regions and the impact that this is having on the vineyards and the wine being made from them.  Increased sugar levels and earlier harvests are just two of several important factors resulting from this global warming.

Paul made a presentation on the family’s Douro vineyards and the data that the family has accumulated over many decades.  The measurements taken at the Symington Quintas confirm that the temperature in the Douro has increased by 1.2⁰ Centigrade in the period 1967 to 2010 on a ten year moving average, to just under 16.5⁰C.  It is important to note that the average annual temperature has actually dropped over the last four years in the Douro, with three of the last four years having an annual average below 16⁰C, although the long-term trend remains upwards.  The family’s data mirrored that given by other speakers from Champagne, Bordeaux, Italy and elsewhere.

The Symington family have over 925 ha of natural scrub, olive groves, almond trees and indigenous pine woods in the Douro, as well as 935 ha of vineyard, which significantly contributes to C02 reduction.

Paul also spoke about the serious problems that are faced in the Douro from working in the largest area of mountain vineyards in the world and the measures that the family have taken to prevent the on-going threat of erosion.  The Symington viticultural team lead by Charles Symington, Pedro Leal de Costa and Miles Edlmann have carried out pioneering research on erosion in the Douro vineyards and Paul was able to present some of the results of this data.  Miles Edlmann has concluded, after extensive field tests, that vineyard rows planted up and down the valley side (as opposed to contour terraces) can lose 1.7 tons of soil per hectare per year in average Douro conditions if cover crops are not planted in between the rows of vines to help control erosion.

The indigenous Port and Douro grape varieties are well adapted to the Douro climate.  Touriga Nacional in particular will continue to ripen its fruit even in very hot conditions and with little water available even when other grape varieties would need huge quantities of irrigation water in order to survive and properly ripen their fruit.

Finally, Paul pointed out the fact that the Douro is a region of multiple microclimates, which is a key weapon in coping with climate change.  With vineyards at higher altitudes on the valley’s sides growing at cooler average temperatures the Douro has some answers to the serious threats the region, like all other wine areas, faces from global warming.

A member of the company’s commercial team, Gonçalo Aragão e Brito, accompanied Paul to this conference and during breaks between seminars Gonçalo gave delegates the opportunity to taste Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage 2006, Graham’s Ten Year Old Tawny Port and Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 Vintage Port.

PDS, 14th April 2011

Update:  The Climate Change and Wine website has now posted videos of all the presentations.  Paul presented during Session Three, which you can view here.