Risk Rises in Wine Country
Climate change is
having a radical impact
on grape growing and
By Autumn Heisler
Some of the world’s premier wine growing regions are dead-center in the crosshairs of climate change.
The wildfires that raged through California’s wine country in October proved one dire point: Climate change is taking aim at
According to an Allianz study,
many prominent vineyards will exist
in an environment too hot and dry to
produce quality wines by 2050.
“Climate has always had a hand in
how wine is made,” said Brett McKenzie, agribusiness Midwest zone leader for
Allianz Global and Corporate Specialty. “It would be unwise not to adapt to
“However, winemakers hit by climate might not think about the types of
insurance needed. They might not be educated in risk management,” she said.
“When you look at vineyards and wineries, you have farming risks, manufacturing
risks, retail risks and hospitality,” said Larry Chasin, president, Winery PAK
“Weather is a risk we all seem to be facing these days.”
WEATHER AND THE VINE
“Climate change impacts fruit development and vintage effect, and produces
variations on yield and quality,” said Chasin. “Heat leads to early harvests, which
effects the ripening of the fruit.”
“Think of a raisin: It’s a grape exposed to too much sun. It shrivels up and gets
sweet. A grape on the vine exposed to too much sun will go through the same
process,” said McKenzie, which may not be what the vintner set out to grow in the
first place, affecting crop, yield and quality.
Climate change has been tracked and monitored by scientists for decades with
the majority of experts agreeing temperatures are on the rise. And from changes in
temperature come natural disasters. In the recent fires, hot “Diablo” winds that hit
75 m.p.h. fanned the flames.
“Pollution and wildfire are two other big exposures,” said Chasin. He pointed
to the recent wildfires in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino which were still burning
out of control at R&I’s press time. Reports are calling the fires unprecedented
in terms of behavior, speed and velocity. The immediate focus is on life safety —
and rightfully so. Chasin added that, much like tornadoes, these fires could hit
one property and not the one next door. They’re unpredictable and could cost
As of October 18, the fires burned more than 245,000 acres in the premier
grape growing regions of Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa Counties. Forty one
people were reported killed and hundreds more missing. More than 5,700
structures were damaged or destroyed, according to Wine Spectator.
Vintners, however, are unlikely to move away from such at-risk locations.
Where a grape is grown affects yield just as much as proper sunshine and water.
“A grape grown in Canada will taste different than the same type of grape
grown in California,” said McKenzie.
This happens due to the minerals found in soil. That’s why volcanic regions,
coastal regions and areas found on fault lines attract winemakers to take root,
posing the question: If a breezy shoreline is good for the vine, how will the wine
industry compete with beach homes and other citizens inhabiting the coast?
COMBATTING CLIMATE’S WRATH
But winemakers are tackling one risk at a time. To combat the adverse effects
of weather, McKenzie said organizations that promote wine making in each
region are talking to each other about processes to mitigate losses in their regions,
whether those losses stem from pollution, climate, labor and so on.
“Wineries are thinking about their portfolio mix,” said McKenzie. If a grape
isn’t growing well due to weather factors, vintners should think of the long-term
effect that might have on their product.
“Get creative in your strategy. Ask yourself, ‘Are my grapes the right mix long
More vineyards are embracing technology.
“We’re seeing more weather-based technology monitoring moisture and heat,”
said Chasin. And more sophisticated climate measuring technology is making its
way onto vineyards.
The wine industry is unlikely to disappear anytime soon — wine consumption
reached 24,707,701 liters worldwide in 2015, according to the Wine Institute.
Insurers are prepared to protect
wineries in a world of changing climate.
Even in a bad year, McKenzie
said, it’s not as bad as it can get —
experienced winemakers know how
to work with changing temperatures
and the disasters that stem from these
AUTUMN HEISLER is a staff writer with
Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at
“Climate has always had a
hand in how wine is made. It
would be unwise not to adapt
— Brett McKenzie, agribusiness
Midwest zone leader, Allianz Global and Corporate
• Natural disasters from climate
change are taking aim at wine
• One solution is changing the
types of grapes grown.
• Vintners need to learn how to
adapt to changing conditions.