Impact of Climate Change on Grapevine Genetics and Wine

It is no surprise that our changing climate does not only affect humans. Plants are also greatly impacted by environmental fluctuations, especially grapevines. Viticulture is the farming of grapevines used in winemaking and this agricultural system is recognized as an indicator of climate change due to its climate sensitivity; the lifecycle of grapevines, is so closely linked to temperature that it has been used to study past climates and predict future effects (Duchêne, 2016; Mosedale et al., 2016). Further, the climate also impacts the genetic constitution of grapevines, and therefore affects wine taste and quality (Pons et al., 2017; Nicolosi et al., 2022).

Fluctuations in different environmental conditions, such as temperature, impacts gene expression within plants (Rienth et al., 2016). These genotypic changes alter the vine phenotype, where the phenotype represents visible attributes resulting from the effect of environment on organism genetics. Vitis vinifera is a common grapevine used in the wine industry and this species displays immense phenotypic plasticity (the vine’s ability to change due to environmental inputs) (West-Eberhard, 2008; Dago et al., 2010) (Figure 1). Further, V. vinifera has the ability to produce different wines due to differing berry quality based on the environment where it is cultivated (Dago et al., 2010). DNA methylation, the addition of methyl groups to genetic material within cells, holds an important role in phenotypic plasticity (Varela et al., 2021). Methylation has the ability to regulate gene expression within grapevines and affect aspects relating to growth and development (Marfil et al., 2019; Varela et al., 2021).  These changes ultimately impact the fruit and therefore, wine quality (Marfil et al., 2019).

Figure 1: Phenotypic differences in leaves of V. vinifera species. Pino gris leaves are wider (A), where as Merlot leaves appear more segmented with indents in the leaves (B) (Merlot leaf, 2007; Casamance, 2016).

Phenology refers to the timing of recurrent biological or lifecycle events and event timing due to abiotic and biotic factors (Liang, 2019). An example of grapevine phenology is the timing of fruit ripening, referred to as véraison (Warren, Price and Jenkins, 2021, p.4). With increasing global temperature changes, véraison is occurring earlier in the growing season and the higher temperatures cause impacts on fruit quality (Hansen et al., 2006; Duchêne, 2016). Throughout the growing season the acidity and sugar content of grapes change; the higher temperatures increase the rate at which grape acidity declines due to accelerated malic acid degradation upon the accumulation of sugar (Duchêne, 2016; Rienth et al., 2016). Acid decrease, in addition to pigmentation alterations through changes in anthocyanin amounts, and differences in aromatics, are among the most important aspects of global temperature increase and climate change as it relates to the wine industry (Rienth et al., 2016).

As a result of viticulture being a high-income agriculture sector, effects of climate change on grapevines have been well studied and have become a common indicator of environmental change. The phenotypic plasticity of grapevines means that temperature increases have the potential to cause huge effects on the wine industry. However, it is not yet known if these impacts will increase or decrease wine quality.


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