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Can we please get over “climategate” and understand that warming is a threat to winegrapes?


The climate change deniers, bless their dumb little hearts, are getting lots of buzz lately, but I’ll side with the scientists, the majority of whom are absolutely sure that warming is occurring and that it’s getting dangerously too late to do anything about it.

The latest — as if we didn’t have enough evidence — comes from Stanford, where UPI is reporting that a team led by Noah Diffenbaugh “say they’ve determined global warming could significantly negatively impact U.S. wine and corn production.” (I’m not going to write here about corn except to say that I love it when it’s ripe in the summertime and will miss it if it goes away.) They go on to say that “global warming could reduce the current U.S. wine grape region by 81 percent by the end of the century” due to hotter and hotter days in wine country like California’s, which, in places like Napa Valley, is already pretty hot.

(Diffenbaugh presents his formal study today at an American Geophysical Union held in Moscone Center and I’m sure it will be widely reported.)

It’s not just that excessive heat could make even coastal valleys inappropriate for delicate varieties, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A warming climate could upset the ecosystem in much more fundamental ways. Science Daily describes how, “if spring-like weather arrives earlier than usual, and flowers bloom and wither before the pollinators [like bees] appear,” then wines might not even produce fruit. Earlier, scientists had calculated that a rise of only 2-4 degrees Celsius in grape regions could cause “losses [to be] be as high as 40 percent by mid-century.” In a previous study, Diffenbaugh determined that temperatures “from the principal wine regions of California, Oregon and Washington” already have risen in recent years by nearly 1 degree Celsius, and that was before some of the hottest years on record were yet to come.

It’s been surmised for years that other areas of the United States and North America could become more amenable to fine wine (vitis vinifera) growing as California gets too hot. Diffenbaugh warned as early as 2006 that by the end of this century “wine growing areas will be largely limited to the Northeast, including parts of upstate New York and Long Island.” And, of course, it was reported just yesterday that “there are some places in the world, such as the English vineyards, which stand to benefit from warmer temperatures.”

I know that some people don’t like it when I get all political on this blog which is a wine blog not a political blog or a scientific blog. But can we agree that a topic like climate change isn’t just scientific or political but may potentially impact us all? The leaked emails from a week or so ago gave ammunition to the deniers but as The [San Francisco] Examiner reported 3 days ago, the conservative furor over the emails “is much ado about nothing” and “the evidence of global warming is overwhelming.” Since I’m unable to conduct my own research into climate change, and don’t have the time or technical expertise to wade through mountains of studies and data, I have to put my trust in something; and I choose to believe the credible scientists from around the world and in every agency of every country I’m aware of (including the U.N.) that climate change is upon us, and one of its manifestations will be increased warming — perhaps not everywhere, or all at once, but California seems to be at risk, which means winegrapes are too, and that worries me.

  1. Carlos Toledo says:

    Hi Steve, it may be hard for a few reader of your blow to discover there are many other (and just as good) wine regions outside the USA. In Germany the white wine regions are slowly moving towards the north. In France the high altitudes wines (those with a lot of that great acidity) are beginning to resemble the wines from Spain… or Argentina. 16 degrees wines… that is.

    Whether we’re to blame for this ”supposed” global warming or not the fact is that in many parts of the world things aren’t just the same. I worked in the field many years (rural insurance) and all over the world people would testify for extremely meaningful changes. Let’s hope the fading sun spots give us a chance to enjoy a little longer Champagne and the mosel river wines.

  2. Carlos Toledo says:

    I meant blog, not blow. damn it….

  3. Hey, I think it’s fully within your remit to touch on climate change in this blog, because winemaking starts with farming.

    I was in Kenya a few years ago, and I hiked up the middle of a river in Samburu. I was able to do this because the river was totally dry. I watched Elephants dig for water and vervet monkeys knock over whatever I happened to be drinking just to try and get some liquid back into their diets.

    This happened because the “short rains” that supply the water for the river never came – something that has happened very, very infrequently across all of recorded history for those folks.

    I decided then and there that the next person who told me that man-influenced climate change was BS was going to get a knee to the crotch and Chuck Norris-style elbow to the nose from me.

  4. And lord knows, Dude, that you’re capable of that elbow chuk!

  5. Carlos some people think of my writings as a blow…

  6. Morton Leslie says:

    There is no doubt that the earth is warming. It has been doing so since the last ice age. There is also no doubt that man influences climate. Deforestation, for example, in Africa has so reduced rainfall that Mt. Killamanjaro is losing its snow cover to sublimation despite below zero temps for the last hundred years… or that destruction of the Amazon rain forest has contributed to greenhouse gases more than any other human behavior. But the real issue is with the accuracy of the science. This is critical because it determines what we do about warming, if anything, and the degree to which we act. We are talking about man controlling the weather here and it is not something you step into without accurate information.

    If this warming is unprecedented and occurring at an alarming rate and there is strong science behind it fine, but if it is strongly being influenced by politics and powerplays between scientists, politicians and countries then there is a need to be concerned about whether we really know what we are doing. Much of what we see at the Copenhagen Carnival is about fear and using fear for your own ends. It is a show, not serious deliberations by serious people. I am extremely uncomfortable thinking that our world and our weather is in the hands of this body.

    Climategate is about the credibility of some of the science, not about whether the earth is warmer today than it was years ago. In real science you come up with a theory, experiment, gather data, compare the results to the theory and whether it proves your theory or not you put the data out there for others to validate or invalidate. Climategate is about scientists who claim proof of a theory but refuse to share the data with other scientists for their critical examination. This is about a science supported by govenment grants where you have to do a Freedom of Information request to get the data. This is about scientists who conspire to avoid the FOI requests and even say they will destroy the data before releasing it. This is about scientists who conspire to keep research than is contrary to theirs out of the journals. This is not science. This is politics.

    The scientists in question had a problem. There was data was data out there that did not support their own published research. They had been successfully keeping that data from skeptics. The tree ring data that they were using to prove their contention that the warming was unprecedented and accelerating turned out to not correlate to actual measured temperatures. So they conspired to mislead and hide this fact.

    I’m sure whoever wrote the article for the Examiner was not a scientist. Believe me, scientists all over the world feel what these men were doing was a serious breach. These men were key members of the IPCC, they controlled and held the data sets that are central to predictions of future climate.

    There are serious scientists who disagree with the science. Dr. Richard Lindzen is an American atmospheric physicist and Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a serious man and deserves serious consideration. A recent lecture of his is in six parts on youtube. It is worth a view, especially if you happen to be a climate alarmist.

    We need less fear and we must demand better science.

  7. lol.

    There is plenty of science to suggest being a skeptic on AGW, which is quite different than “denying” global warming, is an entirely appropriate position.

    I was, until very recently, a firm believer in AGW. Now I’m a skeptic.

    Hand waving “nothing to see here” claims to authority won’t cut it. Only a full and transparent accounting of the data, metadata (station lists etc.) code behind the models, and a continued public debate on the unsettled science of how clouds and solar activity influence warming will sway me.

    Check out the post on my blog for more discussion. I’m not the only farmer who has been moved to skepticism by the revelations in the code and emails from the CRU archive.

    Also, it is simply incorrect to say that all wine regions will suffer due to warmer temps. Davis has done research on Napa Valley and it stands to benefit due to increased evaporative cloud cover from San Pablo Bay. The cloud cover issue may also apply to costal areas like RRV etc. The truth is we don’t know. But claims that there will be some universal calamity that will befall winegrowers due to warming is not supported by the evidence.

    All that said, I agree with you that this isn’t political. Science is science, and the truth will out.

  8. I happen to like Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I guess I could learn to like Sonoma Coast Cabernet Sauvignon when the time comes to change to warmer varieties out there.

    But, here is one thing that confuses me. We know that the warmer it gets inland, the more fog gets produced at the coast. Does that equation stay in place or does northern California become San Diego?

    We somehow seem to be having cooler winters so perhaps there will be more extreme swings from one season to the next. Maybe we will become New England. I am planting maples and beech and elm so that I can see the leaves turn colors in some fifty or one hundred years. Assuming of course, that my island home here in Alameda is not underwater by then.

  9. Michael Donohue says:

    Should any skeptic require local proof of global warming, a Davis graduate student told me that Napa historically got 32 frost days per year. Last year: 8! Hard to see the ROI on vineyards newly planted if this keeps up – the wines will be inferior.

  10. Michael,

    That’s like me saying that the fact Copenhagen is having its first white Christmas in 14 years is somehow proof that the earth hasn’t warmed over the last 100.

    Both are completely spurious claims based on weather, not climate.

  11. Morton Leslie says:

    Michael – Your grad student doesn’t know much about the Napa Valley. The worst year ever was 1970 with 30 days of frost and the locals and newspapers couldn’t stop talking about how unusual it was. It wasn’t long ago that Steve in this column made the same kind of remark as yours. Something about wind machines not being used. I counted the days I was awakened in the AM by a nearby windmachine. I stopped after I reached 20 mornings. Do you have any idea how cool 1998, 2000 were and 2009 has been here in the valley?

    A few of us in the valley have paid close attention to thermographs, and later digital weather stations in the vineyard. What got me interested in the global warming scare was a disconnect between what our rural data sited in the vineyard was showing and what the “experts” were claiming. So I bought historical records from NOAA and plotted them and indeed they showed the distinct warming. So I decided to visit the site of the NOAA weather stations. In Napa they are at the Napa Airport and at the State Hospital. Another is next to expanded waste water ponds in St. Helena. All you need to do is visit and see the development, the shopping centers, the industrial parks that have been built around the stations since 1980 which create urban warming to understand why one should be skeptical. A high percentage of all of NOAA’s stations have been so affected. go to and check out “Odd Sites” You’ll get a picture of the level of imprecision that goes into the NOAA data. You can find the Napa stations, photos, etc at that site.

  12. “The climate change deniers, bless their dumb little hearts”

    Wow, for someone who goes on to admit that you only are siding with your perception of what most scientists say. You seem to be willing to go out on quite a limb by calling a whole set of people dumb. Dumb meaning not being able to talk, and most “climate deniers” are not only able to talk but put together cogent arguments backing their beliefs. I think you choose the wrong word.

    And to insult that same whole group of people with ad hominem remarks is not only weak minded it is ill advised. After all you are making this aggressive position based on other peoples science work that you are simply choosing to believe. Choosing to believe with no personal knowledge and bemoaning others who disagree is lame.

    I don’t know the answers to global warming questions, but I know by the clueless blog article you wrote that you don’t know the answers either. So stop preaching and read more and even read articles you don’t agree with. Galileo Galilei was on the wrong side of settled science with a consensus against him and he ended up being right. You would be better served with a more humble approach.

  13. Jim, you are right in that I don’t know all the answers and neither do you. However I feel like I know where the climate change deniers are coming from by the friends they keep: the far right — gay bashers — birthers — Glenn Beck worshipers — evolution deniers — people who represent the health insurance companies — need I go on? So, based on their associations with people whose agendas don’t seem to include people like me, I choose to disbelieve these agenda-driven ideologues who seem, every chance they get, to discard science in the name of religion.

  14. Steve,

    Now you are linking them to the far right and listing all these things you don’t like … argh, that is the fallacy of argument called straw man. You are building you opponent up to be an evil person then you pronounce them evil and seemingly emerge from the debate a winner … wrong.

    This is what makes me suspicious; if the science was settled then AGW advocates would welcome public debate on the issue and not call opponents deniers and bad mouth them. They should be able to win the argument handily based on the merits of the supposedly robust science.

    No, EAU in the UK resisted FOI requests and right now NASA is resisting the US FOIA request for the organic base data, the models/programs that predict and any reasoning for statistical adjustments made to the data. This should all be available for public scrutiny. They only want to publish conclusions that read more like public policy than science. THis is what makes me suspicious.

    I am not an agenda driven ideologue, I only want to make sure the right decisions are being made based on actual reality a lot of lives, families, personal economies, entire towns and industries are on the line here and a wrong decision either way would be catastrophic. So, sunlight should shine on the science and open honest debate needs to start taking place. As up to now it has all be public policy driven ideology and political arguments.

    I am starting to fall under the spell of a Lake County syrah I made last year, peppery and fresh like a young syrah should be, so this will be my last post of the evening, you may have the last word. I am getting some food.

  15. If you click my name it links to an article from the Columbia Journalism Review which addresses Climategate in an objective manner. The article also links to to other examinations of the issue. The hacked/leaked emails really were much ado about nothing. I’m almost always a skeptic but the science on global climate change is overwhelming. Political solutions will always be messy and ripe for abuse but denying the science in response to human inadequate response is like throwing the case out when a single bottle is corked. (Yeah, I know that’s an absolutely horrible analogy.)

  16. James McCann says:

    Almost 4000 scientists in CA alone who reject the science of global warming… It is frightening that smart people like Steve listen to the preachers (Al Gore) and parrot their statements that the science is “settled.” Do you already forget that the famous “hockey stick” has already been proven false? Have you actually read some of the climategate emails? When their peers write papers attempting to refute their data, they adopt a bunker mentality in an all out effort to prevent the papers from being published!

    Great point by Morton on the NOAA stations, which record higher temperatures when someone paves over the surrounding acreage. Go figure!

    Shocking that the doubters who actually take the time to inform themselves on this debate are the dumb ones.

  17. Erwin,

    I would argue that there is no consensus, and the the extent there is it is based on bad science.

    Here, from a recent editorial in Nature, is the sum total of the evidence for anthropogenic global warming:

    “Denialists often maintain that these changes are just a symptom of natural climate variability. But when climate modellers test this assertion by running their simulations with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide held fixed, the results bear little resemblance to the observed warming. The strong implication is that increased greenhouse-gas emissions have played an important part in recent warming, meaning that curbing the world’s voracious appetite for carbon is essential.”

    The evidence for global warming is robust. It is the evidence than man is responsible for that warming that is utterly suspect.

    What that paragraph states, and what all the scientists in the field admit, is that there is no observational evidence for AGW. The evidence, and the scientific consensus, is built upon the incredibly shaky grounds that *their models can’t account for the warming, so it must be that man is the cause*.

    This is an argument from ignorance that would much proponents of intelligent design blush. Just because we don’t know what is causing the warming, doesn’t mean we are forced to conclude it is man. CO2 surely plays a part, but the models do not include mechanisms which account for solar energy or clouds. Predictions the models made about temps in the upper troposphere are demonstrably incorrect, and the cooling in the past 10 years was utterly unaccounted for. The models are clearly lacking.

    We know so little about climate, and are capturing such a small fraction of the potential drivers of warming in the models, that to conclude man is the cause based on the the fact that the output of these models don’t match observed warming is not only completely unwarranted, it is bad science.

    We may turn out to be the main driver of warming, but there is currently no overwhelming evidence to show it.

    Open up the source code to the models, release the data, let there be an independent review of all the assumptions. Let science test those assumptions as robustly as we can. In short, let’s let science do what it does best.

  18. I tend to side with Morton on this issue but more than anything – Do you realize how arrogant we look worrying about our precious wines when some Island nations are faced with extinction? No wonder Americans think we are a bunch of over-indulged trust fund babies with outstreched pinkies.

  19. For thirty years, I have been a vit consultant and owner here in the PNW. With 21 vineyards in the stable, I have watched as the same cycles repeat itself. I have some records back to 1891. We go several years with increasing temperatures, warmer winter temps and longer growing seasons. Then we cycle back to cooler summers, shorter growing seasons (frost free days) and colder winter temps. Several years ago, we hit our peak for the warm cycle. For the past few years, we have cycled back to cooler summers, colder winters, and shorter growing season. It has been very predicatable. SO, as for the 21 vineayrds I deal with here in the PNW, we are right back on schedule. It has been getting cooler and not warmer, and the impact on grape growing has been a challenge in the opposite direction of what the climate people are saying. That is the situation and I expect any other growers here in the PNW wine regions would agree.

  20. James McCann says:

    Last time I checked, wasn’t CO2 a by-product of fermentation? Under cap and trade, what kind of taxes should be placed on the wine, beer and spirits industries? And let’s not even start talking about shipping those 35 pound cases of wine all the way to the East Coast. Maybe those of us in the industry should keep a low profile on this issue?

  21. another thing to consider. animals consuming O2 and creating CO2 is just one half of life’s respiratory cycle. The compliment to it is the plants consumption of CO2 and creation of O2.

    Perhaps a symbiosis between plants and animals exist in the for of climate equilibrium. The higher the levels of one part of the O2 / CO2 balance means that either plants or animals will thrive. With more CO2 being produced that means more vigorous plant life which in turn mean more O2 production … a self balancing system. Levels will not always be the same, but climate equilibrium in a self-healing way is the outcome.

    This balancing effect that self adjusts on a myriad of inputs is what keeps our climate semi-steady by way of variability is so beautiful and pragmatic that it could have only evolved. This makes earth, earth and not just another rock in space. Our climate is a balance based on the distance we are from the sun and the brightness of the sun.

    If the globe gets a few degrees warmer we would be better off adapting to it rather then trying change the weather. This is how other species have succeeded in maintaining populations across broad based climate fluctuations.

  22. “Jim, you are right in that I don’t know all the answers and neither do you. However I feel like I know where the climate change deniers are coming from by the friends they keep: the far right — gay bashers — birthers — Glenn Beck worshipers — evolution deniers — people who represent the health insurance companies — need I go on? So, based on their associations with people whose agendas don’t seem to include people like me, I choose to disbelieve these agenda-driven ideologues who seem, every chance they get, to discard science in the name of religion.”

    I believe such venality is inappropriate to a civilized forum.

    My Grandmother used to say “Hatred is but the handmaiden of
    self- loathing.”

  23. Ray…Funny stuff. You quote your Grandma about hatred, and in your post you are making assumptions about science based on your hated of the right. Interesting. The blog is about locating vineyards in the coming “global warming”. In my case, global warming is a non issue (see my other post). I am not a privy to the pluses and minuses of the science, but in my specific situation as a long time industry professional, the impact of climate (weather) on our 21 vineyards is that it has been getting colder and making challenges in the opposite direction of warming. But hatred of one side or the other should not determine the discussion about reality and science as it impacts vineyards.

  24. win, the quote and sentiment to which I referred in my post are Steve’s, not mine.

    Here’s a little real science from a professional who does not P.R. nor politicize the weather. Our climate experience parallels your own.
    Merry Christmas.

    “I have had an article brewing in my head for a year . It would utilize like-kind data from my personal temperature sites up and down the coast (70+ of them now). My gut tells me my bottom line will be: much ado about a long-term trend that will have no short-term impacts. My early analysis indicates that if the scientist’s estimates of annual warming play out, in 30 to 40 years a regions “average” Degree Days per season will be similar to the 3 “warm” years they have actually experienced over the last 10 (1997-2007). Hardly a varietal-changing movement, unless you have the wrong varieties already (on the warm side). If the math works out that way, planting next year on the Humboldt Coast in anticipation is a bit over reacting.

    Yes I did receive your monitor. I downloaded it yesterday, worked the math magic and will be mailing out today summaries of ’06 and ’07, including the graph of their build up over the season. Your 5 year trend line has been cooler.

    I think that proves a Global Cooling is under way!!”

    Richard Brockmeyer, vineyard investment consultant, Napa, CA

  25. Ray, I have written about this for years. The weather does seem to be cooling along our coast. But to extrapolate from that, that the the entire planet is cooling is unscientific in the extreme, as I would hope you know. The reason why our coast is cooling is because the interior west and particularly the Great Basin is warming. That pulls in cool, moist air from the Pacific, under well-understood mechanisms. Nobody ever said that climate change will result in immediate warming everywhere. Eventually of course our coast too will become hotter. However if you are ideologically opposed to science then you will believe what you want to regardless of the evidence.

  26. Steve, thanks for your thoughtful response.
    At our mountain vineyard which is actually the closest to the geographical center of California, our weather seems to be cooling too. The evidence, for which we have high regard however inconvenient and politically incorrect comes from our years of real time temperature recordings (no where near the coast).

  27. BO Watcher says:


    Have you:
    1. Gotten rid of all of your gas-burning vehicles and started walking/riding a bicycle?
    2. Turned off the furnace/air conditioner in your home, and instead walk around with blankets to keep warm?
    3. Gotten rid of ALL appliances/tools/small engines that use gas or electricity?
    4. Thrown out your clothing (made in a huge carbon-belching factory) and instead made your own?
    5. Stopped typing on your carbon-producing computer and instead submit your blog posts on paper that you’ve produced yourself?


    Well then, bless your dumb little heart, you’re causing global warming! Until you show us you really believe what you say and take steps to stop your carbon-spewing, we’re not going to believe a word you say!

  28. Sorry for blurring the chat here a bit. My only point is that it SEEMS that most vineyard owners are not seeing any impact of global warming and so are not in any hurry to look for new vineyard locations in Nova Scotia or Alaska. It is simply a non issue and, given the fairly split opinions of respected science on both sides, and the history of the planet, it is hardly time to panic or make great assumptions. Not 100 miles to the south of me is a large state park where there is much evidence of both a very hot period tens of thousands of years ago, and and then glacial ice age. The cliffs and soil cutaways have been explored and it is both a puzzle and a wonder to every scientist who has written about the area. It certainly gave me a pause in all of my assumptions.

  29. Steve,

    Your blanket assumption that anyone with conservative, faith based viewpoints is a bigot and anti-science is shameful. Your left leaning agenda has always been quite evident, but your comment here is just low class. Ive given you the benefit of the doubt numerous times despite our vast differences in opinion for the love of the vine, but Im over it. I sincerely hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, but unfortunately you’ve lost a reader.

  30. Steve, you are really showing your liberal bent here, please… most of us GWD are not poor and stupid. My old man used to say “Mother Nature will kick you in the ass everytime”, the man farmed for over 40 years. If we warm or cool we would be so lucky as to have control.

    Stick to reviewing wine.


  31. I forgot, grapes are self pollinating and you eat a lot more corn than you think, read “Omnivours Dilemma” By Michael Pollen.



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