Climate change and natural disasters impacting Australia’s wineries

The onslaught of natural disasters in recent years such – most notably floods and bushfires – has taken an immediate toll on Australia’s wineries. And, in the longer term, climate change may is threatening to reduce the quality and availability of Australian wine, leading to the likelihood of a substantial increase in price in the not too distant future.

Many winemakers have aired their concern on this possible bleak future for Australian wineries, among them Dr Richard Hamilton, a descendant of generations of wine producers and co-owner of prominent family-owned winery Leconfield Wines in Coonawarra and Richard Hamilton Wines in McLaren Vale.

Smoke clouds the industry’s horizon

“The bushfires have wiped through a lot of vineyards in the Adelaide Hills region,” Hamilton said. “Even vineyards that aren’t directly impacted by fires can be affected by smoke from nearby fires.”

Hamilton added that while many other vineyards have not been touched, that doesn’t mean they’re completely immune to the environmental disasters happening across Australia as of late. 

“Massive drought and heatwaves have affected crop levels across Australia. The impact of the drought on wineries will be less immediate than the impact on agriculture, but there will still be a significant impact,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately, we can’t just pick up and move our vineyard somewhere else.” 

The wine industry has always had to contend with agricultural risks such as frost, hail and flood, but climate change is a new and evolving threat.

A potential water crisis

“Now we have climate change which may be with us for many years which just makes everything tougher for growers and winemakers, ” Hamilton said. “The amount of water being drawn for the river systems and the underground aquifers may be unattainable in a hotter, drier climate. Added to this is the increasing cost of accessing water.

“If these freak weather patterns keep up over the long-term, it’s possible that we could see some dramatic increases in the price of wine in the future,” he added. “In the longer term, cheaper bottled and cask wines will be unsustainable and will be taken up by imports. As a result, the profitability of wineries will be diminished, meaning they won’t spend as much on expansion, growth and employment.”

Freak environmental weather patterns could also compromise wine exports and Australian wine tourism. 

Home is where the heart is

“China is a bit of an elephant in the room when it comes to the wine industry,” Hamilton explained. “China has a big thirst for Australian wine, but they aren’t rusted on. Chinese buyers will jump to South America, South Africa and Europe the second Australian wine jumps in price.

“Wine tourism is a growing market for the Australian wine industry, but with talk of bushfires, drought and now floods, I suspect a lot of international tourists will be dissuaded from visiting Australia. People definitely underestimate the importance of wine tourism to the Australian wine industry.”

In order to remain viable, the industry desperately needs Australian consumers to support the local wine industry.

“Buy Australian wines and visit and recommend our wineries to local and overseas friends and family,” Hamilton implored. “We produce the finest wines in the world right here in Australia. While international imports are sold in our market, buying Australian wines supports growers, local economies and jobs. The industry is also a big contributor to the overall national economy.”

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