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Raisins in the sun 

Climate change means sour grapes for local wineries

The Central Coast’s lucrative future as a premium wine-producing region is severely threatened by global
warming, a new international scientific study has concluded.

click to enlarge HOT STUFF :  Central Coast premium wine production will be ruined by global warming, according to a team of top scientists. - PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
  • HOT STUFF : Central Coast premium wine production will be ruined by global warming, according to a team of top scientists.
# Climate change brought on by burning fossil fuels is likely to ruin the ideal wine growing conditions found in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County by the end of the 21st century, according to a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The San Luis Obispo/Arroyo Grande wine-producing region may be slightly less threatened by long-term weather changes because of cooler coastal influences.
Top scientists in the United States and Italy used the latest high-resolution climate model to predict the effects of global warming on premium wine production. If emissions continue unabated, the study reports, the U.S. area suitable for growing premium wine grapes could be reduced by as much as 81 percent by the end of this century.

“The results imply large changes for the premium wine industry,� the study concludes.
Earlier research on the effects of global warming used projections of mean temperatures during the grape-growing season, which suggested little damage. But the new study projects the future incidence
of what it calls “super-hot days�—those hotter than 95 degrees.
Growing grapes can tolerate 14 super-hot days in a season, but as human activities continue to heat up the Earth, we can expect 50 to 60 super-hot days in the same timeframe, according to the scientists. Prolonged periods of extreme heat can make grapes fail to ripen flavorfully—or even drop off the vine.
click to enlarge COOLING IT :  Bankers, builders, businesspeople, and environmentalists are working together to promote local solutions to climate change. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SIERRA CLUB
  • COOLING IT : Bankers, builders, businesspeople, and environmentalists are working together to promote local solutions to climate change.
# “We see production essentially disappearing in what are the prime producing areas—Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, the Santa Barbara area and the Willamette Valley of Oregon,� study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center told Reuters.
The news comes as no surprise to some savvy winegrape growers, who are already feeling the heat. At Peachy Canyon Winery on Paso Robles’ west side, the Beckett family has already installed irrigation driplines in a formerly dry-farmed vineyard.
“You have to prepare the vineyards for these extreme situations,� said winemaker Josh Beckett between pours at last week’s Central Coast Wine Classic. “It’s scary what the scientists are saying. It’s gonna be wild.�

Climate change is also on the front burner for other Central Coast citizens, who are part of a grassroots effort to reduce local global warming emissions.
“We’re accepting that there’s a problem, and we’re focusing on solutions,� explained Karen Merriam, local chapter chair of the Sierra Club.
The group is working with a broad coalition to organize a community summit, Smart Energy Solutions, set for Oct. 10 at the San Luis Obispo Vets Hall. Representatives of the SLO Chamber of Commerce, the Homebuilders Association, Coast National Bank, Cal Poly, PG&E, the Air Pollution Control District, ECOSLO, and SLO Green Build are among the organizers.
“They all see global warming as a critical problem for the community,� Merriam said.
San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, and Atascadero have been honored by the Sierra Club as “Cool Cities,� after their mayors signed a letter supporting the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing to taking local action— such as cleaner car fleets, energy efficiency, and renewable energy—to curb global warming.
Atascadero’s mayor Tom O’Malley was the most recent to sign on, after being persuaded by local students from Atascadero High School and Cuesta College.
“It’s an example of how young people are totally on board. They wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It took them a huge amount of effort, but those kids really got to him,� Merriam said.
Local cities’ climate protection efforts are also being guided by the Air Pollution Control District, which is providing a computerized inventory of each city’s global warming emissions.
“The U.S. failed to sign the Kyoto Agreement to reduce global warming, but now so many are saying, ‘We can’t wait for the government. We as citizens and cities have to take action,’� Merriam noted.
“Our summit will bring the community together to say there are solutions. They’re here and available now. Don’t believe it when they say there won’t be any solutions for 50 years. Don’t believe it when they say business and environmentalists can’t come together. We’re in this together. This affects everyone�—wine drinker or not. ∆

Freelancer Kathy Johnston may be reached at


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