Experts: Warming May Harm Tuscan Wines

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By MARTA FALCONI
The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 8:15 PM

ROME -- Imagine a world where Scandinavia produces wines to rival Italy's fabled Chianti region. It could come to just that by the end of the century, experts in Italy warn, if global warming continues unchecked.

A study by Florence University linking the effects of rain and temperature to wine production found that increasingly high temperatures and intense rains are likely to threaten the quality of Tuscan wines. Italy's farmers association warned the cultivation of olive trees, which grow in a mild climate, has almost reached the Alps.

"This rise in temperatures will continue in the next years, and they will be too high and unfavorable for the quality of wine," because they cause the grapes to over-ripen, said Simone Orlandini, an agronomist at Florence University and co-author of the study.

"Even if temperatures go up three or four degrees Celsius (seven or eight degrees Fahrenheit) it will be a big problem," he said in a telephone interview. "It will be warmer and rains will be more concentrated in fewer events, thus damaging the earth, which will not be able to absorb," all the water.

The study, which was published in the wine magazine VQ, compares quality checks on some of Italy's most famous wines _ Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti Classico, Barolo, Barbaresco and Amarone _ to the weather conditions of the past three or four decades.

The research shows that while warmer temperatures favor wine quality, the rain that comes with them is often bad news.

The dangers stemming from climate change have drawn increasing attention.

The world's leading climate scientists warned during a gathering in Paris earlier this month that global warming is so severe it will "continue for centuries," leading to a far different planet in 100 years.

A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that if nothing is done to change current emissions patterns of greenhouse gases, global temperature could increase as much as 11 degrees by 2100. If greenhouse gas emissions get under control _ something scientists say they hope can be achieved _ the best estimate is about a three-degree increase.

Wine makers in Tuscany are downplaying the risk.

"I don't foresee harmful effects within the next 20 years," said Filippo Mazzei, whose wine company located 10 miles north of Siena produces 700,000 bottles a year, mostly of Chianti Classico. "We are in an area with a temperate climate, and I do not think it faces an immediate risk. I am not saying it is unfounded, but a range of 100 years is not very significant," he said.

On Tuesday, European Union nations announced an ambitious target to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020, in one of the boldest moves yet to contain global warming.

Orlandini said that a rise in temperatures would geographically push wine production to the north, allowing regions like Scandinavia to join the industry.

Coldiretti, a farm lobby, said measures should be taken to tackle the threats.

"In Italy, there's a significant shift in traditional agricultural areas for olive trees which almost reached the Alps," it said in a statement. "These processes represent a new challenge for the farming industry," which should increase investment and infrastructure.

Coldiretti said seasonal shifts, fewer but intense rainstorms and the reduction of water reserves could also increase the risk of desertification in certain areas.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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