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Vineyards in Spain Embrace Adaptation

Climate change poses significant threats to the wine industry, but a clutch of producers in one of Spain’s hardest-hit regions say they have found a way to survive and even profit from it.Raising temperatures result in grapes containing more sugar and thus more alcohol, but higher alcohol content wines have become less popular. Drought can also stop vines from producing fruit altogether.

So wine makers in Spain’s south-eastern Murcia region have come up with a way to coax their vines into making a product that retains the character of a classic wine, only with much less alcohol – 6.5% by volume, compared with 14% or more for many traditionally made Spanish wines.The technique and product are so groundbreaking that the European Union has had to devise a new category – “wine with reduced alcohol content” – for it to be marketed.

“Vineyards are migrating north to avoid heat,” said Pedro Jose Martinez, the brains behind the project at the Casa de la Ermita winery, near the town of Jumilla. “If we want to stay in the business, we have to adapt. And this method gives us a means to do so.”

Climate change has the potential to severely affect Spain. Its wine industry posted £4.5 billion in revenue in 2006, according to the Spanish Wine Federation, and employs 400,000 people. No other country has so much land dedicated to growing grapes.

Rising temperatures and drought that are worrying vine farmers most. Records show Spain is experiencing its driest year since records began 60 years ago.”We are getting higher alcohol levels because of hot weather and excessive evaporation from the grapes,” said Jorge Garcia, manager of the Vitivinos co-operative winery in Villamalea on the south-eastern fringe of La Mancha, the world’s largest wine-producing region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.”Producers are leaving wine making for mushroom cultivation and edible rabbit breeding,” said Garcia.

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