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How Oregon wine can survive climate change

Pinot noir makes up 70% of the vineyards in the valley and adaptations could help growers continue to grow it, but not everywhere and not forever.

OREGON, USA — Warming has transformed the Willamette Valley since its modern founding in the 1960s from a marginal region for wine grapes to one where “bad” vintages — wildfire smoke excepted, perhaps — are a rarity.

And it’s not stopping, two leading climate and wine researchers told the Oregon Wine Symposium recently.

This doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the industry, but will force change — and maybe bring opportunities.

“We are not at the precipice of failure,” said Greg Jones, a former Southern Oregon University and Linfield professor who now heads his family’s Abacela winery in the Umpqua Valley. “I truly believe we’re in a place where we have potential for change.”

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Pinot noir makes up 70% of the vineyards in the valley and adaptations could help growers continue to grow the grape that has made Oregon’s wine name, but not everywhere and not forever.

“They’re limited based upon the biology of the vine,” Jones said, suggesting that alternative varieties will have to come into play with warming of 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit projected in the region by 2040-2060.

That could mean grapes such as cabernet sauvignon, malbec, sangiovese, grenache, syrah and zinfandel.

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“And what about the other 5,000 varieties we know so little about?” Jones asked. “We will have increasing needs to play with other varieties, it’s just pretty clear, and there are a lot of varieties out there we have not even begun to address.”

Kevin Pogue, a wine-focused geologist from Whitman College in Walla Walla, said climate change could open the door to viticulture at an as yet unseen scale in Oregon.

Read the full story at the Portland Business Journal.

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