Canterbury University weather research aims to benefit the wine industry

More than 30 weather monitoring sites have been installed around Marlborough vineyards in a University of Canterbury research project to help improve New Zealand’s wine production.

UC weather expert Professor Andy Sturman is heading a $500,000 international research project into Marlborough’s climate and vineyards which could result in an increase of up to 10 percent in income for the NZ wine industry.

The research team includes scientists from Plant and Food Research and the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

A press statement from the university says NZ is better placed than most other established wine-producing nations to adapt to climate change and a long-term trend towards dryer warmer summers.

As part of the project, the research team has installed 11 automatic weather stations and 42 soil and air temperature loggers at 21 locations, as well as 38 temperature loggers at another 19 locations.

Professor Sturman says temperature has a significant effect on the timing of vine development, the development of flavours and aromas in grapes during ripening, and the quality of the wines that are ultimately produced.

“We have searched the national climate database managed by NIWA and contacted other meteorological station owners in the area, including the MetService, who is providing us with hourly data from their network of meteorological stations throughout New Zealand..

“Using both existing and new data, we are developing a more detailed understanding of the small-scale variations in temperature and their influence on grapevine response.

“We will be regularly collecting data for at least two years, covering two growing seasons, and the data collected will be used to validate and fine-tune our atmospheric and plant response models.

“Felix Philippe, an intern from the University of Grenoble in France, has been based at UC working with Dr Andrew Tait from NIWA and other members of the team on evaluating the temperature variations and possible impacts of changing climate.

“The impact of changing weather patterns is likely to vary across the country, because of the effect of New Zealand’s complex and mountainous terrain. So some parts of the country are expected to experience rather different temperature and rainfall trends than others.

“It appears that the belt of anticyclones that circles the Southern Hemisphere has drifted southward. This shift in climate zones is not likely to continue indefinitely and will probably stabilise after a while so that New Zealand may settle into a new weather regime,’’ Professor Sturman says.

“Quite a few wine producers in Marlborough have been helpful in allowing us access to their vineyards to conduct the research, including Pernod Ricard, which is the largest company in the area,’’ Professor Sturman says.

NZ wine exports earned about $1.2 billion last year. The area of vines in the Marlborough region totalled 22,861 ha in 2012, which is about 66 percent of the national vineyard area.

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