Why the wine industry should prioritise dry farming

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With the effects of climate change regularly making front pages, the wine industry is responding by moving beyond the scope of ‘organic’ and working towards a broader definition of sustainability. However, many sustainable wine programmes tend to overlook the use of freshwater irrigation, instead focusing on issues such as renewable energy, biodiversity and social equity.

Wouldn’t consumers be interested to know the impact wine production has on the world’s water supply?

Recent research found that over a third of consumers actively seek out brands and companies based on their social, environmental and ethical impact. The figure is even higher for millennials, with 75% of people in that age group willing to spend more on sustainable products.

But with all of the climate change stories in the media, there is one story that has escaped public scrutiny – the amount of freshwater being used to irrigate vineyards across the globe. Vineyards where irrigation is legally practised tend to use the greatest amount of freshwater.

Some 83% of the New World wine regions are irrigated. In the Old World, this figure is 10%, but it will probably increase as legislation becomes more lax and wine growers ignore or leave the appellation system in order to compete with international yields.

Before there can be organic, natural, zero-carbon or biodynamic wines with authenticity, there have to be dry-farmed wines
The Water Footprint Network states that it takes 5l of water to make a 125ml glass of wine without irrigation – this is solely water that is used in the winery.

Add irrigation and that number rises to 110l of water per glass in a temperate climate, and to over 240l in drought-ridden regions. There is a lot of controversy in the scientific community over the relativity of yields, vine stress and ‘supplemental’ irrigation, as well as how to determine wine’s water footprint and its composition: proportions used of rainfall (green), freshwater (blue), and recycled (grey).

You can imagine how wine’s freshwater footprint is unique in its dramatic variations from region to region and even plant to plant, but spending time arguing over these differences is pointless. The relevant question we need to ask is whether it’s irresponsible to use our precious freshwater supplies to irrigate a luxury crop for the sake of increased productivity and profit if we don’t have to.

Wine grapes represent a global industry worth over £229bn. They are the most valuable fruit crop in the world. At the same time, wine is the climatologist’s ‘canary in the coal mine’.

It is the crop that is most susceptible to changes in climate. It is so responsive, in fact, that scientists have predicted that the area of land suitable for wine production will have shrunk by up to 75% by 2050.


Linda Johnson-Bell

+44 07449.179.487



Wine writer / Author / Climate Change & Viticulture Analyst / Conference Speaker

CEO, The Wine and Climate Change Institute (www.twacci.org)

Contributing Author, United Nation's Encyclopedia of Sustainable Development Goals: #13 Climate Action 

Amazon Author Page  and Academia.edu