Monday, August 23, 2021

The (unknown) vineyard areas of Asia

For climatic reasons, vineyards are almost all between 45° S (southern Chile) to 60° N (central Sweden). Within this range, the distribution of those used for wine-making is further limited by climate. For example, Climate categories in viticulture notes:
The climates of most wine regions are categorised (somewhat loosely based on the Köppen climate classification) as being part of a Mediterranean (for example Tuscany[2][nb 1]), Maritime (ex: Bordeaux[3]) or Continental climate (ex: Columbia Valley[4]). The majority of the world's premium wine production takes place in one of these three climate categories, in locations between the 30th parallel and 50th parallel in both the northern and southern hemisphere. While viticulture does exist in some tropical climates, most notably Brazil, the amount of quality wine production in those areas is small.
Indeed, a wine-making map of the world looks something like this:

This is an over-simplification, however, because there are a few grape-growing regions in tropical places other than Brazil and India, notably in Asia. People do not usually know about this, because the areas are so small that they are not often recorded. Even the US Department of Agriculture no longer counts grape hectares in states without very many of them (The wrath grows over grape data).

We can, however, look at a time trend of some of these Asian vineyard areas, by using the Annual Database of Global Wine Markets 1835 to 2018 (by Kym Anderson and Vicente Pinilla), Table T1. These data are shown in the graph, for three tropical countries of south-east Asia, plus Japan and South Korea for comparison, from 1960 onward.

Time-line of Asian vineyard areas since 1960

Only the two non-tropical countries, Japan and South Korea, have ever had much vineyard area, although both have been in serious decline — Japan reached its peak in 1980, and Korea in 2000. There have been a number of recent articles discussing Japanese wine-making, notably The secret history of Japanese wine, and How to cultivate vines in Japan. Of perhaps more curiosity, it has been noted that: In Japan, aging wine undersea speeds maturing — this sort of behavior has not received universal approval (Ocean floor wine company withdraws permit application amid Coastal Act violations).

Perhaps of greater interest is the continuous increase in vineyard area in Thailand since 1975. This has been discussed in: Drinking around the world: The rise and rise of Thai wine. This may have more than a little to do with the fact that the country is a favorite place for Europeans to have a holiday apartment (especially Swedes), and bringing their culture with them. However, this increase also coincides with the first clear signs of rapid global warming (Terroir and global warming), and thus climate change. Of current interest, it has been reported that: 2021 is shaping up to be an exceptional harvest in Thailand.

Wine exports do not always reflect wine production, due to re-export of imports, but the AAWE reports that Thailand exported US$41.0 million worth of wine in 2020, while Brazil exported $8.3 million, India exported $4.8 million, Japan exported $3.2 million, and Taiwan $1.9 million.

In Taiwan, the vineyard area has settled down to a constant level since 2005, allowing Thailand to overtake it. Before this time, independent wine-making was illegal (see Taiwanese wine); and there are currently only a couple of dozen known wine producers. The Western wine media has not shown much interest, so far.

On the topic of Asia, I should also note that China has a wine-making industry, parts of which are shrinking (as I recently noted: So, why has China gone off the boil?) and parts of which are not (eg. Ningxia unveils ambitious plans to expand vineyard area and improve wine quality). The current status of the wine quality is discussed in: How good is Chinese wine? On a related note, you could, of course, also check out A guide to pairing Asian food and wine.

We can expect the vineyard areas of the world to continue to expand into previously unexpected locations. This has nothing to do with human ingenuity, but is simply a response to Global Climate Change. This has become an accepted fact in the wine industry, even if there are skeptics elsewhere, because of the intimate relationships between weather and grape-growing (Climate, weather, and vineyard management).

Likely future changes for the wine industry are summarized in: The effects of climate change on the global wine industry: a meta-analysis for SOMM Journal; and some countries have produced detailed forecasts for their own vineyard areas, notably the Wine Australia Climate Atlas. Coverage of more widespread changes are outlined in the recent IPCC AR6 report.

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