Living with Climate Change in California, Part 2. Wine Country in Northern California.

by Lauren Thorpe

December 28, 2009

One of the many advantages of being a Greenpeace Field Organizer for Northern California is the incredibly diverse region I am responsible for. Not only do I get to work out of the sweet San Francisco office, but I get to travel from the ocean to the mountains, and everywhere in-between, for the sake of fighting for the future of our planet. One place I was particularly thrilled to work in is the famous wine country just north of the Bay Area. It is here that I met Ted Lemon, his dog Bo, and got a peek into the life of a Californian winemaker.

Lemon began his career by studying in France where he apprenticed at several highly esteemed estates in Burgundy. In 1993, Ted Lemon and his wife Heidi founded Littorai Wines to produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines on the north coast of California. Lemon has worked as a winemaker and consultant to many prominent wineries and he owns or leases several small-scale vineyards throughout Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

I recently got the chance to visit one of his Sonoma County vineyards in the quaint town of Sebastopol. This biodynamically farmed vineyard serves as a self sustaining, integrated and diversified farm because Lemon follows a holistic approach to winemaking known as terroir. This concept posits that the quality and taste of wine depends entirely on the soil and climate conditions in which the grapes are grown. The pinots produced by Lemon and other winemakers depend on the climate of Sonoma’s famed coastal influence. It lies just north of the San Francisco Bay and benefits from its moderating ocean breezes.

For centuries, the West Coast has been an ideal climate for grape growing and California alone makes up about 92% of the entire U.S. wine industry, with more than 90% of the profit in premium wines.  However, these homegrown wines face a serious threat from global warming. Scientists predict that global warming will bring higher temperatures, more heat waves and less precipitation – changes that could destroy the state’s $15 billion wine industry. Furthermore, a study conducted by Purdue University’s Climate and Earth Systems research group projects that there will be over an 80% reduction in total premium wine production due to climate change . Lemon’s pinot noir is particularly susceptible to the consequences of a changing climate. If left unaddressed, global warming could make it impossible to grow Pinot Noir in California.

While concern for the impacts of global warming on his life’s work is not new to Lemon, he is now taking action beyond sustainable growing practices. He is calling for the necessary leadership from President Obama to meet this challenge of our generation head-on. Recently, world leaders met in Copenhagen, Denmark for the most important United Nations Climate Negotiation to date. Unfortunately, President Obama did not listen to the calls for real climate solutions from scientists, heads of developing countries and the tens of thousands of protesters that flooded into Copenhagen for the Negotiations. Leadership from President Obama is essential for both a global climate treaty and locally protecting the longevity and prosperity of the Lemon’s wine business.


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