The possible positive effects of climate change on Cornwall's wine industry are to be at the centre of a major study at the county's university campus.
Cornish producers Camel Valley Vineyard in Bodmin and Polgoon Vineyard and Orchard of Penzance have signed up to contribute to the work by the University of Exeter at Penryn.
It aims to find the best spots for a vineyard and make the most of increasing temperatures and identify ways of capitalise on climate change.
Geoff Bowen, of Pebblebed Vineyard at Clyst St George, on the outskirts of Exeter, said fluctuating weather patterns - even by a degree - had a profound effect on their operation.
“We are on the edge of the grape growing climate area, but in the last two years Devon has been the place to grow grapes in the whole of Europe,” he said.
“I think climate change will help us in the industry, but there are also a lot of wine growing areas in the rest of the world which are suffering. In some part of California, for example, it is not just too hot to grow grapes.”
Mr Bowen said the wash-out summer of 2012 had resulted in the vineyard being able to produce just 4,000 bottles of wine. However, this year’s wonderfully sunny weather meant they were on course to produce an astonishing 60,000 bottles.
Sam Lindo, wine maker at Camel Valley Vineyard said it was a complicated picture which he hoped the study would provide some answers to.
“Here at Camel Valley we have seen things warming up since we started in 1989 and winemaking would simply not have been possible in Cornwall in the Fifties and Sixties.”
He added: “The changeable weather means our yields fluctuate considerably year on year. This research could give us important data to inform our practices and help us deliver more reliable yields.”
Ilya Maclean, of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI), said it wanted to find practical answers for a growing industry.
“While many assume warmer weather will benefit vineyards, climate change goes hand in hand with more unpredictability. Wine makers have the challenge of cultivating a crop that is highly sensitive to changes in weather – frost at the wrong time can kill a crop and can be devastating to a business.”
Internationally recognised viticultural scientist and expert Richard Smart, of Newlyn, will be involved in the research, having recently completed a similar study in Tasmania, Australia.
Previously, ESI researchers have analysed daily weather data to develop detailed projections of microclimates across Cornwall and assess the likely impacts on wildlife.
This is now extending to agriculture, and specifically to vineyards, which are recognised as being particularly climatically sensitive.
He said: “In cooler climates like the UK, the most important decision to be made about a vineyard is where to plant it, as the climate there will determine future performance, and profitability. Vineyard site selection is king.”
This study will reveal what climate change could mean for vineyards and how they could tailor their practices in response to new weather conditions.
This could mean, for example, using different pruning systems or growing crops to the optimum height for local temperatures.
Researcher Jonathan Mosedale added: “Vineyards are a major long-term investment and would benefit from a better understanding of the risks and opportunities that climate change presents. It is essential for us as researchers to understand the challenges that winemakers face here in Cornwall and the skills and resources that would allow vineyards to prosper under future climate conditions.”
Wine makers in Cornwall can get involved in the study by contacting Jonathan Mosedale at J.Mosedale@exeter.ac.uk