Risk Management in the Grape and Wine Industry

Climate change presents several opportunities and risks for Canada’s agricultural sector. The success of agriculture from year to year is also reliant on several non-climatic factors, such as global economic markets, supply chains, and institutional support. Farmers make decisions based on several factors and being aware of changing trends can promote a risk-aware agricultural sector.

Credits Research and writing: Taylor Livingston, Author; Collaborators: Tim Lynam, Timothy Webster, Kyla Milne, Elaine Barrow, Anne Blondlot, Steven Sobie, Christiane Allen


Canada’s agricultural sector will be affected by a changing climate in numerous ways. Changes in the growing season, extreme events, and warmer temperatures will affect which crops can be grown where. The AgriRisk project of Nova Scotia incorporated climate projection data into a suite of mapping and decision support tools to support a risk-aware grape and wine industry.


Warmer conditions and more frequent extreme events will affect land suitability and will change growing conditions from those experienced in the past3. Opportunities include a longer growing season, milder winters, and the ability to introduce new crops4. Risks include the introduction of, or greater persistence of, pests and diseases and more frequent extreme weather events5,6. While climatic factors play a major role in the suitability of land for agriculture, other factors, such as soil type and topography, are also important5,6.

Impacts for Canada’s Grape and Wine Industry

As of 2015, Canada’s wine and grape industry contributed $9.04 billion to the Canadian economy, with Nova Scotia contributing $218,411,000 in economic impact9. Canada’s wine and grape production occurs in southern regions, as wine production in northern parts of the world is generally limited to climates found in the 30° and 50° latitudinal range10.

Figure 1: Locations of Canadian wine regions

Canada’s grape growing regions include Nova Scotia and southern portions of Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia.

Source: Vineyards Media LLC. 2020. Wine map of Canada. https://vineyards.com/wine-map/canada

Especially in the cooler regions of Canada, the number of Growing Degree Days and cold winters, which risk damaging  grape vines, are limiting factors for growing grapes10,11. Cold-hardy, short season hybrid grape varieties, such as L’Acadie and Baco Noir, are more common in Nova Scotia than Vitis viniferas varieties, which require more heat units and a longer growing season12,13.

Table 1: Thresholds for determining climate suitability for grape growing

Critical climate indices for wine grape growing and references to similar climate indices on Climate Data. Thresholds provide an indicator of whether the climate is suitable for growing grapes. “Very good” thresholds may permit Vitis viniferas varieties and “moderate” thresholds may provide conditions suitable for hybrid grape varieties.

Adapted from: Roy, P., Grenier, P., Barriault, E., Logan, T., Blondlot, A., Bourgeois, G., & Chaumont, D. 2017. Probabilistic climate change scenarios for viticultural potential in Québec. Climatic Change, 143: 43-58. doi: 10.1007/s10584-017-1960-x

Warmer temperatures due to climate change may provide suitable conditions (see Table 1) to allow for the introduction of higher quality Vitis viniferas varieties, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay13. However, warmer temperatures also pose new risks, such as increased heat stress and diseases such as powdery mildew, when combined with humid conditions11.

Figure 2: Projected changes in Growing Degree Days (10°C) and Frost-Free Season for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Evolution of Growing Degree Days (10°C) (top) and frost-free season (bottom) for Halifax, from 1950-2100, simulated by the 24 climate model ensemble in the BCCAQv2 dataset. Bold lines represent the median values and the 10th to 90th percentile range for each RCP is represented by coloured shading.

Climate projections for Nova Scotia indicate a substantial increase in Growing Degree Days (10˚C) and a longer frost-free season under climate change. For Nova Scotia in the 1981-2010 period, the median value for Growing Degree Days (10°C) was 861 degree days, and the 10th and 90th percentile values were 818 and 879 degree days. Under RCP 8.5, these values are projected to increase to a median of 1115 degree days, and 10th and 90th percentile values of 1001 and 1254 degree days by 2021-50. Following the thresholds outlined in Table 1, this projected increase would shift the climatic suitability for grape growing from “unsuitable” to “good” for Growing Degree Days (10°C).

To better inform the grape and wine sector, the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA) developed the AgriRisk project which aimed to support decision making and resilience building in the province’s grape growing sector. The AgriRisk project developed several tools which pair information on the evolution of critical climate indices with other information relevant for decision making8.

Adaptation Strategies

Adapting to climate change may include irrigation, integrated pest management, earlier harvest dates, and crop insurance as well as introducing warmer weather grape varieties and expanding grape growing into previously unsuitable regions11,14. Climate data can inform adaptation, by providing information to the sector regarding the evolution of important climate indices.

As an outcome of the AgriRisk project, four Interactive Climate Tools were developed which allow users to explore the probability of certain climate indices exceeding specified values at different future time periods15. These tools map changes for Growing Degree Days (10˚C), frost-free days, days below -23°C, and days below -18°C, allowing stakeholders to assess changes specific to their region15.

The AgriRisk project currently has made these mapping tools available through its website (https://nsfa-fane.ca/projects/agririsk/) and a Web Viewer GIS tool is under development to incorporate further aspects of land suitability for grape growing6. Land suitability mapping indicated that the amount of land suitable for grape growing may decrease in 2035 due to projected changes in land use-zoning, followed by an increase by 2050 due to more favourable climate conditions.8

Figure 3: Suitability for wine grape growing throughout Nova Scotia

Wine grape suitability was calculated for Nova Scotia for 2018 and 2050, considering soil type, topography, changes in climate, and the availability of agricultural land. These maps signify the amount of land available for wine grape growing, where red indicates unsuitable land and green indicates the most suitable land.

Source: Robicheau, C., Webster, T., Daniel, A., Kristiansen, D. 2018. Mapping and Web-Enabling Nova Scotia’s Expanding Wine Grape Industry. 78 p. Applied Geomatics Research Group, NSCC Middleton, NS. https://nsfa-fane.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Mapping-and-Web-Enabling-Nova-Scotias-Expanding-Wine-Grape-Industry.pdf

The AgriRisk project also included information on wine sales and a statistical tool, which allow users to assess several factors which affect their operations in conjunction with future climate projections.8 The AgriRisk project provided tools for grape growers, wine producers, and retailers to explore how changes at different points in the value chain can create cascading risks14. The suite of tools developed through the AgriRisk project build resilience to climate change in Nova Scotia’s grape growing sector through a whole value chain approach and multi-faceted access to information about uncertainty, risks, and opportunities.

Key Takeaways

  • Climate change presents several risks and opportunities for the agricultural sector, including milder winters, a longer growing season, and increased heat stress.
  • Changes in the climate, including fewer very cold days, and increased frost-free days and growing degree days may allow for the introduction of warmer weather grape varieties and expansion of grape growing regions.
  • The AgriRisk project in Nova Scotia combined mapping of future climate variables and land suitability with wine sales information and statistical decision support tools. The AgriRisk project supported risk management for Nova Scotia’s grape and wine industry by combining climate change projections with other relevant information.


  1. Crawford, E. & Beveridge, R. 2013. Strengthening BC’s Agriculture Sector in the Face of Climate Change. 19 p. Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.  https://www.bcia.com/sites/default/files/imce/Documents/Reports/Strengthening%20BC’s%20Agriculture%20Sector_0.pdf
  2. Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA). 2018. Risk Proofing Nova Scotia’s Agriculture: A Risk Assessment System Pilot (AgriRisk). 16 p. https://nsfa-fane.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Final-Report-for-AgriRisk-project-English.pdf
  3. Campbell, I.D., Durant D.G., Hunter, K.L. and Hyatt, K.D. 2014. Food Production; in Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation, (ed.) F.J. Warren and D.S. Lemmen; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON, p. 99-134.
  4. Kulshreshtha, S. 2019. Resiliency of Prairie Agriculture to Climate Change. Chapter in Climate Change and Agriculture. doi: 10.5772/intechopen.87098
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2007. Adaptation to climate change in agriculture, forestry and fisheries: Perspective, framework and priorities. 24 p. http://www.fao.org/nr/climpag/pub/adaptation_to_climate_change_2007.pdf
  6. Bush, E. & Lemmen, D.S., eds. 2019. Canada’s Changing Climate Report. Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON. 444 p. www.ChangingClimate.ca/CCCR2019
  7. Gasser,  P.-Y., Smith, C.A.S., Brierley, J.A., Schut, P.H., Neilsen, D., & Kenney, E.A. 2016. The use of the land suitability rating system to assess climate change impacts on corn production in the lower Fraser Valley of British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Soil Science, 96:  256-269. doi: 10.1139/cjss-2015-0108.
  8. Robicheau, C., Webster, T., Daniel, A., Kristiansen, D. 2018. Mapping and Web-Enabling Nova Scotia’s Expanding Wine Grape Industry. 78 p. Applied Geomatics Research Group, NSCC Middleton, NS. https://nsfa-fane.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Mapping-and-Web-Enabling-Nova-Scotias-Expanding-Wine-Grape-Industry.pdf
  9. Rimerman, A.F. & Eyler, R. 2017. The Economic Impact of the Wine and Grape Industry in Canada 2015. 37 p. The Wine Business Center, St. Helena, California.
  10. Jones, N.K. 2012. The influence of recent climate change on wine regions in Quebec, Canada. Journal of Wine Research, 23(2): 103-113. doi: 10.1080/09571264.2012.678933
  11. Pickering, K., Plummer, R., Shaw, T., & Pickering, G. 2015. Assessing the adaptive capacity of the Ontario wine industry for climate change adaptation. International Journal of Wine Research, 6: 13-27. doi: 10.2147/IJWR.S73861
  12. Lewis, J. 2018. An Introduction to Grape Growing in Nova Scotia. Perennia. https://www.perennia.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/an-intro-to-grape-growing-in-ns.pdf
  13. Roy, P., Grenier, P., Barriault, E., Logan, T., Blondlot, A., Bourgeois, G., & Chaumont, D. 2017. Probabilistic climate change scenarios for viticultural potential in Québec. Climatic Change, 143: 43-58. doi: 10.1007/s10584-017-1960-x
  14. Lynam, T., Flannery, M., Burkhart, N., & Graham, J. 2018. AgriRisk: Grape and wine value chain risk scenarios workshop report. 33 p. https://nsfa-fane.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Scenarios-Workshops-Report.pdf
  15. Lynam, T. 2018. AgriRisk Climate and climate projection data: methods and overview of results. Reflecting Society. 39 p. https://nsfa-fane.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Climate-Data-Methods-and-Results.pdf