Linda Johnson-Bell

Linda Johnson-Bell

The Wine and Climate Change Institute

Title: Water into wine: Irrigation in viticulture


L.J. Johnson-Bell has been an expert wine critic, judge and author for 25 years. She has a BA in Political Sciences from Scripps College, California, and diplomas from le SciencesPo, l’Université de Paris IV la Sorbonne, l’Université de Nice and post-graduate diplomas in Law from Oxford Brookes and the University of Oxford’s OXILP. She is CEO and founder of the newly-formed Wine and Climate Change Institute, an Associate / Viticulture Resilience Expert with the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership, and she is co-producing the TV documentary based on her most recent book Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World.


When vitisvinifera is grown outside its indigenous regions, irrigation is necessary. 99% of the water used in wine-making is for irrigation. In fact, irrigation is viticulture’s number one Adaptation ally, whilst it is Mitigation’s number one foe. Climatologists love wine. The grapeis the crop most susceptible to changes in climate, and its migration patterns serve as models for future climate scenarios. The Water Footprint Network reports that it takes 29 gallons (131 litres) of water for a glass of wine (comprising blue, green and grey waters). This calculation would have taken into account the type and frequency of irrigation, planting density, type of rootstock, trellising style, soil properties, varietal and a vineyard’s temperatures, wind and sun exposure. It is interesting then, that this thirsty $30 billion international industry and its water crisis has not come into more focus. An agricultural crop like any other, wine grapes rarely feature in discussions of water competition when in fact, there are regions where local water licenses are allocated to wineries rather than to agricultural crops and livestock. With more erratic harvest conditions existing within increasing temperatures (weather vs climate), the majority of the world’s viticulturists are under threat from drought. This presentation is concerned with investigating the comparative use of blue water (irrigation) amongst the principal wine regions: techniques employed; resulting yield ratios (on average, irrigated yields are larger than rain-fed yields which can skewer the footprint calculation); and examines the industry’s adaption methods in the context of EU appellation policy.