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Sip your way to a warmer world: Global Warming Your Wine

September 2nd, 2009 · 2 Comments

A repost, with some minor changes, from something published a few years ago as I sip my way toward Labor Day …

Global Warming … some people, when praising the positive impact of Global Warming or by arguing that the warming is not out of line with history, will begin speaking about English wine production in the 12th Century. Others speak, with great concern, about how their favorite vintage is threatened. And, well, even though I love a great bottle of wine, it is has been hard to take this discussion seriously. Considering all the threats the globe faces, all the terrifying potential implications from Global Warming/the Climate Crisis, should we really care all that much about what goes into wine cellars?
Maybe, however, there are other ways to look at the wine industry and Global Warming. Perhaps it isn’t just about swirling glasses in the Lives of the Rich and Famous, with chatting about ‘nose’ and ‘legs’ and …

Can the wine industry tell us something more about Global Warming?

However, there are several other ways to consider this.

First, this is a ‘canary in the coalmine’ issue that will capture the attention of some people, some potentially powerful people, who might change their attitudes about global warming while tasting the latest Bourdeaux reds.

Second is how the wine making industry provides a quite important window on the changes the globe is going through. And a window that provides a story both comprehensible and compelling … the sort of thing that can end up on the front page of the newspaper, as it recently did in The Washington Post.

A top Washington Post journalist, Molly Moore, had a front-page story a few years ago, In Northern France, Warming Presses Fall Grape Harvest Into Summertime:

On a cobweb-encrusted rafter above his giant steel grape pressers, Rene Mure is charting one of the world’s most tangible barometers of global warming.

The evidence, scrawled in black ink, is the first day of the annual grape harvest for the past three decades. In 1978, it was Oct. 16. In 1998, the date was Sept. 14. This year, harvesting started Aug. 24 — the earliest ever recorded, not only in Mur?’s vineyards, but also in the entire Alsace wine district of northeastern France.

Wine making is a profession (an art) with many traditions and, well, a long memory. Many vineyards, like this one, have extensive records about the history of their wine, as to what grape, health of vines, rain, quality of wine, and, well, the harvest date. As per Moore,

Scientists and vintners say wine grapes are the best agricultural measure of climate change because of their extraordinary sensitivity to weather and the meticulous data that have been kept concerning the long-lived vines.

Canary in the coal mine? Perhaps, in part, because this is a canary we’ve been watching a long time. A canary that is sensitive to change. And, due to the financial (and other) implications, a canary where change is noticed … and noticed with concern.

And, well, there are those who take it quite seriously.

“The link of wine to global warming is unique because the quality of wine is very dependent on the climate,” said Bernard Seguin, an authority on the impact of global warming and viniculture at the French National Agronomy Institute. “For me, it is the ultimate expression of the consequences of climate change.”

“The ultimate expression of the consequences …” Not droughts. Not increasing storm intensity. Not rising seas. But, that the French wine industry will be forced to change (or die) …

Much of the article provides an insightful look at how the growers (and the entire French wine industry) are facing this challenge. Can sugar be added to the wine? Will the “system” allow growers to start cultivating new grape varieties from other regions in time to deal with the changing climate? Thus, a clear example of the mixed natural, scientific, and cultural norm challenges in seeking to adapt to/cope with Global Warming driven climate change. Will the cultural/legal system allow scientific knowledge to be applied to deal with nature’s rhythym in dealing with climate change when it comes to the vineyards of France.

Mure is discovering that the regimentation of the French wine production system that has allowed climate change to be documented so accurately is now threatening to undermine the very industry it was designed to protect. … Scientists warn that climate change is advancing too rapidly for the cumbersome French wine bureaucracy.

This article, to a certain extent, broke my cynism about articles re wine and Global Warming. No, I am not in line with Sequin, wine’s quality is not the “ultimate expression” of the risks, implications, and “consequences of climate change”. But, the wine industry provides a valuable window into the reality and a window that people not necessarily attuned to fighting for a different future might look through.

From this article, as above, key points included that quality of documented history and conclusive way of showing climate change. And, as well, a quite clear example of the basic human issues that will inhibit dealing with climate change’s impacts (e.g., the collision between French bureaucracy’s traditional approach to wine making and the need for new grapes and new approaches).

And, well, what was impressive is what is not included as well. The article is about the clarity of information about a changing world and the wine industry’s challenges of dealing with that change. Not a word, an indication of how any of the wineries might seek to be changing their own activities to reduce their own Global Warming footprints.

Well, let us be clear, it is not only French wines that are threatened … it is Global Warming and a Global Climate Crisis after all.

Australia’s dry threatens wine drought discusses how Australia’s wine industry might have hit its peak and be headed toward decline due to weather change.

California’s wine industry is at risk “Rising temperatures could transform Wine Country’s mild climate into one as sweltering as Tijuana, Mexico, eliminating Sonoma and Napa counties’ competitive edge in producing world-class wines.” This according to the National Academy of Science. See this as well.

Here is an interesting piece examining 27 wine regions worldwide via the lens of Global Warming.

The basic point out of these: wine is a harbinger of change, expect the wine to change … and, well, what does that suggest about everything else?

This canary is diseased … being forced to radical change to cope with change … what does that portend for the rest of agriculture? For the ecosystem?

Tags: Energy

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