• Vianney Establet & Shiung Low

Winegrowers and Climate Calamity

A month ago, violent frost affected a lot of vineyards around France. Last year, bushfires in Australia and the US destroyed thousands of hectares of vines, amputating the ability of many winegrowers to produce wine for at least three years. Many wineries, including venerable mainstays, simply closed their doors forever as business simply became unviable.

The repercussions of such dramatic meteorological events are extremely dire for winemakers. It is devastating to lose so much production after putting in so much work and love into their vines, often their only source of income.

Winemakers in Europe have kept careful track of harvest dates for centuries, so we know historically exactly when grapes were ready to be picked for wine. This date has moved up dramatically in recent times as average temperatures have risen, so growing seasons are much shorter and grapes have to be picked weeks or even months earlier than they were in the past (if they even survive).

Global warming, or climate change, has been turned by unscrupulous politicians and vested interests into a hot-button political issue. For so many farmers however (and viticulture, at its heart, is agriculture – something many wine drinkers in cities forget), it is a simple reality, and has been for some time.

One can argue that the terms “global warming” and “climate change” are not impactful enough. Global Warming almost sounds gentle and nice, and Climate Change is misleading, as this phenomenon is not simply about a change in temperature, but also increasingly extreme and prolonged frost, drought, heatwaves and forest fires. These innocuous names are a legacy of their undramatic origins in academia and meteorological sciences.

However, if farmers across the globe had a hand in naming this phenomenon, it would probably be more along the lines of something like: Climate Calamity.

These events have reignited an old memory.

I (Vianney) grew up on a small vineyard in the countryside of South-West France (near the outskirts of the major Bordeaux wine region St. Émilion). I remember walking into the living room on a mid-April morning, ten or so years ago, and seeing my mother trembling as she looked out the window.

I asked her what was happening and she told me that a drastic change of temperature had occurred during the night that might have damaged our vines. She then told me that my father had gone into the vines to evaluate the damage. When he came back into the house he was livid and extremely agitated – the vines behind the house were frozen.

Even though I didn’t know much about wine at the time, it was obvious that it was a disaster.

After going around the vineyard we found that 70 percent of our vines had frozen, and those frozen vines would be unable to produce a single drop of wine for the year as the veraison (the start of the ripening process for the grape) would not occur.

V Wine Salon was set up as a social enterprise concerned with the intersection of climate and wine. We are passionate about helping independent winemakers most affected by Climate Calamity. We showcase their wines in our venues and are committed to write and create more content around this issue, including an upcoming series of video conversations with winemakers and, someday soon, a feature-length documentary.

We are also committed to financially supporting responsible winemakers and wineries as well as donating to climate change and food security organisations, and are especially keen to invest part of our profits in young winemakers starting in the trade to carry on the venerable tradition of creating wine, an age-old cultural and social touchstone that we love and want to preserve, well into the future.

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