I always seem to find myself in the unfortunate position of punting a Climate Change agenda in the coldest time of the year. This gains me little traction with the Cape-majority, begging for the onset of spring. Being in the minority as a winter-person, who relishes the cool, green, freshness of the June to September season, writing this remains critical, as winter only lasts so long and our summers have become vicious indeed.
With the Wine Writer of the Year competition deadline looming on the 27th of September at 16:00 SAST, it is critical to explore this subject one last time. It’s implications are R30,000 for the winning scribe, but millions, if not billions of rands for South African viticulture.
With the Cape winter entering its final month, it gives us time to reflect on the rainy season up until now. Our region is currently on 75% of its annual precipitation. With additional rainfall anticipated for August, we should be able to attain, at or near, average rainfall this year. What we have critically lacked, is cold-days and mountain snowfall. On both counts, this winter has been both erratic and downright dangerously below-average.
Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve in Ceres must be as frustrated is all hell. With no 1,000m snow events for years, it must be harming their winter tourism, not to mention their adjacent cherry farm crop. These snow events used to be a once or twice a season occurrence. This seldom happens anymore. However, does this impact viticulture? Absolutely! If you want to see a wine-farmer freak out, simply see vines trying to bud-break in early-August. This is exactly what we noticed this year, after an unseasonable hot couple of weeks the heart of winter, from late-July to early-August.
The cold, wet and windy weather did return. Albeit not critical at this point, early budding can cause the industry to lose their entire crop. An early-budding event, coupled with late frost and/or a powerful cold front with damaging winds can decimate the delicate grape flowers. The aberrance of the weather can wreak havoc with the industry.
Many urban-dwellers lament the constant cold and rain in the Cape. However, even at my youthful age, I can remember winters of yore, when the sun failed to shine for two-weeks, snow fell habitually on the lower peaks and rain fell almost non-stop. This was the normal Cape winter. What we experience now is a product of human-induced Climate Change. The winter we have today is downright subtropical compared to 20-years ago, never mind in the days of the grandparents.
There are always those who question the human-induced charge, some even debunking change in the climate is even happening. So, let’s look at a nightclub. When the club is empty and the air-conditioner is on, it’s positively frigid. Now pack it with people going ape till all hours of the morning and pretty soon, it is indoor tropical and unpleasantly sticky: Earth, 1800AD, 950-million humans living meagerly; Earth today, 7-billion humans going bananas and still growing. This is case-in-point! The atmosphere is a closed system.
There is simply no logic in the assertion that this unprecedented species-population-explosion would have no impact. Even less logically, when that species is sentient, can terraform thousands of square kilometers in one swoop and that this species loves to “belch” carbon dioxide.
If there’s any doubt that the Wine Writer of the Year competition doesn’t mean the world to us as a climate-sensitive industry, the aforementioned should dispel that. The insights that will be revealed, when the articles are released on the 30th of November, will be an invaluable source of information and may even inform how South African viticulture prepares itself for 2050.