Writing the Climate

This article is one of schizophrenia, tackling the seemingly unrelated topics of wine-writing and climate change. Du Toitskloof Wines launched its own Wine Writer of the Year Competition on July 5th. The topic chosen was “The consequences of climate change for the South African Wine Industry.” Someone decried over Twitter that the subject matter was dry. Correct sir, reduced rainfall and excessive heat is very dry indeed.

 

Summer heat waves becoming unbearable & destructive
Summer heat waves becoming unbearable & destructive

I understand what he meant.  However it became clear, few urbanites realise how bad things could get by 2050. Some city-dwellers only realise the impact the climate has on them, when the municipal taps run dry and agricultural produce prices skyrocket. Few realise this topic is the biggest long-term concern for the industry. Short-term issues like land-tenure legislation and labour relations weigh heavily on the minds of the wine industry; but no other issue could cause a literal viticultural apocalypse, like the aforementioned.

Du Toitskloof wants to be associated with sustainable agri-business practices, hence being a proud FairTrade member. Being associated with creative talent giving the industry and wine-consumer perspectives on all-that-is-wine, is another passion. Thus, we’ve created the perfect marriage of topic and project in Wine Writer of the Year.

Many wine-educated people know basics like: Pinot noir prefers cooler regions than Pinotage does. However, what we need to know in the South African Wine Industry is: what will happen twenty to thirty years from now? How will the weather patterns change? Where will vines still be grown and where not? Will Pinot noir still thrive in coastal areas, or will our future climate render it impossible? Will interior districts still be able make quality Sauvignon blanc? The biggest question: Will we still have seasons and enough water?

Whether we like it or not, grapes are Vitis vinifera, a deciduous vine species endemic to Europe and Asia-Minor, originally found from Morocco and Portugal in the south, to Germany in the north and northern Iran in the east. This area has seasons, its nominate climate is wet and cool winters (with snow in the north of the range) and drier, warm summers. If Vitis vinifera loses its seasons, it cannot thrive. It’s a deciduous plant: no winter, no fruit and like all things, no water… death!

South Africa’s wine regions are particularly vulnerable. Situated precariously around 34°South at the mild tip of an otherwise, very hot continent. There isn’t anywhere to go, but into the Southern Ocean, and Vitis vinifera and kelp are not good companion plants. Unlike Europe, South America or even Australia, there isn’t any land further from the equator to migrate towards. Basically, climate change could force the winter-providing, rain-laden cold fronts south of the continent, as the sub-tropical high pressure system strengthens and moves poleward. If this happens, is the gig up? Does the Cape’s favourable Mediterranean Climate cease to exist and become sub-tropical semi-arid? If it does happen, how long do we have left?

Already, snow levels are rising annually, rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, summer heat-waves are getting unbearable and heat-incursions into mid-winter are becoming commonplace. Autumnal colour-change and leaf-drop is becoming more erratic and dull and early-budding more problematic.

This is where the wine writers will be of extreme value. Many of these questions have not been answered. Much of the science, the climatic analysis and agriculture economics have not yet been fused into a cohesive whole, for easy digestion by the South African Wine Industry. The industry can see things are changing, but few answers or insights are forthcoming on this hot-potato topic.

Du Toitskloof has turned up the metaphorical heat on South Africa’s scribing talent. We trust we’ll get some takers and they’ll provide us with some sorely needed knowledge on this “hot” topic. The goal is fostering creative talent and becoming a custodian of knowledge. R30,000 is one small step for wine writers and one giant leap for an industry seeking answers to such a grave concern.

By: Andres de Wet

Wine Writers’ Competition details, log on to: http://www.dutoitskloof.com/pagelist.aspx?CLIENTID=1088&Type=Wine%20Writers&Title=WINE%20WRITERS%20COMPETITION

Lowest Common Denominator Wine Legislation

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Computer mock-up of Penfolds label courtesy AdelaideNow: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au

Alcohol advertising has been prohibited in several countries in the last decade. Last month, Australian health lobbyists took matters a step further, demanding graphic health warnings on the front labels of all alcoholic beverages, from spirits and beer to even their genteel ‘lifestyle’ cousin, wine.

In AdelaideNow, prime print media for South Australia’s capital, the rhetoric went thus, “The campaign, led by a range of vocal groups including National Alliance for Action Against Alcohol, the Alcohol Policy Coalition, Vic Health and the Cancer Council of Victoria, has targeted a range of products from beer, spirits, mixers and wine in its aim to combat public health hazards resulting from risky drinking practices.”

I’m certain the Barossa and Clare valleys are in a complete tailspin about these manoeuvres in Australia, thus I find myself weighing in on the debate as their southern hemisphere cousin.

Nobody can deny that alcohol abuse is a scourge. Nobody can deny that irresponsible consumption can lead to health and social problems. Nobody can deny that anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you. Why then, the target painted on the back of the alcohol industry? Same reason why the so-called sin taxes always increase, irrespective of the budget tabled: it is an easy target for tax hikes, public ire and zealous health lobbyists.

It’s easy to label any industry, associated with the production of a non-essential product, as unnecessary, a luxury, or in the case of alcohol, downright socially destructive. Then I pose the question to all sane-minded people, going back to, anything not done in moderation is usually bad for you: Are we to have graphic warnings of hardening arteries and people unable to escape the confines of their bed-prisons on BigMac burger packaging? Are we to have graphic warnings of rotting teeth on Coca-Cola cans? Are we to have graphic pictures on sweet-packets of removed digits and dead-tissue due to diabetes? Do we need provocative warnings on mens’ magazines such as Playboy and FHM of herpes and other STD infections? With debt being the greatest issue in the Western world, should we not have warnings on credit cards?

The point is, in a healthy democracy, the common denominator determines the public need, not the lowest common denominator. In a democracy, the right of the layperson is paramount, the rights of the careless minority, secondary. When this unwritten rule is disregarded, you create a nanny-state. A de facto over-legislated and heavily policed society is created, where freedoms of the many are curtailed, because of the irresponsibility or carelessness of the few.

Would-be alcohol abusers would not be put off by a warning or even graphic imagery. Extreme abuse is an illness, an addiction, something that must be treated clinically and psychologically. Would-be abusers don’t do so, because the bottle looks attractive. They do so, because societal or personal pressures trump their own inherent education about the perils of abuse. Education is the answer; social programmes in badly affected communities are the answer, not defacing brands.

In fact, in the South African context, it is not the branded wines which cause the social ills associated with alcoholism. It is the bulk wine sold by the litre, in nondescript plastic containers. If anything, one should aim to formalise distribution and pack quantities, to curtail the misuse of the product in bulk by individuals, in addition to public education.

Wine in particular is a lifestyle product. Wine is supposed to be a romantic affair, paired with friends, family and excellent food. To degrade a millennia-old product of the vine, the nectar of the gods, to the level of a scapegoat for social ills, seems blatantly reactionary.  This is not to deny that abuse of the product can become barbaric. However, a certain type of person becomes an addict; a certain type of beverage does not an addict make.

I hate to place the wine-label debate in a religious context. At the same time, no other story can illustrate what is being said more clearly than the following: When Jesus multiplied the bread and fishes, when He turned water into wine, I doubt he intended anyone to eat two fishes and three loaves of bread in one sitting. I doubt He wanted anyone to be morbidly obese and develop heart-disease and diabetes. Just as I doubt He wanted anyone to consume three bottles of wine in one sitting. Therein lies the point, even the most righteous of things can become an evil if abused.

Everything in moderation! May sanity prevail; seeking responsible consumption and sales, public education and enlightenment, rather than a convenient scapegoat panacea for legislative zealots.

Away From Glass

DuToitskloof-Fairtrade 75cl TetraPak wines

I am definitely a wine traditionalist. Nobody can deny the joys of sitting in a gorgeous setting, preferably on a Cape wine estate, pulling the cork out of an elegant bottle, hearing the pop sound followed by the aroma of a stunning nose reaching for oxygen for the very first time. There is nothing like the cork and bottle combination that screams wine sophistication and I’m a sucker for the elegantly-wasted.

However, times are a-changin’ and those who do not follow trends are relegated to the trash-heap of formally glorious brand names, like a viticultural Pan Am. The latest wine-spawn of the ever forward-thinking DuToitskloof Cellar is wine-in-a-box. However, I’m not referring to those now famous three litre boxes, the ones that Constantia house-wives hide in their fridge. I’m talking about their new United Kingdom venture with Waitrose and importers, Raisin Social.

This is a 750ml bottle of wine in a Tetra Pak. You know what this packaging looks like, even though its name may be unfamiliar, the concept definitely is not. Many a trip to Pick ‘n Pay, Tesco or Publix is dominated by Tetra Pak items from milk to juice to even olive oil, so why not wine? After all, who’s 2012 Best Value for Money Cellar? Would we not expect them to find ways of saving on packaging costs to bring the consumer wine at the best prices possible?

“You wine heathen,” I can hear people scream, the vitirati would be appalled and would not be caught dead pouring out of such a low-class contraption. Is there method in DuToitskloof’s madness, is there a glimmer of genius in this blatant anti-traditionalist move?

Fairtrade in the UK is big business and DuToitskloof being as big a Fairtrade project as it is, bringing the cellar’s name and its responsible production partner together in one package, can only benefit the brand.

Glastonbury Festival and Hyde Park concerts are synonymous with this island nation. The Brits love to get out into an open field and have a party, once cloud cover is down to only seventy percent and temperatures soar to a searing 18°C. This is a market that is hostile to the bottle. No glass on the grass, please!

We are British, so also do it green, please. Unlike China, Europe and the UK actually realises that earth’s resources are finite and they actually sign climate accords. Tetra Pak constitutes only four percent of the net product weight, versus forty percent for glass. It’s fully recyclable, can be easily compacted when disposed of, transports more efficiently and takes up less storage space. It ticks all the right tree-hugger boxes, but fails in the, “May I open that for you, monsieur,” department. Not to mention the responsible producer guarantee that comes with the Fairtrade stamp. Unlike China, Fairtrade labour is… well, you get the point!

However, when it’s somewhat sunny, does the UK huddle up indoors or at restaurants? Or does the isle spend time outdoors, sucking up the northern summer for what little it provides. This is the lifestyle DuToitskloof-Fairtrade 75cl Tetra Pak aims to become part of. Bringing wine to the wine drinker where bottle openers, glass and heavy weight is a liability; think a picnic overlooking a glorious sunset with a Cabernet-Merlot or drinking a chilled Chenin-Sauvignon styled white under a waterfall. Now, that’s living life and enjoying life is what the wine lifestyle is all about. So, maybe DuToitskloof is not so insane after all.