Global Warming Wine Warning

Molenaars River – Slanghoek Peak and Slanghoek Needle with snow, seems to be diminishing each year.

Perhaps I should have written this is summer. It becomes almost impossible to punt a climate change agenda when most people are pining for the sunny days of braais and pools to return. However, I chose winter for one reason: we lose it, we lose the crop and you lose your wine.  Winter is arguably our most critical season as it provides the majority of wine-growing regions worldwide with that one thing nothing can live without, water.

Grapes are a Mediterranean crop, this means it thrives best in a Mediterranean Climate, characterised by balmy, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Arguably, the Mediterranean Climate is the most pleasant climate-type worldwide; being neither too cold, nor too warm, being neither too humid, nor too arid, neither frost-prone or snowy. It is situated within the climate sweet spot between the subtropics and the cooler temperate latitudes, between hot deserts and wetter maritime climates. This places these areas at greatest risk due to climate change. Laying in such a precarious sweet spotmeans that any minor global temperature increase can cause the sweet spot to move poleward, leaving that area arid, hot and starved of vital winter precipitation.

It is something that worries innumerable wine producers. We are the first to notice minor changes to weather patterns. A city-dweller’s livelihood is not directly related to what the troposphere is doing, so it’s understandable that many are not aware of these changes. Trust us, they’re happening and they’re worrisome indeed.  The canary in the coal mine is mountain snowfall and it is drastically deceasing year-on-year.

Many people are excited by the prospect of warm winter days.We are not, by any means, pleased by it. Yes, we enjoy breaks in the rain and cold, same as anyone, but when it carries on for weeks, our level of anxiety rises precipitously. Urbanites may chastise the weather every time it bestows its winter best on the Cape, but remember where your water, food and drink comes from. Without those July tempests, your grocery bill will skyrocket and taps in the summer will run dry.

What would climate change do to the local wine industry? First and foremost, summer drought reaches critical levels, thereby affecting the ability to irrigate the vines, reducing yields, causing intolerable stress to the vineyards and causing significant reduction in crop-yields. Secondly, winters become warmer, negatively impacting the ability of the vines to enter their period of dormancy. This reduces the next season’s yield and makes for an unsustainable annual growth cycle. Already, producers are struggling to get vines pruned before budding begins. Premature budding results in heightened crop damage risk, as early-Spring storm and wind events damage the delicate shoots. Thirdly, summers simply become too hot. This exacerbates evaporative losses worsening drought conditions and intensified heat-waves literally turn plump, flavourful grape berries to raisins, directly on the vines.

This all means the consumer pays more for less. Overstressed vines do not produce quality fruit which means a lower quality product in the bottle. Successive lower crop-yields and failed harvests mean one of two things: producers either go bust, or wine prices skyrocket.

All these eventualities are not yet reality, but if trends continue unabated, it will come to fruition. So what can we do? Firstly, be thankful for those irritating rainy winter days, we don’t know how long they will last. Secondly, do what you can to reduce your carbon-footprint, either through driving more efficient vehicles, using public-transit where possible, conserving energy and recycling. Thirdly, buy sustainable products; either FairTrade, IPW or Biodiversity & Wine Initiative accredited wines.

We cannot curtail climate change alone and neither can you, however, if we all do a little, we have a massive collective impact. Help us to continue to farm so you can continue to get great wines at great prices: be a buddy to the Earth.

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