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

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