jamie goode's wine blog: More on global warming

Monday, February 05, 2007

More on global warming

I've been thinking more about global warming. Some thoughts:

The data do seem to suggest that there has been a rise in temperatures in wine regions over the last 50 years. That much is uncontroversial.

See here, here and here for examples.

There's also the survey by French researcher Isabelle Chiune and here colleagues that was published in Nature in 2004. They used historical records of the grape-harvest dates in Burgundy to reconstruct spring–summer temperatures from 1370 to 2003. They found two particularly warm decades, in the 1380s and 1420s, followed by a series of warm decades in the 1520s, 1630s and 1680s. After this a long cooling phase began, which commenced with a cold snap in the 1750s, lasting until the 1970s.

Winemakers I have polled on the topic share a common concern about the impact of climate change.

‘I think there is no question about global warming,’ says Michael Moosbrugger of Schloss Gobelsburg in Austria’s Langenlois. ‘We see it in our documentation about the flowering dates of the past decades. If we take the average, then we can recognize the warming effect. On the other hand, we still have cool (1996, 2001, 2004) medium (1998, 1999, 2002, 2005) and hot years (1997, 2000, 2003).’ Moosbrugger adds that, ‘The prospect is that in the future we will see more warm years then cool years. So how do we react on that? At the moment not at all. I guess one effect would be that in generall we would slowly become a red wine growing area, for which we would be prepared as we already are growing Pinot and St. Laurent. For vine managment we have to be flexible anyway, as we have to react on the situation of every vintage individually. For the future it also means that we will also look for vineyards that are cooler and higher located in the hills.’

'Climate change is strongly factored in all I am planning’, says Australian wine scientist and winemaker Brian Croser. ‘From Tapanappa’s view point I have a rule, which is not further than 30 km from the coast, not lower than 300 m and not less than 900 mm of annual rainfall.’

‘I’ve been concerned about climate change for more than 20 years,’ says Clare Valley vigneron Jeffrey Grosset, ‘and Gaia Vineyard stands as a somewhat meagre initiative to not only offset the impact temporarily, but was also established from a personal wish that it could, in some small way, raise people’s awareness of the sensitivity of grape quality to the most subtle changes in climate, as is the case with most living things.’ Grosset adds that. ‘The loss of species on earth is of course just making this all so much worse, and the description “self mutilation” best sums up the impact on us, and other living things.’

‘I am a true believer’, said New Zealand winemaker Steve Smith when I asked him about global warming. ‘It will have a significant effect on us and on winegrowing around the world, the only issue is when and by how much.’ Smith adds that, ‘Whether we are experiencing the effects of it now is debatable. However, in my view the weather patterns seem to be more dramatic. Ironically it seems that frost is playing a bigger part with the warmer early spring pushing earlier bud burst yet we are still exposed to the polar fronts that come through and dump late snow and therefore increase frost risk on buds that have burst quite early.’ For various reasons Smith feels that New Zealand will suffer less from the effects of global warming than many other regions, chiefly because it has plenty of room to move south to cooler areas, and because rises in temperature may well make viticulture easier in established regions.

As well as changing temperatures, though, we may have increased frequency of dramatic or unpredictable weather events. This would make viticulture much more risky.

It has taken a long time for winegrowers to work out which grapes grow best where - a prerequisite for fine wine production. It's not always easy to work this out theoretically.

If there is a human contribution to global warming, then we owe it to our children (perhaps even ourselves) to take the financial it that comes with dealing with it. In fact, the only justification for doing nothing is if we are sure that the well documented trends of warming are not a result of human activity, but merely reflect a natural cycle. If we don't act, there is at least a chance of catastrophe, and for any commentators to deliberately argue a political line against global warming not based on good evidence, either through unconscious confirmation bias or financial motivations is, in my book, a grave evil. Even if you are a sceptic, it must be better to err on the side of caution.



At 7:42 AM, Blogger Cru Master said...

harvest has come very early for the wine farms here in South Africa - affecting mainly the warmer regions like stellenbosch. Elgin on the other hand is a lot cooler and the development of the grapes there are markedly behind those of the stellenbosch region!

In the future this could make the cooler Elgin a lot more popular.

At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is nice to read the noble concerns expressed by wine makers regarding green house gases and wildlife loss. It would be excellent to see them actually translate this theory to practice and utilise new non-tainting cork technology rather then aluminium and plastic closures. WWF, the serious wildlife organisation with the panda bear logo, has urged wine makers to continue using cork because of the negative impact plastic and aluminium closures will have on the 2 million hectare Mediterranean oak forrests and wild life. This is not some cork industry stooge, check out their website.

The aluminium in a screwcap releases carbon dioxide to produce. Cork and the oak forests absorb carbon dioxide, stabilise the climate and provide a home for wild life. Some of these new cork technologies apparently work better than screwcap and plastic. Using non-tainting cork is a no-brainer.

At 8:02 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

I was in Australia two weeks ago, watching cricket in Adelaide amongst other activities, and visited Penfolds Magill Estate.

They told me that harvest date for the Magill vineyard had been set down for today, 7 February. I asked whether this was particularly early. Apparently this is two weeks ahead of other, recent "early" vintages.

As for the anonymous poster re. the "new non-tainting cork technology", I wonder if you can explain your comments regarding aluminium production. Here in my country, aluminium is smelted using renewable energy (from the Manapouri Power Station). The irony for us, however, is that our screwcap manufacturers have to source cap grade alumnium sheets from Australia, so the metal has to make a couple of journeys across the Tasman in a cargo vessel...

I am interested in the total environmental impacts of various closures and have asked various closure manufacturers whether they have comprehensive environmental management plans. Surprisingly few do. But this is clearly an issue which is going to become more and more important in years to come.

Jamie - do you have any leads on glass manufacturers in Europe and their environmental performance? In this part of the world many have been a bit slow to up their usage of recycled glass and improve furnace performance with energy savings.


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Richard & Catherine said...

I wonder whether there's a market advantage in a brand (or brands) going with some sort of "environmentally friendly" wine logo - as opposed to the "organic" tag currently in vogue? Wonder what standards you'd set - with regard to above comments about closures, bottle etc? :o)

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A rose by any other name... This is not a PR company employing viral marketing using fake people to invade blogs with spin. I am the next generation trying to make a difference and I don't need a name. The truth is in my face, a devastating environmental mess because the greedy generation before thoughtlessly exploited every short cut to make faster and cheaper things that nature does with more time and less energy. We have survived thousands of years working with nature and we could ourselves be extinct in 100 years working with technology and greed.

Aluminium like other materials can be recycled but recycling is not 100%. There is always a large fraction that needs to be topped up with virgin aluminium. If this was not the case there would be no mines. Virgin aluminium must be converted from bauxite using carbon and massive amounts of energy. Carbon is oxidized to carbon dioxide and the alumina is reduced to aluminium metal. There are certain things that are best made out of aluminium, but we don’t have to clad the whole world in it. It is produced in Australia for most of the world because of the coal derived electricity purchased extremely cheaply on long term contracts. (The electricity would not be cheap if the environmental impact of burning coal had to be paid for and this is where the politics begins and why R Parker won't touch these subjects).

I know a lot of NZ winemakers have been hurt by the cork middle men but there is no need to destroy an entire ecosystem to get back at them.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Adrianne said...

Thank you for posting and sharing this with us. I think it is an important issue that affects the wine industry in countless ways, even if we don't know precisely to what extent it does. I am very interested in environmental issues from a citizen standpoint, a student standpoint (once upon a time, I almost received my degree on the subject), and as a lover of wine.


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