2020 – Striking terroir into the wine industry?
At first glance, it would seem that the wine industry has much to be concerned about as we head into 2020. It seems that challenges come at the industry from all sides – the environment, the global market and associated regulations, and pressure from various movements to either give up or drastically curtail consumption of the beverage that, if you’re reading this, I assume you love as much as I do. So, is the picture really as bad as all this, and what can be realistically done, both by consumers and also Governments and the wine industry in general? Allow me to unpick the issues and humbly suggest some ways forward.
First, the situation in Australia. Bush fires, hotter temperatures year on year and continued environmental uncertainty can only mean bad news for the wine from the region, even as the PM Scott Morrison continues to plan to dig more and more coal from the ground. And it isn’t just Australia that is causing alarm bells to ring; think back a couple of years to the unprecedented drought in South Africa which caused such damage to the wine-rich Western Cape region. The world is heating up and it won’t stop any time soon – think of turning an oil tanker round, and you get some idea of the scale of the challenge, except magnified by about a hundred thousand times. Perhaps changing the flow of a glacier is a better metaphor. It is worth noting, however, that not all grape varieties find the increased heat and reduced availability of water to be a hindrance – at least, not yet. In Bordeaux they do not lack water, and an extra degree of heat does not seem to cause issues at present, although some have reported a thicker grape skin with reduced juice volume.
Meanwhile, the concept of dry January continues as an annual event, and whilst a responsible and useful measure for some, can lead to knee jerk and disproportionate responses from some consumers who have been harassed all year by Governments telling them to drink less. This awareness has spawned another related movement known as ‘sober curious’, though it seems to have failed to gain much traction just yet.
There are of course a multitude of many-faceted challenges for each grape variety and each wine producing region. For example, if we look at perhaps the greatest wine region on earth, Bordeaux and the Burgundy wines that originate from there, the issue is one of declining market share. And why? Largely because of an upsurge in the popularity of Champagne, certain Italian wines and of course the new kids on the block, natural wines (organic, minimal intervention varieties). This last type of wine resonates particularly with environmentalist who point to the fact that France is the second largest user of pesticides in Europe – beaten only by Spain. Granted, the largest region to use these phytosanitary chemicals Champagne, but it does seem that the era of using so many chemicals is over, at least in the Bordeaux region. The excellent Entre-Deux-Mers region, for example, have changed their spraying techniques and cut down pesticide use already, hugely benefiting their chances of being awarded a prestigious label of ‘high environmental value’.
Finally, rumblings of proposed tariffs that may be imposed by the USA on European wines are cause for concern – both here in Europe as well as across the pond. Its not only wines that would suffer, but a range of other products which just can’t be produced to the same standards elsewhere, and if they can, lose some of their magic, heritage and authenticity when produced thousands of miles away.
What of the solutions to these thorny issues, or at least signposts to ways forward?
- To address the health campaigns, the industry must act to provide more choice to consumers, however painful this may be to supply chains and bottling facilities. A greater variety of bottle size must be part of this mix – there are more styles of drinking now and for a much more aware population, and that isn’t going to go away.
- Consumers must tell those who lead their countries that they won’t stand for taxes and bullying tactics between large, rich nations. This tit-for-tat response to the tech tax may do wonders for the image of certain politicians but millions will lose out ultimately in many sectors of the economy.
- More emphasis on education about wine, and a diversity of initiatives from producers of all sizes to make it less of an elitist hobby for the super-rich and give opportunities for ‘ordinary’ consumers to invest in wine both financially and emotionally. I’m no economist, but if more was done to allow people to buy shares in wine that they knew would quite literally come to fruition in a certain year then a lot more fun and buy-in could be had by a lot more people.
- A stepping up of action to limit chemicals and improve spraying techniques is a must, but so to is a drive to make vineyards more sustainable – it creates excellent publicity to know that a vintner uses vine shoots to power his boiler, for example .
- And finally, though this is not meant to be an environmental blog post, we cannot ignore the fact any longer that the way we treat our planet and our lack of action on climate change to date affects every part of our lives – and our wine is no exception. So quite simply, we need to avoid voting for those who want to dig up fossil fuels – and raise a glass to those who have both optimism for the year ahead, but also take the issue of climate change seriously.