Friday, 21 August 2015

Vines are dying in California

I have a feeling I'm not going to like being right.   A comprehensive study has shown that climate change accelerated by man is responsible for the drought in California and will continue to have significant effects. An article in the New York Times said:

"A report this week by researchers at the University of California, Davis, projected that the drought would cost the California economy some $2.7 billion this year. Much of that pain is being felt in the state’s huge farming industry, which has been forced to idle a half-million acres and has seen valuable crops like almond trees and grape vines die."

It's not even that the grapes have become raisins, it says the grape vines have died. I've just found a picture and stats on how much impact the drought has had. They are not yet talking about this much but if you dig a little you'll find that it bad and getting worse.

"Dead and dying grape vines in Bakersfield, California, USA. Following an unprecedented four year long drought, Bakersfield is now the driest city in the USA. Most of California is in exceptional drought, the highest level of drought classification. 428,000 acres of agricultural land have been taken out of production due to lack of water and thousands of agricultural workers have lost their jobs."

If "wine is sunlight held together by water" as Galileo professed, then California is in deep trouble. They have way too much sunlight and way too little water.

Some producers are benefiting from the drought. Oregon and Washington state are replacing apples with grapes which need only half the water.   Vintners in regions of California less affected by drought say their yields will be lower but the wine tastier as a result of reduced rainfall.

But for many in the regions most affected, including Napa and Sonoma, the situation has been dire and getting worse sparking water wars. In each of the last four years, people thought it was as bad as it could get, but it keeps getting worse. And yet, it's even worse for the nut farmers.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Climate change confirmed daily

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Today, there was an article in the Washington Post about  lobsters moving north into colder waters causing the lobster fisheries to collapse in the southern reaches and dramatically increase in the northern reaches.

Birds are not just shifting latitude but they are also moving inland.

And algal blooms have caused catastrophic beach messes in the Caribbean.

Flowers and trees are blooming and leafing earlier in some zones and later in others.

The length of the growing season is changing rapidly.

Including in Ireland, where summers are expected to be warmer and drier, and the length of summer longer.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Effect of Climate Change on Viticulture in Europe

I thought that this was a breakthrough idea I had, growing grapes in Ireland in anticipation of climate change that is. Then I started doing some research.

It turns out there is a major effort underway in Europe to identify climate change mitigation strategies. Called rather cumbersomely, ClimVineSafe, the cross-european border participants are looking for short-term solutions that would keep the viniculture industry safe. The Portuguese are at the forefront of the movement.

A major review paper has been published to analyze everything that is known about the subject. It is very detailed. A new study is being conducted to see which strategies might be most effective. This is a very interesting development. Although I wasn't the first to think of this, clearly I was on the right track and our strategy of growing grapes in Ireland might just not be so hair brained* after all.

An overview of climate change impacts on European viticulture
H. Fraga*, A. C. Malheiro, J. Moutinho-Pereira and J. A. Santos
Food and Energy Security Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 94–110, November 2012
Article first published online: 17 FEB 2013 DOI: 10.1002/fes3.14

I am going to study this and report back what I learn. Stay tuned.

* highly scientific term

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The geography of wine

The first book I decided to read was called The Geography of Wine: How Landscapes, Cultures, Terroir, and the Weather Make a Good Drop by Brian J. Sommers. I learned a lot about terroir and even more about geography. Who knew geography was so complex. No longer just about maps and capitals and oceans and continents, it's all about the composition of the earth, the topography and how it influenced trade and commerce and human development. It's about transport and evolution of housing and farming. I learned more by reading that book than I have learned in a long time.

I really like that book.There was a lot of repetition, but repetition improves memory so I can't fault the author too much. It explains how different regions evolved different methodology and resulted in very different wines for specific reasons tied to those regions. For example, the great houses of Bordeaux had access to easy transport via rivers to big cities where the markets existed.  So they developed their own vineyards that produced their own varietal vintage wines in huge estates.

In Burgundy, the wine had to be transported over land which was costly and the wine didn't travel well. So they pooled their resources with other grape growers to increase yield from which they made blended wines that traveled better and could be transported more economically in larger volumes. They also got together and built a canal to further reduce costs.

What I also learned was that grapes don't like rich soils. They like long dry summers and south facing hillsides. Grapes also grow enormously deep roots which help them find water in more arid places. But this was a development based on their need to grow very tall to reach sunlight above the canopy of forest. To grow that tall, they had to have deep roots to anchor them and tendrils to support the vines and the heavy fruit as it developed.

Grapevines basically take their nutrients from the rocks in the soil as they break down. They like rocky awful soil. That's why you see them in crevices of mountains like high in the Alps. They also like a lot of sunlight on south facing slopes near the sea.

South facing, sloping land, poor soil, near the sea. Check. Okay. So we got lucky again.

Grapes also tend to have a temperature band that they like. They basically don't like extremes.  They hate it when it gets too hot in summer and they can't tolerate extreme cold in winter.  But they do need a change of seasons.  They need to rest during a mild winter and produce over a long summer. Okay, so we don't have extremes. That part is good, but will it get warm enough for long enough and stay dry enough over the summer? That remains to be seen.

Okay, so just remember. This is an experiment and another great adventure which has just begun. Let it continue in earnest.

By the way. There is another book by the same title. I am not likely to read that one at that price.

The Geography of Wine:Regions, Terroir and Techniques
Editors: Dougherty, Percy H. (Ed.) $159 hard cover or soft cover $119 for the ebook