Drink Local, Drink Indigenous ...
Friday, August 21, 2015 at 1:50PM
Linda Johnson-Bell


In a world running out of resources, “local” has to take on a nobler mantel – the one it wore in the past, not its present trendy persona in the guise of over-priced village markets. The by-gone value of “making-do” needs to be wholly resurrected and transformed into the new form of luxury. It has to be acceptable to make do with what we have at hand – one of our classic, forgotten mores. Making-do was something our parents did during the wars – a term coined in the midst of rations and famine. There are low, rumbling noises on this theme currently being revived in popular culture: TV programmes about creating a home from foraged and recyclable materials; “up-cycling” furniture; growing our own food, a resurgence in home-baking. The movement is afoot, but sadly, it may also fall into the hands of the trendies and “right-minded” do-gooders as opposed to simply slotting into our mainstream thoughts and behaviours. Making-do is what we have to do to survive a new war, a war against our greedy, spoilt, post-industrial-aged natures as we feel the restraints imposed upon our earth by Mother Nature.

There is one industry that once personified the principle of locality, strayed from it and now needs to embrace it again – to revamp it and make it viable once again: the wine industry. Climate change is forcing many classic regions to cease viticulture and others to adapt, by planting other varieties and in cooler places, and eventually, many will have to grow different crops entirely. What would happen if we all went back to drinking our indigenous beverages and stopped growing wine grapes where they are not meant be grown and then transporting them all over the world? Does everybody really need to be able to drink a Penfold’s Grange? No. And they would be all the better without it.

Wine has always had two personalities: a humble, home-made, down- the- road personality, and its luxury side. The ancient Romans had their “house” wines as well as their grands crus. And wine exporting and importing is hardly new. But where before we had the majority of winemakers producing wine for a local clientele, today we have the majority of wine producers expecting to reach an international market and endeavour to do so at the expense of local market structure and good wine-making practices. A hair-stylist or a baker, living in Meursault, should be able to afford and to enjoy the great wines being grown in their village and not to see it shipped off to wine agents around the globe to end up onto the restaurant tables of those who cannot even pronounce the appellation name.

Wine internationalism, both in its style and in its distribution, is the greatest threat to the wine industry today and along with climate change, will herald its demise. When Hungarian wine producers push the marketing of their chardonnay (with oak chips) to the detriment of their indigenous varieties because they want to prove to the Americans that they can make an oaky chardonnay, too, then, what is the point? I actually sent a producer into rapture when I said that his newly-released chardonnay tasted as though it were from Napa and not Hungary.  He did not get the irony and jumped for joy.

When the Tuscans forsook their indigenous Sangiovese to favour the more well-known Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for their Super Tuscans, so to court the juvenile palates of the American critics and thus forging an international style, what is the point?

When wines are 14 % alcohol and even much higher, either by design or by Nature’s hand, and all varietal character is erased so that they all taste the same, what is the point?

When the Dutch Water Footprint Network calculates that it takes 29 gallons of water (including irrigation, rainfall and winery usage) to produce a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (this is disputed by California winemakers, of course, saying that their much higher grape yields have not been factored in), making wine production one of the most water-thirsty crops, and it is not even food, then what is the point?

And when a 2014 study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production Environmental entitled “Impacts of consumption of Australian red wine in the UK” informs us that the UK consumes almost 5% of the world's wine production, that Australian wines account for around 17% of total take-home purchases and that this means that a 0.75 l bottle of wine requires, for example, 21 MJ of primary energy, 363 litres of water and generates 1.25 kg of CO2 eq., then what is the point?  Especially when we should be supporting the English wine trade – whose climate does not require irrigation and whose proximity does not require extensive shipping?

If a region cannot sustain viticulture without having to manipulate and adapt its environment unrecognisably, there is no point. Grow something else. Drink something else. This will one day not be a choice we will have. The past will be our future. And I’ll welcome it in with a tequila …

 Linda Johnson-Bell


Article originally appeared on The Wine Lady & The Wine and Climate Change Institute (http://thewinelady.com/).
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