Why am I picking on Wine?
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 1:24PM
Linda Johnson-Bell

You may ask why I am picking on wine and its water use, as surely there are crops that are far thirstier than the wine grape. There are. And I will cover those in later chapters. I could easily rant about the amount of water that is used to irrigate corn and other cereals that will then be fed to the animals we eat. The insanity of that sends me over the edge. Cotton, which relies on freshwater (or blue water) irrigation to rainfall (or green water), can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans. 73% of the global cotton harvest comes from irrigated land (WWF). But I have narrowed my focus to the use of precious freshwater (blue) supplies to irrigate luxury crops: tea, coffee, cacao, sugar, and wine. We don’t need these to live. And dry farmers across the world prove to us every harvest that the vine is a resilient beast that can survive on as little as 9 inches of winter rainfall if the soils have been prepared correctly and are of the right sort. Some soils are too porous. I am simply asking that we set out priorities straight and to find a way forward in which we can have our planet and drink it, too.

Where irrigation is legally practiced (mostly in the New World), this is the greatest blue water, or freshwater, use. And 83% of the New World wine regions are irrigated, where only 10% of the Old World is irrigated. But the use of irrigation in Europe risks increasing as legislation gets more lax, and as wine growers ignore and leave the appellation system in order to compete with international yields. There are some European producers who are thrilled to be able to irrigate and to compete with the international volume of production.  And when we place wine into the context of fruit - wine grapes are the most important fruit crop. There may be only 8 million global hectares planted, but its blue water use is disproportionate to its production value. And all of the “foot-print” data is so difficult to gather because wine’s blue-water footprint is unique in that it varies dramatically from country to country, from region to region, and even from vineyard to vineyard.

Trying to convince the entire industry that dry farming is the future, is a fascinating but challenging goal, as the industry has so many factions. In any one region, and Napa is a great example of this, we can find die-hard dry-farmers who insist that the European ideal of terroir can only be achieved by dry farming, pitted against those who insist that we can manipulate nature and still make a great wine. The great John Williams of the iconic Frog’s Leap Vineyard in Napa says that by dry farming, he saves 10 million gallons of water a year, or, 64,000 gallons saved per acre!


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