I have adopted the title to this article quite deliberately, and in doing so I must give full credit to John Steinbeck’s marvellous book (as well as acknowledging that under US law, copyright in the work may still subsist). It’s worth reminding ourselves of aspects of the book’s plot, and in doing so I save myself much effort by reproducing sections of the relevant Wikipedia pagei:

Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” seeking jobs, land, dignity, and a future.

I suspect that today the climate-concerned would be labelling them climate refugees. Later in the book, they make it to California, which for them does not turn in to a land of milk of honey:

With the winter rains, the Joads’ dwelling is flooded and the car disabled, and they move to higher ground.

Those floods would probably be the fault of climate change too, if they happened 80-90 years later. Of course, all this dramatic weather happened shortly after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which, as Wikipedia tells usii:

was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, with 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2) inundated in depths of up to 30 feet (9m) over the course of several months in early 1927. The uninflated cost of the damage has been estimated to be between 246 million and 1 billion dollars.

Over 630,000 people were directly affected, most (94%) in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, especially in the Mississippi Delta. More than 200,000 African Americans were displaced from their homes along the Lower Mississippi River and had to live for lengthy periods in relief camps.

If it happened now, no doubt the media would call it climate chaos or climate weirding or something, and it would all be our fault. But I digress. I don’t want to talk about climate chaos in the USA in the 1920s and 1930s. Instead I want to talk about wine production in 2021.

Record Wine Production in the Southern Hemisphere Thanks to Perfect Weather

Funny, you might think, I don’t remember seeing any headlines along those lines. Well, you wouldn’t (not at the BBC or the Guardian, anyway), because they don’t fit the scary climate chaos narrative that has been building all year in the run-up to COP 26. In fact, it’s worse than that, as it isn’t just the Guardian and the BBC who are reluctant to acknowledge the massive success of wine growers in the southern hemisphere this year. A lengthy internet search using various search terms yielded only gloomy headlines about global wine production being down this year (which it is, due to the northern hemisphere having suffered poor grape-growing weather).

Well, what’s the story down south? It’s rather good in fact, as the new.in-24 website tells usiii:

As for the southern hemisphere, it can have a smile. 2021 was “very positive” for its vineyards, after a bad year 2020. Wine production should reach a record level of 59 million hectoliters (+ 19%).

In South America, Chile produced 13.4 million hectoliters (+ 30% over one year), the highest for 20 years. Argentina follows, with 12.5 million hectoliters (+ 16%). Brazil posted a 60% jump to 3.6 million hectoliters.

On the Oceania side, Australia saw its harvest increase by 30% to 14.2 million hectoliters, the highest since 2006.

Presumably that’s a benefit (even if only for 2021) of climate change – or perhaps not; it’s just been a good weather year for wine-makers in the southern hemisphere. At least, I’ve not seen anyone claiming “Very positive year for wine-makers in Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Australia thanks to climate change.

Warning over ‘extremely low’ wine production in Europe due to bad weather

Industry body head warns there is ‘no vaccine’ against climate change and winemakers must adapt with ‘urgent necessity’

Ah, that’s more like it – a Guardian headlineiv to reflect the prevailing narrative. And sure enough, the Guardian article commences as one might expect:

World wine production is expected to fall to one of its lowest levels on record after harsh weather battered vineyards in Europe’s major wine-producing regions.

The conditions “severely impacted” production in Italy, Spain and France, resulting in “extremely low” production volumes, an international wine body has said.

The Guardian does acknowledge what a great year for wine the southern hemisphere has had, but remains markedly tight-lipped about whether climate change has anything to do with it:

A drop in production in Italy, Spain and France, the world’s largest wine producers, would outweigh what is forecast to be the highest-ever volume in the southern hemisphere, the OIV [Organisation of Vine and Wine] said…

In the southern hemisphere, favourable weather should allow high output in major producing countries, except for New Zealand, the OIV said. Total output for the southern hemisphere was projected at a record 59 mhl, up 19% from last year.

When it’s good news, it’s favourable weather – not a hint of climate change in sight. When it’s bad news, well that’s a different story entirely:

If wine growers adapted relatively well to the Covid-19 crisis last year, they were now “confronting a much greater problem than the pandemic: climate change,” Roca said.

He said adverse weather events were occurring more and more frequently.

While “there is no vaccine” against climate change, he said “there are long-term solutions which will require major efforts in terms of sustainable practices for cultivating vines and producing wine”. He said adaptation was an “urgent necessity” for the industry.

The only problem with blaming “adverse weather” on climate change, is that by adverse weather in this case, they mean things like cold, frost and rain – and that wasn’t in the script. Climate Change Post’s websitev, last updated on 7th November 2021, talks about things like more heat waves, higher mean temperatures and more droughts and less rainfall, thanks to climate change. Of course, a one-off event that contradicts the models doesn’t mean the models are wrong, but when it’s an event that is the opposite of the predictions, I don’t see how it can be prayed in aid of the climate change script. According to Climate Change Post, “there is a spatially consistent warming trend in summer over France and a clear trend to fewer cool nights and more hot days.” Also, “Research results, based on projections for seven climate models, point at +0.4 to -14% change in annual precipitation in 2050 (A1B emissions scenario) and +4 to -24% change in annual precipitation in 2080 (A2 and A1B emissions scenarios), compared to the present day (1971-2000).”

The claim that climate change is responsible for European wines’ ills in 2021 is arguably worse than simply blaming bad weather that wasn’t predicted by climate models on climate change, in my opinion.

Best loved wines at risk from climate change

That was the heading to an article on the BBC websitevi from 20th October 2010, more than 11 years ago. The thrust of the article was about how wine-making would suffer, not only in Europe, but around the world, from rising temperatures – not from cold and bad weather. Somewhat ironically, given the wonderful season enjoyed in Chile and Argentina this year, we were warned that “Argentina and Chile are moving wine production higher into the cool Andes – as climate change threatens the world’s wines.”

The article actually acknowledged that some wines might benefit from warmer temperatures, but that couldn’t be allowed to pass without adverse comment:

But while Rioja is thriving, Mr Campo warns that this will be a “very short golden age” if climate change is not combated.

“Temperatures will continue to rise, and the question is how far they are going to go and how long is this period of benefit going to last. That’s my biggest concern,” he says.

So it’s more than a little ironic that Spain’s wine production this year has, like France’s, been harmed by cold temperatures, not by heat. The comments eleven years ago about German wine-making are also, in the circumstances, a little ironic:

In Germany, winemakers are also starting to question the long-term effects of higher temperatures.

“It’s now easy to get decent ripeness, but it definitely doesn’t bring the quality to the wine,” says Florian Busch, a Riesling grower in the Mosel Valley.

“Since 2004 we’ve had the black rot fungus, which used to live just in more southerly regions.

“Something is happening. Something is coming from the south,” he says.

Fellow Mosel winemaker, Ernst Loosen, also fears that changing weather patterns will cause long term damage.

And yet in 2021, we learn from the new.in-24 website cited above, that, despite the summer’s floods, “Germany, the fourth European producer [i.e. behind France, Spain and Italy], fared well, with production up 4% to 8.8 million hectoliters”.

By the way, we’ve now come full circle – that BBC article from 2010 was titled “Costing the Earth, Grapes of Wrath” (I don’t think Steinbeck got any credit). Unfortunately for them, things haven’t worked out as they expected.

One last point, despite all the tales we have had of “unprecedented” wild fires in the USA in 2021, and of the havoc being wrought there by climate change, we also learn from new.in-24 that “In the United States, production is estimated at 24.1 million hectoliters, up 6% from 2020, a year marked by fires.”Weren’t we told that 2021 was also a year marked by fires in the United States?

Conclusion

Wine-making has always been a business that can see success or failure, depending on the weather, and also on other factors, such as the phylloxera blight that caused such devastation to French wines in the 19th century. It may well be that long-term climatic trends are in evidence and that they may have an impact on wine-making in various regions. In some regions, warmer weather may be helpful, in others it may be unhelpful. Growers may need to contemplate different grape varieties. Climate change may need to be studied and taken into account if wine-making is to continue to thrive in a number of traditional vine-growing regions. All of that I accept.

What I struggle to accept is the almost complete failure on the part of the mainstream media to say much if anything at all about the successful season just enjoyed by wine-makers in the southern hemisphere, thanks to beneficial weather. Their willingness to blame climate change for the problems encountered this year by wine-makers in France, Spain and Italy, due to cold weather of the sort that climate models didn’t predict is equally annoying. We now live in an era where if anything bad happens and it’s weather-related, then it’s evidence of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (or climate chaos or whatever), but if something good happens, thanks to some good weather, that’s just weather, it’s quietly ignored, and it certainly doesn’t – and mustn’t be allowed to – undermine the catastrophic message.

Anyway, never mind all that – where’s the corkscrew? Cheers!

Endnotes

i https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grapes_of_Wrath

ii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mississippi_Flood_of_1927

iii https://new.in-24.com/business/293784.html

iv https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/nov/05/warning-over-extremely-low-wine-production-in-europe-due-to-bad-weather

v https://www.climatechangepost.com/france/climate-change/

vi https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11573553

6 Comments

  1. It is amazing. There were never bad wine years or crop failures before St. Hansen prophesied Climate Doom and his Apostle, the beatified Al Gore, proclaimed the prophecy as Holy Writ.

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  2. As a young lad, who had barely tasted grape juice let alone the fermented varieties, I was told that superior wines always came from vines grown in barely climatically suitable locations (hence the superiority of German wines). Thus those vineyards suffered more often from “bad years” but the smaller volumes were commonly prized more. Thus, if areas of European viniculture have suffered from climate disruption involving increased temperatures, then it might be supposed that volumes of wine produced should increase, but quality should decrease.

    I have also head that in bad (=good) years when there is overproduction, the unwanted surplus would be thrown away in order to maintain prices.

    Mark. What has happened to British wine production?

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  3. Alan, I think “British” wine production is mostly English and Welsh, for climatic reasons (though I note that there are Scottish wines too). The English & Welsh wines seem to have suffered from less helpful weather, just as in France. The irony is, of course, that warmer, drier seasons (what we are warned is part of climate chaos) would benefit them, but this year in the south of England & Wales, alas, it was not to be (unlike in the north of England and Scotland, which enjoyed a pretty good summer).

    “2021 English harvest proves challenging for growers”

    thedrinksbusiness.com/2021/11/english-wine-harvest/

    “Grape pickers across England and Wales have now hung up their coats. To the relief of many, the 2021 harvest in England and Wales is complete. After a string of warm years, the wetter and cooler 2021 vintage has proved challenging. Reports indicate difficult ripening conditions, reduced yields, and a shortage of workers.

    The summer of 2021 was cooler, wetter, and less sunny than the previous years on average. Other than some peaks in May, July and September, temperatures hovered several degrees below the previous three-year average (2018-20).

    “It was a really challenging summer. We had frost in Spring and rain at flowering. Then it was overcast and there was quite a serious lack of sun hours, even though it was warm”, said Simon Roberts, Head winemaker at Ridgeview Wine Estate in Sussex.

    At Ridgeview’s estate vineyards, harvest started on October 17th, three weeks later than in 2020. This followed a slow start to the season. Budburst was just five days later than last year, but flowering didn’t begin until July 6th, over three behind 2020. Veraison, which started on September 7th, was two weeks behind.

    Despite this, he says that the juice still shows high quality: “It has been a really long growing season. There is still complexity, but the juice is more linear – less tropical and more citrus.”

    Rainfall during summer was up significantly on previous years, contributing to disease pressure in the vineyards. A late harvest also paved the way for bird damage and further disease.

    Ian Kellett, owner of Hambledon Vineyard, didn’t mince his words: “It was the worst year for Downey Mildew I have seen since I started in viticulture.”

    This meant that keeping on top of spray schedules and summer pruning was critical for grape health.

    Over in Somerset, a change in vineyard management saved Aldwick Estate from the worst of the problems. It began to change its pruning system last year, arching the canes (using the pendelbogan method) and lowering the fruiting cane. The canopy became more even and received more sunlight – good for growing clean and ripe grapes.

    Managing Director Sandy Luck suggests that this was largely responsible for the estate’s “huge crop” this year, which included record yields of Bacchus, and sugar and acidity levels close to 2020.

    This appears to have been a rare exception. “Yields were awful”, said Kellett – a common sentiment among growers.”

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  4. This is all very well (actually it seems it wasn’t) but what we sceptical bastards are so desperate to find out is whether the poor grape growing season in England is being blamed upon climate chaos. Then we can drown our sorrows with bottles of antipodean booze and regret the ‘food’-miles.

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  5. Alan, that report I cited was dated 5th November 2021, so there’s lots of time yet for a lengthy Guardian article catching up with the poor grape harvest in England & Wales this year, and blaming it on climate chaos. If and when they do run such an article, my money would be on them ignoring the good harvests in 2018, 2019 and 2020 (which, if they do mention them, will be down to weather, not climate).

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