WineInk: Concerns for the Coming Decade |

WineInk: Concerns for the Coming Decade

Kelly J. Hayes
The sun sets over vineyards of Beaujolais in France. While the vineyards of France and other European wine regions look placid, there are are concerns about turbulent times in the next decade with trade and climate issues at the forefront.
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under the influence

Henschke Hill of Grace

It is one of Australia’s most famed and expensive wines. Hill of Grace, a classic shiraz named for the vineyard of its origin in the Eden Valley, was first made by Australian winemaker Cyril Henschke in 1958. In the ensuing vintages it has vied with Penfold’s Grange for the top drop rankings in the land of OZ. I write this because Henschke holdings in the Adelaide Hills, not far from the Hill of Grace, were destroyed by fire this past week. The Lenswood vineyard, home to cooler climate varietals including many of the region’s oldest pinot noir vines, was scorched. Fortunately, the Hill of Grace site has not been damaged, but that is as much a result of the vagaries of fire as anything else. Thoughts go out the Henschke family.

Hard to believe it, but from now on, for the next 10 years, wine vintages will all move from the teens to the twenties, as in the ’20 or ’21 vintage. Yes, we are entering a new decade and, while the beat goes on, there are some changes afoot in the world of wine as the calendar turns to 2020. And while many are positive there are a few issues that give cause for concern going forward.

First, and this may well be a topic that sees much media attention in just the coming days, concerns the potential for the implementation by the U.S. of a 100% tariff on European-made wines. The Trump administration had already announced that they were considering 100% tariffs on Champagne in retaliation for French taxes placed on digital companies like Google and Facebook that have no physical presence in France, but do business there.

There have already been tariffs of 25% imposed on some European wines (still wines under 14% alcohol from France, Germany, the UK and Spain) in October in retaliation for the European Union’s support of aircraft manufacturer Airbus. And there was further word from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that additional tariffs on European goods are under review that could include draconian taxes that would have an immediate and devastating impact on the global wine markets. Public comments are being heard by the USTR until Jan. 13 and decisions on the tariffs are pending until after that time.

Man taking red grapes in a vineyard, Catalonia, Spain
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Never mind the irony that executives from digital companies may be among the few who will be able to still afford French wines when they double in price, but in what kind of world do we punish French farmers and winemakers, not to mention American wine consumers, for the tit-for-tat machinations of Silicon Valley and the French ministers? This one I guess.

I understand that a trade war requires that you hit the other guy where it hurts. And for a country like France, a country in which it is inescapably true that they are tied to wine, not just economically but culturally as well, doubling the price of their products sold in the U.S. would be a blow. But the use of such an insidious tool would hurt those who have little or nothing to do with the disputes at hand. Namely, those who make wine and those who drink it.

Of course, it should be noted that the Trade Warrior-in-Chief is a teetotaler who has, in his words, “never had a glass of alcohol,” and whose Trump Winery in Virginia would seem to benefit from the doubling of prices of its European competition. Neither of those seem to be motivation but it is another irony in this “Alice in Wonderland” world in which we live.

The second cause for pause as we go into the 2020s is one that affects all of us, not just the wine world. But wine and those who make it may well be the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

We are all familiar with the devastation caused by the fires in the Napa and Sonoma wine regions over recent years. Whole communities that support the wine industry have been changed due to the summer and fall fires that have been exacerbated by first drought and then warming temperatures.

A northern California vineyard rests below a burning hill as firefighters struggle to contain the fire.
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A similar fire storm erupted in the Adelaide Hills Wine Region in South Eastern Australia last week and it was reported that up to a third of the vineyards were destroyed with numerous buildings and homes also lost.

As an agricultural product, wine is intrinsically linked to the debate about global warming. The rejection of the Paris Climate Agreements and the recent failures to come to meaningful agreements at the COP25 summit in Madrid are harbingers of a world that has yet to come to grips with a developing and potentially catastrophic issue. The climate, the weather and things affected by the weather have been taking a dramatically negative turn. While we argue about the causes of the shift we have ignored remedies that could potentially move us in a more positive direction.

The wine industry in the 2020s will be at the forefront of the effects of climate change. It is inevitable that this decade will see dramatic increases in fires and perhaps a movement of regions where wine production is even viable. Those who follow wine will be able to see these changes first hand.

While the drama of the tariffs may be financial and difficult, the fact of climate change will be revolutionary. All is not lost as we move into the coming decade but it deserves our attention.

Next week we’ll look at the bright side of life. I promise.