Of all the devastating consequences brought about by climate change, a potential return to 80’s style wine is perhaps the most upsetting! Flabby Chardonnays. Sickly sweet riesling. Reds that walk all over your palette – heavy as tar on a sweltering day…
“But those days are gone!” I hear you say. “This is a new millennium! We’re about sophisticated cool climate wines with delicacy, complexity and yes, even acidity!”
I think we’d all agree there’s a certain magic to wine making. An industry where art meets science; Where affinity with the land meets affinity with the global market. And where seasons, decades, generations, are spent lovingly cultivating and creating a product that has, for thousands of years, connected people – at the table, at the bar, yes even in Church.
Yet neither magic nor God can save vineyards from the effects of a warming planet. 2014 was officially the hottest year on record. As such grape growers in parts of Southern Australia have seen an earlier ripening season than ever before – a story recently brought to light on the ABC.
Scientists obviously blame a warming climate for this early ripening – with temperatures projected to increase between 0.3 and 1.7 degrees celsius by 2030 according to the CSIRO – it’s a trend set to continue. And in an industry where intricacies matter, this is turning into a problem…
Living in Melbourne I am utterly spoilt for choice. Drive an hour from the city in any direction and you hit some of the best wine producing regions (dare I say it) in the world. Pure bliss for me is a sun drenched day, rolling vineyards with a view of the ocean and a cool climate Riesling in hand.
I often pinch myself that my role as a renewable energy consultant takes me to some of the most picturesque Australian wine regions – from the romance of the Mornington Peninsula to Canberra’s boutique (and somewhat magical) wine district and the mecca that is central Victoria.
Yet with the changing climate comes a projected shift in both region and grape variety suitability to existing wineries (my treasured chablie-esque chardonnays and pretty-as-a-picture rieslings may well be under threat). Wine makers from areas like the Hunter Valley are already scoping out land as far South as Tasmania in order to combat the effects of warming seasons.
As in-tune with the land as wine makers are, in terms of energy consumption wineries with on-site production, bottling facilities and restaurants or event spaces are up there with the highest energy loads in the agricultural sector. During summer’s harvest electricity bills soar along with the temperature. There is however a sunny side…solar power and wineries make a perfect match!
If we’re talking swoonable solar projects (what this blog is really all about), New Zealand’s Yealands Winery comes up trumps. An architectural marvel, the building is my idea of futuristic brilliance. With a backdrop of vineyards that stretch towards the mountains it has a striking sci-fi otherworldliness.
The design was recently awarded Australasian and World Champion at the International Green Apple Environment Awards in London, beating out 500 global nominations from a bunch of industries for environmental best practice. As part of Yealands’ strategy to become energy self-sufficient the business installed a 99kW solar system (New Zealand’s largest for a winery). Now, due to its success this will be doubled in size in the near future.
Australian vineyards themselves have been relatively slow off of the mark to adopt solar (unlike the sun powered Napa Valley in California). However many are now turning to renewables as system prices come down, in order to combat increasingly juicy sized power bills. Amongst those leading the charge are iconic names likeDe Bortoli near Griffith, d’Arenberg in South Australia and Drayton’s in the Hunter Valley.
De Bortoli’s mega 230kW rooftop system is coupled with 200kW solar hot water – the biggest solar investment of any Aussie vineyard it covers 4-7% of the company’s total power pulled from the grid…a palatable 5-figure $ saving every year! De Bortoli’s environment manager, Lindsay Gullifer, explained to me that this is only a drop in their larger project which will see significant gains in efficiency and energy reduction over the next few years.
I want to leave you with the taste of a special solar powered winery that won my heart during a recent business trip to the Mecca that is Bright – a glorious town near the snowfields in Victoria (yeah my job is tough!). Feathertop is owned by the Boynton family and it is oh-so-instaworthy! Set back into the hill, the cellar door and accommodation are a perfect blend of modern lines and old world charm (no surprise given that Janelle Boynton herself is a superb architect).
Vintage in the region had set in with vengeance, 2 weeks early like in many parts of Australia, yet Janelle took the time to chat to me about their beautiful 50kW solar system – installed a year ago thanks to the generous federal Govt funding then available. The winery itself is a picture perfect example of self sufficiency; recycling all their water and powered by the sun…which I may add, unlike Melbourne’s grey days, shines brightly all year in Bright (who woulda thunk it with a name like that?!)
I left Feathertop (and Bright) with renewed hope…not only because so many homes, business and wineries had invested, or were looking to invest, in solar power, but because there wasn’t a whiff of the 80’s in any wine I tried! Hallelujah!! Boyntons buoyed my soul with clean, citrusy prosecco, zesty riesling and textural pinto gris. The reds were refined and elegant, just like the winery itself. So my friends, despite a warming climate, there just may be hope for Aussie wines…if we invest in the energy of the future (you know what I’m talking about).
An 80’s revival is fine for music, cool for fashion, loveable for movies, yet an 80’s wine revival just can’t happen! So with that in mind I’m off to save our palettes from the climate change horror that no one mentions, but could be more reality than we think…