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Posted: Wednesday, 07 August 2019 13:14

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MUST Fermenting Ideas: Global Warming and Water Management of Vineyards

August 07: There is a steadily decreasing number of doubting Thomases who still refuse to believe that global warming has hit us and that we need to take positive actions NOW to ensure the safety of this planet but fortunately a few visionaries like Miguel Torres have already accepted it and are dedicated to finding pragmatic solutions, as Subhash Arora attending the MUST Fermenting Ideas Summit for the third time, discovered during his Presentation

Mankind would have used up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for all of 2019 by Monday 29 July, 2019, according to a study by the Global Footprint Networks. “The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year it has been the earliest ever. Its falling on July 29 means that the global humanity is presently using up nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. This is akin to using 1.75 Earths," according to the environmental group headquartered in Oakland, California.

"The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events," it added.

“The speed and extent of current global warming exceeds any similar event in the past 2,000 years, researchers say, according to a Report in BBC on July 24 which goes on to add, “They show that famous historic events like the "Little Ice Age" don't compare with the scale of  warming seen over the last century. The research suggests that the current warming rate is higher than any observed previously. The scientists say it shows many of the arguments used by climate sceptics are no longer valid.

Twelve years to save Earth? Now it seems, there's a growing consensus that the next 18 months will be critical in dealing with the global heating crisis, among other environmental challenges.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5°C, emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be cut by 45% by 2030. But today, observers recognise that the decisive, political steps to enable the cuts in carbon to take place will have to happen before the end of next year.

During my trip to Portugal in June this year, I was shocked to hear that France had recorded its highest-ever temperature at 45.9 deg C. Organisers of once-in-twenty years Fete des Vignerons- the unique festival of wines in Vevey Switzerland, were quite concerned about the heat wave as the temperatures soared beyond the hot 30°C.

Cape Town went dry last year and reached a critical position when drought for 2 years caused havoc to the crops as well. There was general consensus that global warming had a role to play in the unprecedented drought. I was inundated with enquiries a few weeks back about drought in India and whether it would affect the wine grape crops this season. A couple of years ago, the Maharashtra government had decided to hold back water for the grape crop in favour of canes which needed water urgently and the growers have a more powerful lobby.

Enter Miguel Torres

As a vintner Miguel Torres who has been managing Bodega Familia Torres for decades, got very involved and in fact obsessed by the phenomenon of Global warming and how it is going to affect the crops since the 1980’s. About 15 years ago when people were just talking about global warming in seminars and conferences, of which he has been an important part from the very beginning, including the 3rd MUST Fermenting Ideas Summit in June this year in Cascais, Portugal, he had started buying land in cooler climate areas and also started experimenting with new grape varieties, during the last four decades.

Climate change and grape varieties

One keeps on hearing about new grape varieties being considered by warm wine producing regions to sustain the future of warmer temperatures, While countries like UK will benefit from the climate change, Nordic countries are already revving up their efforts to experiment with grape growing as the temperature gets warmer and more amenable to wine grape production. Recently Bordeaux producers recommended adding 7 new grape varietals for the moment.  Loic Pasquet of Liber Pater in Graves believes in old varieties from Bordeaux that were used before phylloxera and a firm believer in Terroir and recommends the local grapes Castets, Tarney, Saint Macaire, Cabernet Goudable, Gros Cabernet, which are good for warm weather.

Like in Bordeaux, a lot of work has gone into the recovery of ancestral grapes by the Torres family since the 1980’s. Some varieties even going to pre phylloxera days and are drought resistant. Querol, Moneu, Gonfaus, Forcada, Selma, Pirene are some of the varieties that are suitable for climate change and are being already used to a small extent in Gran Muralles wines being made  by Torres.

Record Temperature Rise

Tracing through the history of temperature rise, he said that the rise had been fairly consistent during 1850-2007 of 0.4°C. Citing as volcano eruptions as one of the reasons for rising temperatures, he said that the Greenland ice was melting. Arctic has only one year of ice, according to him. Of course, Carbon dioxide emissions are directly connected with the rise in temperature too.

Torres has been working on using a part of the Carbon Dioxide released in fermentation. They would have reduced Carbon dioxide by 30% by 2020 as compared to 2008 when they started their effort to reduce carbon footprints. This figure is likely to go up 50% by 2030. Since 2007 Torres has invested €16 million in renewable energies, electric carts for tourist travels in the winery, energy efficiency and other moves to alleviate the problems in their winery.

They have also installed mountain storage water reservoir. Their drip irrigation programme is successfully reducing the water usage and has helped the water management even in the time of drought.  Since 2006, twelve different tests have been made to compare differences in vineyard management. In order to reduce electricity consumption photovoltaic cells are being used in the cellar; 25% of electricity has been saved by using this alternative energy system.

Of course, European Union is working on several such programmes to decrease dependency on electricity provided by conventional means too and one can hear about the involvement and cooperation of his winery in such projects.

An interesting aspect of the Presentation was his advice to become a vegetarian- if not, to at least avoid eating beef. Reason- for 1 kg of meat one needs to feed the cow 7 kg of grain! This is one advice most Indians would find it easy to follow.

Subhash Arora

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