SPEND a day at a wine grape growers' summit and, among many other things, you're left with no doubt about the reality of climate change.
Spend another day with a savvy grape grower touring the Barossa and you're left with no doubt about the cost of it and the uncertainty about where it's heading.
That's not news for those who follow the wine industry closely at the production level, but for those of us who concentrate on consumption, the matter-of-factness of the change is rather startling.
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Grapes ripening a month earlier, the compression of what were the usual different ripening times of different varieties, the search for varieties capable of handling hotter weather, the hunt for new terroir as climate bands move, the threat to traditional varieties in regions whose reputations depend on them.
Would you believe French champagne houses are buying fields in Britain?
Sweden, an important customer for Australian wine makers, now has a fledgling wine industry as a result of longer, warmer summers.
But you don't have to go to the other end of the earth to see the story. Turns out climate change is a force in developing the Tasmanian industry as warmer weather leads mainland producers to invest in the island's cooler climate. There's no end of science on the issue, if that counts any more.
Those more rooted by family and ownership in mainland vineyards are researching and testing grape varieties that might be able to handle more extreme weather events and farming differently to try to lower soil temperatures a degree or two.
My briefing notes from the Wine Grape Council of South Australia for a growers' panel in part read: "Harvest dates across the industry are circa 30 days earlier than they were 20-30 years ago. This means that grapes are ripening quicker and in warmer months and this impacts negatively on flavour development. It also creates problems for wineries – whereas white grapes used to ripen after the red grape harvest they often now ripen at the same time impacting on winery logistics. As the climate changes these problems will only get worse."
On the panel was Adelaide Hills grower Kim Anderson. He has a particular problem with a sloping site that meant different ripening speeds from bottom to top. He's been developing strategies to even out the ripening and delay harvest – late pruning, the height of grass/weed left below the vines etcetera – but those methods are increasingly being adopted by others on flat ground.
Also on the panel was Anthony Scholz of multi-generational Barossa farming stock and generous with his time as my guide around the vineyards. Borrowing his eyes, you realise the "traditional" Australian vineyard of bare earth beneath vines has become a rare thing. There's a mini-mountain of mulch waiting to employed here, straw there, grass elsewhere. Where there is dirt, the specification of some wine maker, not wine grape grower, is suspected.
Scholz is an example of the switched-on grower working with wine makers, adapting and adopting, adding value, contributing to the Barossa brand, to stay ahead. Three different wine makers (St Hallet, Chateau Tanunda, First Drop Wines) are using his Ebenezer grapes for single-vineyard wines. (Yes, of course I had to try them all – it's called research.)
Scholz was early to have a covered dam – effectively an enormous bladder, the biggest water bed you've ever seen – as vines have to have water during heat waves and even then growers lose tonnes and quality by the day.
And this is climate change, not just global warming. The heat is there, but the Scholz fields copped a frost that they hadn't seen before, wiping out the crop. OK, it was a 1-in-100-year event – except that it happened again the next year. Now giant $55,000 electric fans increasingly dot vineyards, automatically triggered into action by a thermometer to suck in higher, warmer air and blow it across the vines to fight the killing drop of cold air.
The life-stylers don't like the look of them, Anthony Scholz doesn't like the look of them, Joe Hockey certainly wouldn't like the look of them, but you have to do what you have to do in a changing climate in what has to remain primarily an agricultural community.
The Barossa is lucky, relatively speaking. Its mainstay, the signature shiraz, is a tough and somewhat forgiving grape, arguably the thing we do best on an internationally competitive basis. Elsewhere there are people trying to grow pinot noir, sometimes called wine's canary in the coalmine as it tolerates a narrower band of temperatures.
Personally, I prefer red wine to rose with pretensions, but for those who care for an over-priced bottle that's only decent once in ten, be afraid, be very afraid. The good look like getting rarer and even more expensive. The terroir that existed for it, might not.
Rarer than good pinot though are climate denialists in the vineyards. Yet we have an agriculture white paper that skips over the issue. (More dams! More drought assistance! Ignore elephant!). And we have a Prime Minister who seized the leadership of the Liberal Party by opposing the best method of trying to do something about it and who appoints advisers who believe the whole thing is a plot by the United Nations to undermine democracy.
And, according to legend, Tony Abbott's knifing of Malcolm Turnbull by opposing an ETS was at the instigation and urging of Nick Minchin, then a Senator representing South Australia, Australia's premier wine state.
Minchin now enjoys the sinecure of Australia's Consul-General in New York, a position delivered to him after it was ripped out beneath Steve Bracks' feet, pretty much the new government's first act and setting a certain tone.
New York's diplomatic salons are a long way from the heatwaves and frosts of South Australian farming, of spreading mulch and double and late pruning, of buying more expensive water, of gambling your livelihood on crops and weather and human ingenuity. Funny, that.
Disclosure: Yes, the Wine Grape Council paid me to speak at their conference. No, sometimes it's not work I do for a living.