Before Its Time
First, the vino: There have been fossil grape vines found that are 60 million years old. What I like to think as the first historical evidence of discovering winemaking comes from a Persian fable about a depressed princess who was contemplating suicide but ended up buoyant with a change of heart after eating a bowl of “spoiled” grapes.
I’ve spent time with Maryhill Winery’s Craig Leuthold, who keeps a home in Spokane with his wife Vicki but whose winery near Hood River just landed the Washington 2009 Winery of the Year award. Craig knows his wine, knows the necessity of going modern, and understands the pressures of weather, climate and the economy.
He employs modern technology to monitor soil, climate and the regional and global economics of wine.
Even with the computers checking microclimates and the grapes’ sugar ratios, Craig still believes in the terroir — the mix of soil, climate, vine location, grape care and all the age-old techniques to make the many varieties of wine. And he’s worried about the future of his craft.
Here’s how the grape is the canary: At the second annual Conference on Climate Change and Wine in Barcelona, viticulturists came together to discuss climate change and wine. Since grapes around the world are grown in ultra-narrow geographical regions and climatic niches, they’re at much greater risk from both climate variability and long-term climate change than more “broad acre” crops.
This lack of resiliency is the viticulturist’s bane. It’s already gotten so bad that Bordeaux wineries in France are absolutely paranoid about their famous grape disappearing completely.
The next Tweetie Bird? The oyster. Here’s why: Almost half the carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere thus far by human activity has been absorbed by oceans. Oceans are now much more acidic than they have been for hundreds of millions of years. Acidity determines the ability of many species to make their skeletons and shells. Animal and plant life in the ocean make up a complex web. Sea stars, sea urchins, mussels, clams, oysters and corals are the first species to be impacted by ocean acidity.
When excess CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere and dissolves into seawater, it lowers the pH of the oceans. A byproduct of that process — carbonic acid — quickly converts to carbonate and bicarbonate ions, which are corrosive to the calcium carbonate shells of oysters and other marine species.
“We’re in a state of panic,” says Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, based in Olympia. “There is no other word for it.”
Finally, language and framing are the next indicators of a world powerless to stop extinction events. We can’t even agree on what to call it: climate instability, climate change, global warming, climate disruption, anthropomorphic climate making or a conspiracy by socialist greenies to stop capitalism and the American way of life?
There are no two ways about it: Language today, in our amped-up, 24-hour cable TV, three-minute news cycle world, has been stripped, bastardized, co-opted, “memory holed” and “double-spoken” into a state of near extinction.