The impact of the climate emergency is felt in many ways. A very wet October Sunday across Central England didn’t show the vineyard at Renishaw Hall near Sheffield at its most dazzling, but the fact that award-winning wines can be produced from grapes grown that far north says something in itself. The comparison between the weather in the French vineyards shown in the ‘Ground Control’ post and those at Renishaw (below) is marked, but the way that the ground between the rows of vines is managed is more marked still. Verdant green lanes are encouraged between the rows at Renishaw as it draws some of the excess moisture away from the vines, protecting the quality of the grapes (although there is some wasp damage visible in the picture below). Such controls are not an issue in Southern France where water shortage is more of a challenge.
The conditions that make the vineyard increasingly productive arise as a consequence of warmer weather and were neatly summed up by host, vineyard manager and winemaker Kieron Atkinson (pictured below with me) who has run the Renishaw estate vineyard since 2011. Grape vines need sun as well as moisture and a decent estimate of how much they’re getting is provided by ‘growing degree days’ :the margin by which the temperature on a given day exceeds 10oC summed across the season is the annual figure for growing degree days. Ten successive days at 15oC, for example would contribute 50 to the total for the year.
Renishaw, at a latitude of 53o 18’ now clocks up 900 across the year, up from 650 around the turn of this century and equivalent to where the champagne region was 20 years ago at a latitude 5 degrees further south. Across France, Kieron told us, growing degree days are typically up by a similar figure. Whilst this might sound like a good thing for the British wine industry, there is far more to lose in the established vineyards of France. There will inevitably be regional winners as a result of a warmer climate, assuming that the rise stabilises before the ongoing change becomes catastrophic, but overall there will be a significant net loss as land becomes impossible to cultivate and crop yields decrease on the land that remains.
Already practicing integrated crop management techniques, Kieron is investigating the use of commercially valuable cover crops such as chamomile in place of the existing lanes of grass. An economic boost for his business, and a further environmental benefit beyond protecting the soil, as it will attract pollinators. The wine is good too (befitting its award-winning status) and there is even a sparkling ‘wild wine’ made in the time-honoured Pétillant Naturelle or Méthode Ancestrale process. This uses nothing but the sugar in the fruit and naturally present yeasts, in the same way the Blanquette of the Aude region mentioned in the previous post, which predates Champagne by a good century and a half.
Wine is one of those product categories where consumer wastage tends to be quite low(!), although food and drink wastage in the home accounts overall for around 75% of all of the UK’s wastage post farm gate. An initiative led by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to address the 25% that arises outside the home came to its first anniversary last week. Aligned to the 2030 end date of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap is the UK’s vehicle for delivering against SDG target 12.3, to halve food waste by 2030. 121 large food businesses have gone beyond simply signing up as supporters of the initiative and have also published or provided to WRAP their actual waste data providing a baseline and enabling WRAP to track progress towards 2030. There is still a long way to go, but the initiative has got off to an impressive start.