Climate Change and Alcohol


Earlier this year we received a handful of 2019 German Rieslings; a vintage being praised by critics around the globe as one of Germany’s finest. Older vintages have occasionally struggled with underripe grapes and have required added sugars for balance, for 2019 this is not an issue. German Riesling is ‘benefitting’ from global warming and the grapes are gaining more sun exposure leading to the production of more sugars to balance out the high acidity of the variety. The resulting wines are complex, concentrated, bright, fresh, and delicate.

We are lucky to experience a stand-out vintage like this, but it did not come about without complications. Along with the increase in warmer days came tumultuous weather patterns with frosts in May followed by a heat wave in June, many grapes were destroyed or sunburnt, resulting in lower yields. And while 2019 is balanced, 2018 was Germanys warmest growing season to date with temperatures akin to a middle ground between Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley, and the wines lacked acidity.

Germany has been predominately a cool climate, while those South Australian regions are considered warm, and 2019 may have been a ‘lucky’ year, but the increased unpredictability of weather patterns leaves us wondering what is to come? What lies in store for warm regions, some which have already been hit with forest fires, such as Barossa and Adelaide Hills? In the not-so-far future will current regions be capable of growing grapes? Will planted varietals need to change? And will the wine world be any reflection of what it is today?

The effect of global warming and the alcohol industry does not stop at wine. Dominant aromatic and bittering components within beer derive from hops, and certain studies show a potential decline in yields and alpha acids, alongside a potential shift in hop growing regions. A shift in region means a shift in characteristics and while this may bring some new and interesting brews, beloved classics may never be the same.

Meanwhile barley, one of the key four ingredients in beer, needs water to grow, a source which is threatened by increased temperatures and drought.  A decrease in crop production means a decrease in beer production, which in turn means an increase in price for, what has always been, the every-person’s drink.

And, you probably guessed, this will impact the whisky and bourbon world as well, two spirits that also depend on grain. Sugarcane for rum production faces its own hurdles with rising temperatures, while on the flip side warmth-loving Agave, for mezcal and tequila, is finding itself under snow.

Now, there is no denying that alcohol production contributes to carbon emissions; From the energy it takes to run distilleries, breweries, and wineries, to packaging choices, transportation, and ingredient sourcing, therefore it would be irresponsible for producers to just play the victim when it come to the subject of climate change. But, before you feel like you need to beat your head on whatever device you’re reading this and throw it at the newscaster on your tv, there are some very cool, very forward-thinking efforts towards sustainability being made within the alcohol industry.

Mornington Peninsula’s Crittenden Estate has implemented an impressive sustainability initiative both within their winery and vineyards. On top of using of solar power, recycled water, and on-site beehives to assist with pollination during flowering (the first step in grape formation), they maintain and utilize compost to lay through the vines after harvest and sow oats and broad beans through the vines. These crops are then flattened into the soils to impart nutrients and retain moisture throughout the summer, reducing the need for irrigation. You can find more details here.

Master Distiller, Kirsty Black, from Scotland’s Aberkie Distillery created a gin and vodka that emits less carbon dioxide than it produces by using a garden pea-based spirit. Not only does the pea source nitrogen from the atmosphere, negating the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, but byproducts of the pea after distillation become animal feed, reducing the need for imported feeds.

Lot 100 in Adelaide Hills is a collective that houses Adelaide Hills Distillery, Hills Cider, Mismatch Brewery, Vinteloper winery, a juice producer, and restaurant all located on one solar powered site which uses an onsite water treatment plant for recirculation.

More breweries are sourcing local ingredients, such as Sydney’s Wildflower Brewing & Blending which also hosts Waratah Day dedicated to the discussion of sustainability within the brewing industry. The Australian market is also seeing a growing trend in using fruits in brews that have been deemed unfit for sale in supermarkets, and the replacement of glass bottle packaging in favour of the more environmentally friendly aluminum cans. Nick Calder-Scholes, head brewer of One Drop Brewing in Sydney, worked alongside a packaging manufacturer to create case packaging that is entirely recyclable made using recycled cardboard, bio-friendly ink and without wax, tape or glue. Meanwhile Everyman’s Right Brewery in Finland is currently being built and aims to be the world’s first carbon negative brewery.

It is heartening for us to see so many independent producers implementing systems to reduce their carbon footprint and paving the way for future distillers, brewers, and winemakers and we are proud to be able to support them in their endeavors.

Mentioned in the post:
Adelaide Hills
Mismatch Brewing
Vinteloper
Hills Cider
Wildflower
One Drop

Some producers with sustainability initiatives:
Garage Project
Stomping Ground
Sailors Grave
Colonial Brewery
Rocky Ridge Brewing