Chilean wildfires, Canadian cold snap, and EU pesticide proposals scrapped

Belinda Stone collecting the award for the Old Vine Registry in Paris on Sunday 11 Feb.

But there's good news, too: Jancis is honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Old Vine Registry receives the Heritage Initiative Award from the Institute of Masters of Wine. Above, Belinda Stone accepts the OVR award in Paris.

Wildfires in Chile

During the last week of January, Chile was hit by a heatwave that raised temperatures to around 37 °C or 98 °F for five days. Combined with the 13-year mega-drought the country is experiencing, this intensified fire pressure and exacerbated wildfires that were already burning. On 2 February fires began in Chile’s Valparaíso region and spread to more than 6,200 ha (15,320 acres), killing 131 people, with hundreds more missing.

Chile’s districts of O’Higgins, Maule, Bío-Bío and Los Lagos have also been affected by fires in the past month.

While Valparaíso itself doesn’t have many vines it is only around 40 km or 25 miles to the wine region of Casablanca and 90 km or 56 miles to the wine region of San Antonio. Chile is experiencing a relatively late vintage and grapes are still going through veraison so risk of smoke taint is relatively low. However, it is still early in summer, and the country is at high risk of further fires. Vineyard stewards, winery staff and transport are likely affected by recent fires and the region could very much use your support. We have heaps of recommendations on wines from Casablanca and San Antonio on our website. Some of my personal favourites are Matetic, Casa Marín and Veramonte, all of which have some international representation.

Canada’s provincial infighting on direct-to-consumer shipping

Mid January, the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) sent a letter to British Columbia  wine producers that stated that BC producers were in violation of provincial law and were skirting taxes by sending their wine direct to consumer, or DTC in industry parlance. The AGLC said that if wineries did not cease selling DTC and provide written notice that they had done so by 22 January, they would begin refusing shipments meant to be stocked in liquor stores and restaurants. AGLC states that this is for reasons concerning taxation, to protect their local retailers, and to protect minors who could be receiving these shipments. Meanwhile, Wines of British Columbia has said that the AGLC has no authority to impose a trade restriction. Some BC wine producers have said they’d be willing to pay the $2.75 tax per bottle if they could continue to ship DTC. They’ve pointed out that regulating only brick-and-mortar retailers is antiquated.

According to a 2018 Supreme Court decision, the AGLC may actually have the right to restrict purchases that didn’t go through provincial licensing but … the AGLC could hardly have picked a worse time.

This letter came on the heels of a devastating cold snap on 12–13 January where temperatures dropped to -25 °C (-13 °F). Many cities recorded their lowest-ever temperatures, and growers in some areas of the province are estimating 90% vine kill. In addition to this stressor, a federal tax increase of 4.7% is set to be imposed on 1 April.

Amid everything currently troubling the wine industry, this seems an incredibly hasty and short-sighted cut-off. Why wouldn’t the AGLC open discussion with Wine Growers of BC allowing DTC with taxation, and lengthen the period before enforcement? 

This is an ongoing issue, and I am sure we will be hearing more in coming months.

The EU Commission is scrapping its most recent pesticide proposal

A bit of background – in June of 2022 the European Commission formally proposed a sustainable use regulation bill which sought to slash pesticide use by 50% by 2030. In November the text was rejected because parties on the right had proposed a number of amendments that didn’t seem in keeping with the proposal. Instead, those in charge of sustainable use regulation decided they would rework it. But last week, on 6 February, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she would scrap the upcoming proposal entirely.

The reason is, no doubt, a continuation of the farming protests that I discussed last week and the week prior. 

While I told you last week that farming protests in France had concluded and union leaders had asked members to lift blockades, on 5 February, Spanish farmers put up similar blockades for four days of protests. Meanwhile Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have seen similar farming protests. All of them are doing so in response to legislation and regulation that they believe would make their jobs more expensive and labour-intensive.

Personally, I think that proposals that utilise a carrot instead of a stick may be more effective. Perhaps subsidies for conversion to sustainable practices or organics as well as helping with marketing by funding studies into individual health benefits from eating foods grown sustainably.

The V d’Or Awards

On Sunday night, The Institute of Masters of Wine awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award – given to someone who is ‘an outstanding and inspirational figure in the world of wine whose enduring contribution spans a whole career’ – to our founder and chief Jancis Robinson MW!

Also that evening, The Old Vine Registry, the world’s most comprehensive global database of living historic vineyard sites, won the Heritage Initiative Award. This project began in 2013 as a spreadsheet of old-vine sites compiled by Jancis and especially Tam Currin, with much help from volunteers including our US correspondent Alder Yarrow, who designed and launched it as a separate, searchable database in June 2023. 

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