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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
22 May 2008

Australian viticulture consultant (and viticultural editor of the first two editions of The Oxford Companion to Wine) Dr Richard Smart has paid Berry Bros' recent report "A glimpse into the world of wine in 2058" the compliment of issuing the following formal rebuttal of some of its content. The study, compiled by Berry's in-house Masters of Wine, has apparently prompted headlines such as "Australia to become niche wine player" that are inflammatory enough to goad Smart into action.

While Smart has no quarrel with projections about market and packaging trends, he finds ideas about some aspects of viticulture quite fanciful. He has a 40-year experience in studying climate effects on grapes and wine, and has been concerned with global warming impacts for over 20 years. While parts of Australia are in the grip of severe drought, which reduced 2008 production but less than that anticipated, it is most unlikely that "….Australia will become too hot and arid to support large areas of vine" as stated in the Berry Bros report.

According to international climate change projections, Smart notes that Australia and other southern hemisphere wine producing countries will be impacted less than their European counterparts. Further, Australia has already convened a group to study wine sector adaptation to climate change, and is expecting to be more flexible in making changes than European countries, where so much grape production change will be inhibited by legislation and tradition. There are opportunities to develop and utilize varieties better suited to hotter conditions, as well as to relocate some grape growing to the east along the River Murray to take advantage of cooler temperatures and better water supply.

Dr Smart has widespread consulting experience in China and has studied grape
growing climates there exhaustively. He agrees with the Berry Bros report that the Chinese wine and grape sector at the moment is very large, including a lot of commercial interest in table grapes. And, like the Berry Bros report, Smart believes that the industry will grow substantially , and has the potential to develop into a significant wine exporter as has been achieved for Chinese apple production and manufacturing. While China may well develop a fine wine export market as well as for volume, Smart disagrees that Chinese styles might be comparable to those of Bordeaux, since Bordeaux has a maritime climate, and for most of the Chinese regions the climate is markedly continental, requiring burying vines in winter to avoid freeze injury.

Smart further disagrees with the likelihood of "…genetically modified vines being
grown hydroponically in off-shore floating vineyards" as being so fanciful as to be a nonsense. Vines growing in sea water?? And being able to float?? Might the vineyards sink as the grapes ripen?? As much as scientists promoting genetic modification like to promise extraordinary opportunities, this is likely even beyond their ambitions. Smart argues that there will be important innovations made in varieties to combat challenges like climate change, but that these will derive from classical crossing of existing varieties, as has been done for a hundred years in the laboratory and for thousands of years in nature.

Yet more evidence of my thesis that Berrys is the world's most talked-about wine merchant.