Torres a lone Spaniard on climate change

Pancho Campo's Second World Meeting on Climate Change & Wine held in Barcelona 15-16 Feb seems to have been a great success by all accounts that have so far reached me. At least 350 participants from 41 countries met to debate the effects that climate change will have on the wine industry and to listen to 21 varied speakers. The conference was organized by The Wine Academy of Spain, of which Pancho Campo is president.

Former US vice-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore gave the closing speech, "An uncomfortable truth", with a video-conference from Nashville, Tennessee. He answered nearly an hour of questions from both attendees and journalists and promised to attend the third conference.

Gore praised the global wine trade for tackling climate change and taking the right steps. He addressed its areas of influence and political, ecological, ethical and economic responsibilities. He emphasised that "Things we measure get more attention than the things we don't measure. So carbon dioxide has historically been treated as irrelevant. We are not putting a price on the horrible destruction that carbon is causing." Gore is asking governments to monetize carbon dioxide via national taxes and tradable emissions credit instruments. He revealed that "800 US cities have independently joined the Kyoto Treaty", but they realise little can be done unless they have "a national law".

Pancho Campo, an ambassador of Al Gore's Climate Project, lamented the lack of Spanish participation at the conference – Spaniards represented only 5% of attendees – while praising the Catalan government for its support. "The only Spanish winemaker represented here today is Bodegas Torres and the DO Condado de Huelva, but nobody from such important winemaking regions as Rioja or Ribera del Duero". However, "we have over 350 people from 41 countries from Japan to Vancouver and everywhere in between," he said. Acknowledging the amount of confusion still existing in the industry, he pointed out that "those of us in the wine industry – which is after all an agricultural activity and therefore very vulnerable to climate change – have a great opportunity to take the lead." Pancho also presented the results of his research on the emissions of CO2 due to packaging and transportation.

In a joint speech, several winemakers including Torres and Hardy's Banrock Station of Australia explained how they prepare to combat climate change.

Spanish producer Miguel Torres told delegates he was pioneering "carbon capture and storage", whereby harmful CO2 emissions are trapped and stored underground. In Chile he has set up the first recovery process for the CO2 produced by fermenting grapes, he said, and "we are trying to convert it into something solid that will remain in the ground instead of being emitted into the air". If the Chile pilot project is successful, he intends to implement it in his Spanish vineyards, with co-financing from the regional government of Catalonia. Meanwhile, "we move the vines to areas higher and cooler. Vines previously planted on the coast have moved further inland."

Tony Sharley, an environmental scientist and manager of Banrock Station – acclaimed as the most eco-friendly winery in the world – gave a practical presentation of how they research and invest in lowering transportation costs, catching and recycling rain water, reducing water use, recycled packaging, replanting trees in surrounding landscape. As a result they have seen an increase in ecotourism, wine quality and revenue. He expects this direct relation between conversation and profit will have a domino effect on the industry.

Dr Richard Smart, internationally known exponent of canopy management and viticulture, said there is incontrovertible evidence that changes in temperature of even one degree translate into dramatically different weather, based on sources such as the research by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and France's National Agronomic Research Industry (INRA). His speech focused on adaptation to the inevitable. He recommended that producers consider not only the varieties they are planting, but the location of the vines as well. While "some relatively cold regions in the southern hemisphere such as Chile, New Zealand, Argentina or even northern Europe are 'lucky' and have room to manoeuvre as growers move to cooler or higher areas to plant grapes, fine wine regions like Bordeaux or Burgundy will cease to be viable because such tactics would not be possible there." Dr Smart places power in the citizens' hands to force politicians to take action and warned against genetic modification as the solution. "Research authorities have wasted millions on trying to put a cactus gene in a Chardonnay grape. In 30 years, they expect to have a Chardonnay grape that is adapted to higher temperatures. But in my opinion, this will produce nothing but chardonnay-flavored tequila".

The conference was a unique occasion for two of the best-known internationally practising oenologists in the world today, Jacques Lurton and Michel Rolland, who presented a tasting of wines affected by the climate change. The 350 attendees were challenged to a blind tasting where whites were commented by Lurton and reds by Rolland.

Lurton, fifth generation of the renowned Bordeaux winemaking family, admitted that some French regions are "making wines near their climatic limit" but "there was still room for manoeuvre". He predicted a change in style of wine over the next 20 years, with perhaps a Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon becoming closer to those currently being made in Napa Valley, California".

Rolland, a consultant and 'wine designer' in over 13 countries from Argentina to Australia, asserts that "climate change has not changed the production techniques." He said "It is necessary for mental attitudes to change, that the producer uses less water, less energy, and practices a more holistic agriculture. If we do not meet these codes, wine quality will not improve", adding that "although climate warming may be relatively positive for some regions, I do not foresee great wines coming from countries like Denmark."

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