A wine will show every mark of a cruel vintage, or every triumph of a great one. It captures a sense of time and place like no other agricultural product. But what if that time is tumultuous, or that place is undergoing a catastrophic event? When disaster strikes, it’s remarkable how often the local, and global winemaking community can come together to push through the hard times.
Perhaps one of the most challenging times our producers went through was the Covid-19 pandemic. Rosie Finn from Neudorf Wines recalls how harvest had only just kicked off when lockdown was announced in New Zealand. ‘We didn’t know if we were going to stop production altogether,’ she recalls. ‘We called out to our friends who managed to help us pick our Home Block Moutere Chardonnay – we were determined that if there was only one wine was to be made, it had to be that one.
‘We had to continue the vintage under really strict conditions, we ended up with three bubbles of vineyard and winery workers. Most of our pickers are also backpackers, so when lockdown came, they lost their accommodation, but we were determined to make it work so we made a campsite for them at the back of the winery. We couldn’t interact so we would leave out presents for each other. They would leave out home baking for us and we would leave homegrown produce. It was such a humbling experience to have such an amazing team – that vintage created a real bond with our community.’
With any luck, we’re past the worst of Covid-19, but the ongoing threat of climate changes continues to throw curveballs. It’s important to use the phrase ‘climate change’ as opposed to ‘global warming’, as the climate crisis is more than warming temperatures – it's also rising sea levels, global dimming and an increase in freak weather phenomena. Californian wildfires are an example of this. Although common, frequency of the wildfires has increased fivefold since 1996, and 10 of the largest wildfires have occurred in the last 20 years – and half of them occurred in 2020 alone.
These wildfires displace families, businesses and communities every single year, but they also have an extreme impact on agriculture and winemaking. In the record year of 2020, between 165,000 to 325,000 tonnes of grapes were exposed to wildfire smoke, resulting in ashy, burnt flavours in the wines. It’s a growing concern, but wineries in the region are banding together to support each other and find a solution. Bogle Vineyards created the Bogle Gives Back programme in 2019 to donate resources and time to their local community and in 2020, raised over $20,000 to help those in Napa and Sonoma who had suffered losses to their wineries, vineyards and homes. Several other large wine groups have followed suit, with Napa Valley Vintners raising $2.1 million to build its wildfire resilience.
Across the pond, climate change has been affecting the rivers, too. Germany’s Ahr Valley was struck with devastating floods in July 2021 after its river flooded, leaving a trail of damage in its wake – over a month of rainfall fell within 24 hours, and some of the hardest hit were the local winemakers. Not only were vineyards submerged, but entire wineries were flooded, or entirely washed away.
One of our producers, Jean Stodden, were especially affected. When the waters receded, all the wine had to be tasted, assessed and analysed to find out exactly what was left. All the barrel markings had been washed away, so winemakers and producers from the local community came together to identify what had survived – all for the love of wine. Neighbouring winemaker Hans Oliver even identified a truly outstanding cuvée (and was then named after him). It is possibly the best German pinot we have ever offered to our members.
This bottle of pinot is representative of something incredibly important. Its existence suggests that even when it seems we have nothing, something meaningful can be made. Something that tastes better having emerged from adversity. Something that couldn’t have existed without the community that depends on it.