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Climate change in wine country


Wine production, as many of you know, is pegged to particular climate conditions. Both the rise in temperatures and extreme weather events present something of a problem for this model:

In Napa Valley, the lush heartland of America’s high-end wine industry, climate change is spelling calamity. Not outwardly: On the main road running through the small town of St. Helena, tourists still stream into wineries with exquisitely appointed tasting rooms. At the Goose & Gander, where the lamb chops are $63, the line for a table still tumbles out onto the sidewalk.

But drive off the main road, and the vineyards that made this valley famous — where the mix of soil, temperature patterns and rainfall used to be just right — are now surrounded by burned-out landscapes, dwindling water supplies and increasingly nervous winemakers, bracing for things to get worse.

Desperation has pushed some growers to spray sunscreen on grapes, to try to prevent roasting, while others are irrigating with treated wastewater from toilets and sinks because reservoirs are dry.

Their fate matters even for those who can’t tell a merlot from a malbec. Napa boasts some of the country’s most expensive farmland, selling for as much as $1 million per acre; a ton of grapes fetches two to four times as much as anywhere else in California. If there is any nook of American agriculture with both the means and incentive to outwit climate change, it is here.

But so far, the experience of winemakers here demonstrates the limits of adapting to a warming planet.

If the heat and drought trends worsen, “we’re probably out of business,” said Cyril Chappellet, president of Chappellet Winery, which has been operating for more than half a century. “All of us are out business.”

And while society can survive a lower supply of fine wines, this is of course a problem for agricultural production in general:

As devastating heat waves sweep swaths of the globe, farmers in Canada are facing a crippling phenomenon: Crops are baking in fields.

Cherries have roasted on trees. Fields of canola and wheat have withered brown. And as feed and safe water for animals grow scarce, ranchers may have no choice but to sell off their livestock.

“It will totally upend Canadian food production if this becomes a regular thing,” said Lenore Newman, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

The fact that one of the two major American political parties is committed to pretending to believe that this is all a massive hoax seems bad.

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