My writing colleague and friend Brian Freedman has just published a new and important book that will make a great holiday gift for anyone interested in wine and how global warming can change the wine and spirits we drink. It’s called Crushed: How a Changing Climate is Altering the Way We Drink, and you can learn more about it here or access on Amazon.
We talked with Brian about the book and why he wrote it.
Your book is about wine growing and global warming. What approach did you take in describing what is happening?
There have been so many books written about how our food system is being affected by climate change, but not much for consumers about its impacts on the world of wine and spirits. There have been many important works on the subject produced for beverage professionals, but book-length dives into the issue, focused on the very human stories, have been more difficult to find. I decided to focus on growers and producers in eight specific places around the world and to tell their stories. My goal was to bring readers into the lives of the people who are being affected so dramatically by the changing climate.
Did you find as much concern about climate change in the Southern Hemisphere as we’ve seen in the Northern Hemisphere?
It really depends on who I spoke with. One producer in Argentina was less concerned about it than another in Chile, but everyone seemed to agree on the necessity of farming with respect for the environment, focusing on sustainability and producing wine that accurately and deliciously reflects its place of origin.
Tell me about the worst situation you found.
Worst is a tricky concept in general because, for any given grower or producer, both individual or slowly building climate events can seem particularly terrifying while they’re being lived in real-time. But the fires in California are uniquely awful in both their intensity and increasing frequency, and the 2021 deep freeze in Texas over Valentine’s Day weekend was literally unprecedented. In general, however, I think that it’s not only the individual climate events that are so scary and dangerous, but also the cumulative effects of them all. This is very much terra incognita we find ourselves in.
What was the best example you found of winegrowers adapting to climate change?
I firmly believe that the people who grow the grapes and grains and produce the wines and spirits are going to be among the leaders who show us how to pivot where necessary and find a way forward in this world of climate change. One professional in particular, Michal Akerman, a viticulturist and the CEO of Tabor Winery in Israel, underwent a fascinating transformation in how she looks at the land in which her grapes are grown. Ever since she has emerged as a leader in helping the Israeli wine industry become a worldwide leader in navigating a way forward.
We hear almost nothing about where global warming has had positive effects, although physics would tell us that it must be happening. Did you find any silver linings?
South and southeastern England have both excellent terroir for sparkling wine – there are even places in the latter with clay, much like in Champagne – and a forward-thinking, ambitious, and open-minded wine-producing community. And now that temperatures are rising there, they’re able to ripen their grapes reliably enough that their bottlings are seriously accomplished – more and more exciting with each passing year. Of course, climate change is about much more than just temperatures, and many of the producers there that I spoke with told me about how rains, for example, are becoming more severe, but in general, the warming temperatures are benefiting producers in southern and southeastern England.
What was the mood you found in general? Despair? Hope? Somewhere in between?
It’s easy to despair in light of what climate change is doing to the planet and how it’s affecting the lives and livelihoods of the people who grow and produce the beverages we love so much. However, I found a deep sense of resolve among the people I profiled in the book. No one really gets into the wine industry because they have to, but rather because they generally love wine and possess a deep passion for it. Perhaps because of that, and also because so many people in this business are so smart, open-minded, and forward-thinking, I think that there is no group of professionals more likely to lead the way forward. Despair is easy to feel right now, especially when the fires are encroaching and the floodwaters rising, and the hail is pummeling the vines, but overall, I found a deep belief in the power of human ingenuity, coupled with a healthy respect for the environment, that pulse through the words and actions of so many of the people in our industry.
Finally, tell us a story about something that happened during your reporting.
I wrote this book during the second half of 2021 in our small suburban Philadelphia house at the dining room table that doubled as mine and my wife’s office while simultaneously training for a marathon and with our two daughters in the next room watching seemingly every episode of Fuller House and Schitt’s Creek and our Covid-cliché rescue dog at my feet. I don’t know if it counts as humorous, but anyone who’s ever tried to write anything with the theme song to a sitcom running through your head knows the difficulty of doing so. And the Fuller House theme, with its re-working of the original series’ lyrics – “Whatever happened to predictability / The milkman, the paperboy, and evening TV…” – became the soundtrack to my typing, for better or worse.