In vino veritas

“Wine makers lose billions annually in natural disasters” was the headline that truly caught my eye. This potentially catastrophic. Well, perhaps not, but serious. It should be a lever to get more investment out of politicians in disaster mitigation surely?

The headline did get me thinking about how I have intersected with wine over the course of my near 20 years in this business. Sure, there has been plenty of wine consumed as a self-care strategy- generally in moderation and in the good company of family and friends. I am very watchful that alcohol is not the only self-care strategy. It was my father’s as he coped with his undiagnosed post war PTSD.

During the Alpine fires in 2003, the thick smoke hung over the north east valleys for weeks. This was the period in which the grapes in vineyards were ripening. The winemakers knew they had a problem, that the skins would be tainted with smoke. But they hadn’t faced this problem before. Through the appeal that was run, we were able to provide a small amount of money to enable them to undertake some research on whether to make a vintage with the grapes. A few years later we were driving through the area on holidays and stopped. Lo and behold in the $5 bin were bottles of smoke taint wine from 2003. So, I bought a bottle. There was a reason it was in the $5 bin. It was terrible. But at least they had a go. More recently we were able to link up winemakers in the Adelaide Hills with the winemakers of the north east, as they had experienced the same issue in the Sampson’s flat fires, and more research has been done through the Australian Winemaking Institute. It’s apparently not straightforward, as I have been reading.

One of the more fun ideas to come out of a workshop we had a couple of years ago on how to target younger people with preparedness was to run wine and cheese preparedness nights. We were in the Adelaide Hills when the idea came about , so it seemed a natural. Sadly, it hasn’t come to fruition, yet. But maybe sometime?

The Margaret River area in Western Australia was threatened by fires in 2011. Over 30 houses were destroyed. I remember at the time the concern about the potential loss of vineyards, which contribute about a fifth of the Australian wine market. Not to mention the impact on tourism. The report I mentioned above speaks about hail and frost as being the major impacts on the wine making industry. These hazards generally don’t have a broader tangible impact on communities. But there is also the intangible impact of loss of income and what it does to local economies and hence communities. Interestingly it also mentions the impact of earthquakes on infrastructure as well as the loss of rare and historic vintages,( I assume from the shaking- not sure if this destroying the bottles or the impact of the shaking on the wine). The Australian wine market is the fifth largest in the world, so if there was a universal hazard of some sort, this would have a significant consequence on the Australian economy, and hence communities. You can see why biosecurity is taken seriously

We commonly discuss the increase in alcohol consumption in communities post disaster. But some research I have been involved in, suggests that it doesn’t change. Other studies have also found that in some people drinking goes up, in others it goes down, evening out community wide. At a community level this may be a good thing, but for those that are on the up side, it may not be a good thing, and these are the things we need to delve a bit deeper into.

Alcohol has also been a contributor to many a technological disaster, plane crashes, train crashes, industrial accidents. One of the stranger ones I have come across was the Boston molasses flood of 1919. Molasses, stored on the waterfront in Boston to ferment alcohol, exploded, sending a 13m high wave through the waterfront at up to 60kmh. And before you laugh and think yuck, ghostbusters-crossthestreams-mrstaypuftmarshmallowman, 21 people were killed and 150 were injured. People died because they were stuck in the molasses, and suffocated. Not a great way to go out.

One of my friends when cleaning out his mothers laundry, came across wine that his father had stored from the sixties. Almost all of it was undrinkable, but some was, and it gave him a lovely connection back to his father who died relatively young and he missed terribly. Wine is part of the social fabric for many of us, and this rich fabric is what holds us together and helps us through thick, and thin.


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