Canadair responding to a forest fire in France. ©illustrez-vous via Adobe Stock
Canadair responding to a forest fire in France. ©illustrez-vous via Adobe Stock

2022: A Hellish Summer of Climate Change in Europe

A Collection of Images and Video Showing the Devastating Effects of Heat and Drought

5 min read

It has been a hellish summer in Europe. In a way, worrying about how the 2022 vintage from your favorite wine region will taste seems rather trite at this point. Climate change has long seemed portentous; but seeing what has happened this summer in Europe confirms that it is happening now.

Fire have raged, glaciers have collapsed and many of the major rivers that serve as lifelines for agriculture and commerce have dried up. Individually, these events are not entirely new, but the scale and frequency of them is jarring to say the least. For those of us who follow the wine industry, Europe’s drought-ridden summer will shape policy, practices and the economies of wine production there for years to come, even in places that seemingly dodged the bullet in 2022.

What follows is a simple roundup of news articles, photos and videos to capture the breadth of events and give a broad-strokes view of the crisis as a whole. I’ll be following more specific impacts in the months and years to come, particularly how dwindling snowpack in the mountain ranges of Europe, and the scant water resources that follow, will impact viticulture, since that is the most pressing issue facing the regions I cover.

But I am also left with a profoundly personal question I cannot reconcile: how does my love of wine — particularly imported European wine — play a role in fueling the climate crisis? It has been on my mind for years, and I’ve been a little too scared of the answer to write about it, if I am being honest. I am curious how you wrestle with this question as well (comment below).

(Let’s also make this painfully clear: this is not a European wine issue; obviously, it is a global one).

I’ll update this page as the summer comes to an end (hopefully with less and less news to report). But look for essays and more coverage on climate change and the wine world in the coming months and years.

Italy

In Italy, the Po River has receded to a point where you can walk across it “without wetting one’s feet.” With it, the Adriatic has encroached 12 miles inland and killed crops with its salty kiss.

In July, fires raged in the Carso region straddling the Friuli-Slovenia and in various locations around Tuscany including Lucca and Montalcino. In hindsight, ominous signs of this drought were obvious when I visited in March and April. The snowpack in the Italian Alps was already well gone when I flew over, and the rainy days I encounter in Chianti Classico were the first precipitation in more than 100 days.

 

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France

In Bordeaux, significant tracts of the largest manmade forest in Europe — Les Landes — has burned with frightening speed. Estimated at 2.5 million acres in size, this piney barrier between vines and sea has played an integral role in defining Bordeaux’s terroir. Now, a race to save the vintage from smoke taint gives the area yet another parallel (albeit an unwelcome one) to Napa.

It is important to note that Les Landes is a fragmented tract of land, not a contiguous 2.5 million acres of forest. Comparing the impacts and size of these fires to what we experience in North America is an apples-to-oranges comparison.


The Loire is alarmingly low, however, as locally based wine writer Chris Kissack points out, this portion of the river is often sandy. Some context:

Germany

One year after devastating floods tore the Ahr River Valley in Germany, upending  the region’s entire wine industry, comes a baking summer of heat domes and no rain. Like the Po, the Rhine River has effectively dried up, but the consequences are being felt in a different but no less alarming way in Germany. The Rhine is an essential shipping corridor, and without enough water, everything grinds to a halt. With the war in Ukraine already pinching gas supplies, Germans are rightfully worried about what’s to come.

Top image: Canadair responding to a forest fire in France. ©illustrez-vous via Adobe Stock

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