So long, and thanks for all the fish! 
Or, how renewable energy can save wine, and the world, if we’re willing to use it.

[Spoiler alert: Sip Wines and our winery partners are totally into renewable energy, and some of them are incorporating renewable sources in ways that put entire countries to shame. Just another amazing thing that you can support while also enjoying a bottle of fine wine. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to have a glass, why not take a sip before you kick back and read this post? Actually, I encourage it. It's about to get kinda heavy.]

“Curiously enough, the dolphins had long known of the impending demolition of Earth and had made many attempts to alert mankind to the danger. But most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to punch footballs, or whistle for titbits, so they eventually gave up and left the Earth by their own means… The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double backwards somersault through a hoop, whilst whistling the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. But, in fact, the message was this: ‘So long, and thanks for all the fish.’”

Dolphin peaking above the water
"So long, and thanks for all the fish."

I’ve never actually read any of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams, but I absolutely love that last line. It’s generally recognized as a funny way to say goodbye, but the context is eerily prescient. Basically, the dolphins knew that Earth was going to be destroyed to make room for a hyperspace bypass; as an intellectually superior species, they repeatedly tried to warn humanity of the danger before recognizing the futility of communicating with us dummies and bailing. I say this story was prescient because that’s basically where we’re at right now with our systematic abuse of our planet and the increasing inevitability of a catastrophic outcome. The dolphins will probably be leaving us soon.

Climate change is an immediate threat, and we’re bringing it upon ourselves. I don’t care how many people want to frame climate change as a valid “debate”; my six-year-old argued with me for 20 minutes yesterday about whether there are people out there who can actually say a word and make fire appear, so I suppose we “debated” the reality of spontaneous human fire generation. The scientific community is in virtually unanimous agreement that the climate is changing rapidly due to human use of fossil fuels based on extensive research and evidence. Opposing “views” seem to be more of the “nuh uh” variety, rather than backed by pesky little facts. So why are we still spiraling towards a climate disaster?

Why am I so focused on fish today?

Going back to fish: there’s an old proverb along the lines of, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Makes sense, given that he’ll be hungry again tomorrow and maybe you won’t be there to give him another fish. Stretching the metaphor to our topic, humanity is that hungry dude jonesing for energy sources, and the earth has so many resources to offer us that truly would last for lifetimes and beyond if we would just be willing to learn and embrace them. The sun and the wind are practically limitless, and they could give us everything we need. That’s renewable energy.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year.

The problem arises if it turns out that the hungry dude is also lazy AF. It’s so much easier to just be handed fish, rather than putting in all the time and effort to learn how to catch them yourself. That’s where fossil fuels come in. Oil, gas, coal… these “dirty” energy sources are finite, and we’re using them up fast. When you fill your car with gas, for example, that fuel is refined from a crude oil that’s been around since prehistoric times. DINOSAURS were hanging out with that oil. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and we’ll be up a dirty little creek with no paddle. At our current rate, we could use up our oil resources in the next 30 years, so it might be time to invest in a life jacket and a solid kayak. Don’t bother with a motorboat, you won’t be able to turn it on.

Also, here’s the fun list of side effects from using fossil fuels:

  • Carbon emissions, causing the global temperature to rise. Warmer earth = bad.
  • Air pollution, literally making it hard to breathe.
  • Ocean pollution, killing our fishies and also making the earth warmer. No more tuna sandwiches.
  • Habitat destruction, not only endangering all kinds of animals but also human populations. Deforestation + lots o’ rain + a hill = landslides destroying everything in their path.

And more. Makes those pharmaceutical ads seem downright pleasant. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are the lazy dude’s source of fish, and it’s just so much easier to keep taking them instead of learning to use our resources responsibly. So, here we are. The good news is, there’s some good news coming. The bad news is, not quite yet.

Your wine is in danger before you are...

Long before global warming will render our planet virtually uninhabitable for humans, it will destroy much of what we love and take for granted. I use wine as an example not because it’s the most important of those things, but because this is a wine blog and it would be weird if I only talked about polar bears.

Man and dog walking through vineyard
B Corp certified Winderlea Vineyard & Winery

It’s easy to forget that wine is fundamentally an agricultural product. Crystal glasses, gorgeous labels, pouring wine into an elegant decanter in a fancy restaurant--that scenario starts with a grape farm. And just like any other crop, the ability of grape farmers (“viticulturalists” or vignerons) to grow and harvest successfully depends heavily on the kindness and generosity of Mother Nature. Wine grapes are extremely sensitive to climate, for one thing. And when the end product is as nuanced as wine is, even very small changes in temperature, humidity, rainfall, and sunlight can alter a grape crop enough to make a big difference in how a wine turns out.

Interestingly, global warming could be temporarily creating better wine as warmer temperatures lead to faster ripening, and thus lower acidity and sweeter flavors. For a brief period of time, the wine world may actually be seeing a lot more consistently good vintages. Don’t get your hopes up, however. This benefit is fleeting, not to mention that it comes at the price of all the other bad things climate change is doing in the world. Here’s what happens to wine next:

“If the growing season becomes too hot, fruit will push through its life cycle too quickly and characteristics like tannins and anthocyanins, the compounds responsible for giving grape skins their color, won’t develop properly. Muted acid and increased alcohol levels are also possible and often undesirable. Variations between daytime and nighttime temperatures are in jeopardy as well. In warmer growing regions, that difference can be crucial to achieving freshness and encouraging certain flavor and aroma development. Intense heat or too much direct sunlight can lead to dried fruit notes or create flabby and dull wines. Fruit that’s left too long on the vine can be damaged from sunburn or may simply shrivel. Vines may just shut down to protect themselves.” - Wine Enthusiast

And that’s just what happens inside the grape. Warmer temperatures increase pest-borne diseases that threaten crops, rising sea levels are encroaching on wine regions, and drought is causing unprecedented wildfires. It’s not good.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, humanity has been using renewable sources of energy for a loooong time (Don Quixote was battling his windmill dragon back in 1605 and the sun has been helping crops grow since, like, the beginning of time or something).  Thanks to technological advances, we have the ability to harness these energy sources like never before. Solar panel technology has improved rapidly over the past decade, resulting in significantly increased “conversion efficiency,” meaning how efficiently a solar cell converts sunlight into electricity. This higher conversion efficiency, combined with more sophisticated production techniques, have driven solar costs down 80% from where they were a decade ago. And it’s not like the sun wouldn’t provide enough power: Each hour 430 quintillion Joules of energy from the sun hits the Earth; in comparison, the total amount of energy that all humans use in a year is 410 quintillion Joules. The wind is pretty awesome too, and we’ve come a long way from windmills. A single small wind turbine could power a residential home entirely on its own, and that’s on the smallest scale.

Wind turbine at a vineyard
Wind turbine at Anaba Winery

To be clear, none of this is even remotely theoretical at any scale.  Almost half of Denmark’s power is sourced from wind turbines, just to give you a sense of what’s already possible. But we don’t have to go as far from home as Scandinavia to see renewable energy at work: the wine industry is one place where renewable energy has been embraced, and some of our Sip Wines winery partners are powering their entire operations renewably, from growing the grapes to running their tasting rooms. Even wineries that aren’t 100% renewable are still incorporating aspects of it into their sustainability initiatives, and it’s clear from speaking with our Sip Wines partners that the trend is only moving one way for them and the industry as a whole.

In case you were wondering… their wines are incredible. After all, grapes don’t care if your irrigation system is powered by the sun, they just want their water. But no, it’s more than that. These wineries are owned and run by people who have committed themselves to preserving our planet, and that’s hard work. These aren’t people who cut corners, or take the easy road. They know what they believe in, and they’re willing to do what it takes to achieve it. Fortunately, they also believe in making good wine. And they’re succeeding.

If you want to learn more about these wineries and support them, check them out at Sip Wines. You can use our handy tag system to see what makes each of our winery partners unique and admirable, and get some great wine while you’re there. And when you pour a glass, you’ll know that your wine represents a few drops of hope for the future. Enjoy.

Solar panels in front of grapevines
Solar panels at Medlock Ames 

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