Embodied energy: water and wine
I enjoy a glass of red Australian wine… So while in Oz for six weeks, Eric and I were keen to visit estates producing some of our favorite vintages.
As the world’s fourth
largest wine exporter, 60% of Australia’s annual production of 750 million litres is sent abroad. Although Aussies love their reds, evidently we foreigners enjoy them even more.
Riverland wine region
Riverland wineries are so-named because this picturesque region borders the Murray River east of Adelaide. The Murray-Darling River Basin is Australia’s food basket, sustaining 40% of Australia’s agri-food production from irrigated fields of vegetables and fruit along the river valley. However, the land given to growing grapes is staggering, producing 50% of South Australia state’s “total crush”, and 30% of the country’s annual production.
We watched vines being picked by gigantic machines, learning from one of the field managers that there simply aren’t enough human pickers to manage the harvest volume. Blocks of gigantic metal tanks sprawling over the acreages reveal the scale of the industrial process used to convert grapes to wines consumers so enjoy.
This productive sounding situation has environmental challenges. The Murray River is not just a provider: it is infamous for its unpredictable, highly variable cycle of droughts and floods, which nowadays are exacerbated by climate change and water extraction. With an annual average of about 3,790 gigalitres being diverted from the river to irrigate 470,000 ha, dependency upon a reliable water supply is paramount.
The system of dams, weirs and locks stabilizing the Murray’s flow both control water supply and provide food security. Additionally, the government implements an allocation system, whereby farmers are permitted specific amounts of water. Since 1975, embargoes were applied on issuing new water entitlements and 1983 saw the start of transfers of water entitlements between farms. Sounds rather like a cap and trade system, doesn’t it? (Source: murrayriver.com.au)
RAMSAR wetland at Banrock Station
Some wineries are dedicated to increasing environmental protection of the area’s watershed, with Banrock Station being a leader in sustainability. The station’s ranger, Tim Field, invited us to hike the estate’s 8 km innovative wetland trail before taking us on a personal tour. Tim manages Banrock’s Riverine Recovery Project (RRP), which simulates a naturally erratic flood-drought system whereby land is deliberately flooded and drained.
The resulting wetland now provides still-increasing habitat biodiversity where long-vanished native plants and animal are making an exciting comeback. Even when hiking the trail during the typically drier season of Australia’s early autumn, we spied many waterfowl such as yellow spoonbills dabbling in the water. Banrock’s success has won it internationally renowned RAMSAR status – like Ottawa’s rare Mer Bleue, such wetlands are considered of world-wide importance for ecological integrity.
Now, when you or I savour an Aussie red perhaps purchased at Provigo or SAQ, we can acknowledge the importance of water to wine. I will also remember the drought monitor tower along Banrock Station’s wetland walk. A towering “flood pole” on a flat dry plain records various flood levels, including the 6.2 metre depth recorded in 1956. We could only imagine the destruction of livestock, crops, and buildings during such inundation – and we understood why governments are continually pressured to invoke water controls.
Katharine and Eric Fletcher enjoyed visiting Australia for six weeks. This is her last Aussie-inspired column from that trip. Contact her at email@example.com