food / travel

Climate Apocalypse Or Economic Meltdown, Wine Will Survive

Grapes grow almost anywhere, and they're easy to ferment. So don't worry, even if the world as we know it crashes and burns, we'll have wine to ease our souls.

The end of days is nothing to wine about
The end of days is nothing to wine about
Ophélie Neiman*


PARIS — What if it all goes to hell in a handbasket? Well, at least we'll still have wine, of that I'm sure. Survivor of extremes, wine has seen plenty of bitter times. And it'll keep on keeping on, even in face of climate change, war, or the collapse of the capitalist system. As long as there are humans, there will be wine.

Humanity invented wine before it invented writing. The first traces of wine date back 8,000 years ago in Anatolia, in modern Turkey. As grapes are the fruit easiest to ferment, it's not absurd to believe that our ancestors quickly understood the benefits of stocking them in pots. Similar wine storage vases were discovered in Iran and Georgia, aged between 7,000 and 9,000 years old. In Armenia, excavations revealed a 6,100-year-old site consecrated to winemaking. In comparison, writing is a youngling at just 5,300 years old.

The first hangover in history: when Noah ended up naked in an ethanol coma (Genesis 9: 18-27).

Wine has seen its share of catastrophic events. Do you know the first thing Noah did when the flood was over, according to the Hebrew Bible? He didn't run to buy new clothes at Zara or enroll in a comprehensive insurance plan or put his savings in a bank or invest in stock. No. Fruitful living starts with grapes, so he planted vines. This led to the first hangover in history, when Noah ended up naked in an ethanol coma (Genesis 9: 18-27). Because you know what? After an apocalypse, you need a good drink.

Our era is no exception. When there's nothing left, there will be wine, because it's easy enough to create and vines adapt to almost every climate. Wine is produced in Canada, Ethiopia, Chile, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Cape Verde and Brazil. They even make it in Tahiti (OK, fine, there's one only producer there) where it's possible to have two harvests per year if you let the vine grow.

Noah and his sons making wine — Source: Holkham Bible

Wine is useful. When we wanted to purify water in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, we cut it with wine, even if it wasn't great for kids. But for Louis Pasteur, the father of pasteurization, it was the "healthiest of all drinks." Above all, vines are a symbol of civilization, made to be taken everywhere.

Georgia, one of the cradles of wine, is already dreaming about the beverage's future — and wisely preparing for the final frontier. Indeed, the University of Technology in Tbilisi is currently constructing a laboratory where it will soon test a variety of Georgian grapes in an environment similar to that of Mars.

Everywhere that wine strongly influenced culture, it has persisted — even in times of war. Don't forget that 1945 was a fantastic vintage in France. That, of course, was the year World War II ended. The vintage, consequently, became a symbol of peace. But even in Syria, where war is ongoing, people continue to harvest wine grapes.

In the Château Marsyas in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, brothers Karim and Sandro Saadé remotely direct the harvest on the Bargylus estate, their vineyard 200 kilometers away, on the other side of the border. It's too dangerous for them work in the vineyard itself, so they import their samples by taxi all the way to Beirut where they test the juice in a laboratory.

If only a small portion of humanity survives, even then there'll still be wine.

"We keep in contact with the teams there every day, by whatever means available," they explained to me by phone. "WhatsApp helps a lot." Even at the peak of the war, they haven't stopped producing. Bargylus is now exported to 24 countries.

If the collapsologists are right and only a small portion of humanity survives, even then there'll still be wine. Sure, there would be challenges: Without oil there's no plastic, so no bag-in-box wine. But there could still be amphoras, the original wine vases, which are more charming anyway. And there would be no lack of people willing to produce it. In my own travels I've met winemakers who were previously DJs, journalists, bankers, CEOs and teachers. Their wines are good.

Everyone is game — even the guy sitting next to me at a restaurant yesterday, who announced to his table that one day he would leave everything and start making wine. I resisted the temptation to interrupt and suggest that the apocalypse would be the perfect occasion. That brings to mind another potential benefit of the post-apocalyptic world: no Netflix! That means no more procrastinating, and no more excuses for making that professional reconversion a reality.

*Ophélie Neiman, aka "Miss GlouGlou" is a French journalist and wine blogger.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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