Is it time to start praying to Dionysius, the god of wine in Greek mythology?
Wine aficionados might do as well to make an offering to Zeus, the king of the gods in the Olympian pantheon and also, as wielder of the thunderbolt, in charge of the weather. 60 percent of the world’s wine comes from Europe and a fair share of that from France, where production has fallen drastically due to poor weather and vine pull, in which grape growers receive financial incentives to pull up their grape vines.
The European Union initiated vine pull in 1988, at a time of overproduction and declining demand. But total wine production across Europe was down by 10 percent last year. It has fallen by 25 percent from 2004, when production was at a peak and supply exceeded demand by about 600 million cases.
Last year, demand for wine around the world “exceeded supply by 300 million cases,” according to the Morgan Stanley report; this was the “deepest shortfall in over 40 years of records.” While the French drink the largest amount of wine (adding up to 12 percent of global consumption), the United States (which also consumes 12 percent) is right behind. Due to its recently larger, and richer, middle class, demand for wine is up so much in China that it is now the fifth larger consumer of wine in the world (and the largest importer of wine from the Bordeauz region of France); wine exports from the E.U. to China totaled nearly $1 billion in 2012.
Wine is also produced in “new world” countries including the United States, Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. All of these countries export only 30 percent of all wine and produce even less of global supply, the bulk of which still comes from France, Italy and Spain.
Since 2001, the amount of land that is “under the vine” in Europe has fallen. The one place where more land is being cultivated for wine production is China. From 2000 to 2013, areas under the vine have increased there by a full 3 percent.
Whether China’s growing production of wine could halt or even turn around a global shortage is debatable. Reports of fake wines made and sold in China have been proliferating. Rising demand for wine has meant that a bottle of an iconic brand like Château Lafite (the real thing is from France’s Bordeaux region) procured in China is as likely to be a fake as a Gucci bag bought off the street in lower Manhattan. U.S. consumers wouldn’t be too happy to find made in China wine in bottles with French on the label.
Even if you’re a teetotaler, a global shortage of wine is reason to be concerned. As Care2 writer Beth Buczynski recently wrote, the demand for wine and for land is so great that one California winemaker wants to clear cut 154 acres of redwoods and Douglas firs to make way for grapevines. China’s desire to clear land for vast vineyards has also sparked alarm. Authorities in the country’s northwest Shaanxi province are planning to clear 18,000 hectares of forests at the foot of Qin Mountain, land that is the natural habitat of the giant panda.
If it’s the case that global thirst for wine will mean the destruction of forests and of the one place in the world where giant pandas are found in the wild, we’d best beseech neither Dionysius nor Zeus but Artemis. She is the goddess of hunting but she is also a protectress of wildlife — deer as well as dogs are her symbols — and of the woods. Do we really care more about red wine than redwoods?
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