Yesterday the New York Times ran a fascinating article by Keith Bradsher about drought in Australia and its contribution to the growing world food crisis. The short of it is that six years of drought have made many stretches of land in Southeastern Australia no longer viable for rice cultivation, putting farmers, mills, and even whole towns out of business. The drought has reduced Australia’s rice crop by an astounding 98%, adding to the perfect storm of factors that have produced mass hunger and food riots from the Philippines to Cairo to Senegal to Haiti.
The reason this is a wine story is that even if there isn’t enough water to grow rice, there is enough to grow winegrapes, and that’s exactly the conversion that’s going on. helping to feed the apparently unstoppable growth of Australian wine exports. It’s a perfect example of our friends, those good old free-market forces, working their magic, and another reason to love capitalism. But for Graeme J. Haley, the general manager of the town of Deniliquin, dateline for the story, “Rice is a staple food. Chardonnay is not.”
Does this mean we should stop drinking Australian wine? Every time we drink a bottle of Chardonnay, should we send five bucks to Haitian food relief? Should there be a moratorium on planting vineyards in places that can grow food, as long as two billion people go to bed hungry every night? Should this all be chalked up as just one of those things? Discuss among yourselves.
The fact that this is a wine story, and not just a drought story, and that it shows up in the New York Times, confirms for me the hunch I floated in my three-part series on The Future of Wine Writing back in March that the most substantive wine writing, the journalism that ultimately matters, will still be found for the foreseeable future in the print media, in long-form newspaper and magazine writing and in books. Bradsher’s article seems to have far more heft than a mountain of individual tasting notes posted on the web.
And in a broader sense, this eye-opening piece of reporting is a reminder that there is so much more to wine than the details of the interior, subjective experiences of individual drinkers. Wine is a subject with enormous historical, philosophical, economic, social and health facets and implications; how small-minded it is to worry only about whether tonight’s chosen bottle has a little too much oak.