Monday, September 6, 2021

The (saddest) effect of Covid-19 on the wine industry

This is an unusual "data" post, for this blog, because the only real data is the number 4.

We all have Covid-19 stories. Mine is probably better than many peoples', but it still hurts. A few years ago, I managed to get back to Australia in time to see both my father and my sister one last time before they died (which they did in the same week). Well, last year I planned to do the same thing for my brother. The Australian government had other plans, however, isolating themselves fairly effectively from the pandemic-ridden world.

I then tried to make it back for my brother's funeral later in the year, but was prevented again. The quarantine hotels in South Australia were closed just before I was due to travel, due to a lying pizza worker (Pizza worker at centre of South Australia lockdown 'unaware' of public attention). I made an online appearance at the funeral, but you can imagine that this was a very poor substitute.


Obviously, I was not the only one affected by the Australian government's quarantine restrictions. For example, in early 2020 it was noted that One-third of Australia's wineries could go under because of coronavirus pandemic, which is of more relevance to the blog.

This brings us to the topic of this post, which is the psychological response of people in the agriculture industry to these situations. This sometimes reaches the ultimate extreme. It has been noted (Walk beside me and be my friend) for Australia:
The agriculture industry has a higher rate of mental health issues and a higher suicide risk in the country per capita than in the city. Low crops, drought, inherited farms, unemployment, to name a few.
Death is a topic that cannot be over-looked, and so I thought that it is worth raising here. We currently live in economically uncertain times, and this affects the wine industry just as much as anywhere else in agriculture. This often means that non-natural deaths increase in number, and so it has recently been for wine-making as well.

There have been four wine-industry suicides in France publicly announced so far: Dominique Belluard (Domaine Belluard, Savoie), Laurent Vaillé (La Grange des Pères, Languedoc), Pascal Clairet (Domaine de la Tournelle, Jura), and Olivier Lemasson (Les Vins Contés, Loire). There may have also been others, less well-known. English-language commentaries on these four people have appeared:
The cause here is, of course, the combination of a pandemic with one of the worst vineyard years on record: French wine production could be the lowest in at least 40 years — if not ever. This is in stark contrast to recent decades, where things have looked pretty good. Andrew Jefford (Appellations: time for change?) has recently reminded us that:
Many French appellations were created in the 1930s. It was a decade of execrable weather, economic depression and political foreboding: life couldn’t have been tougher for growers ... In the past 40 years, everything has changed. Economic conditions are benign; fine-wine regions have prospered beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations.
Sadly, the future is now much less certain, once again. In the short term we have this: Global wine trade faces turbulent times. In the long term, we have this: Six environmental threats that could alter the future of the booze industry. As Jonathan Pedley has asked: Who would grow grapes for a living?


Depression is not unique to the wine industry, of course. In 2016, it was reported that: French farming hit by ‘600 suicides a year’. That is a helluva lot of humans, in a country of c. 65 million people (1 in 100,000). The basis is quite clear, as expressed by a 2019 report: ‘Farming doesn’t feed us’: The story of France’s ailing agriculture. Nor are agriculture suicides unique to France, either (The devastating drought across the [U.S.] West could mean an increase in farmer suicides). Indeed, it seems to be particularly problematic in India.

This does not necessarily have to be all gloom and doom, of course. Yes, the global death rate is known to be surprisingly high, at precisely 100%. However, before our time comes, there are many things that we could do, to while away the time. The article I cited near the beginning of this post (Walk beside me and be my friend) is actually a story about a wine-maker who made a comeback from serious professional depression, with the help of his friends and colleagues. It would be good if it acted as inspiration for people, rather than the other, much sadder, alternative.

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