Climate Change in Viticultural Areas with Local Food and Wine’s Paige Donner

The Local Food and Wine blog has spanned the globe, covering the world’s great winemaking regions, and the climate issues they face.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome today to Green is Good, and today we have on the show and we’re so excited to have on the show our great friend and a friend of Green is Good, actress, filmmaker, producer, writer, Paige Donner, who’s coming to us again from Paris, France. Welcome to Green is Good, Paige. PAIGE DONNER: Thank you, John. I’m so happy to be here. The day couldn’t be more magnificent. It’s pretty much the first real spring day, so we’ve got some sunshine today, which is great news. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, I’m so happy to have you on. We just got back on the air. We’re on Sirius XM America’s Talk Channel, 166 across the United States and uploaded on the iTunes network across the world after it airs in America, and we’re just thrilled that you’re on one of our first shows because you deserve to be. You were always one of our favorite people when we used to be on terrestrial radio, so thank you for coming on from Paris, Paige. It’s so wonderful to have you back. PAIGE DONNER: Well, John, congratulations. You deserve all the success that’s coming your way. You do such a great job with this show, and I’m absolutely honored to be featured as one of your guests again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you. Last time we were talking more about the hotel business and the greening of the hotel business. Today, you’re to be talking more about food and wine and climate change and all these fascinating, wonderful issues that touch us all. Why don’t we just start and talk a little bit about what you’ve been up to, and the journey you’ve been on? This is your time, Paige, just to share the journey you’ve been on since you last came on Green is Good. Why don’t you just start with just local wine and food? PAIGE DONNER: Yes, I’m thrilled to. I’m absolutely thrilled to. Being in Europe afforded me more a chance to delve more deeply into the whole subject of wine. Because, as you know, John, I have been reporting for the International Herald Tribune, soon to be known as the International New York Times, by the way. That will be announced soon. On issues of sustainability, I’ve been able to merge the two passions. That resulted in November of 2011 an article that I was assigned that appeared in the International Herald Tribune on the topic of wine and climate change. Since, I’ve been able to actually develop that a little bit further, and it’s now a documentary film project on that topic, on the topic of wine and climate change. It was really great because I was able to take my professional reporting on sustainability issues and merge it with my personal passion, my local food and wine blog, so I married the two and came up with this project. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. For our listeners out there that are just listening in just now, we’ve got Paige Donner on. She’s in Paris, France. You have a wonderful WordPress local wine site. It’s called localfoodandwine.wordpress.com. I’m on it right now, and it is just gorgeous. It has some amazing articles on it. Why don’t you talk a little bit about this WordPress site that you have, and what you’re platforming on it? PAIGE DONNER: OK. With absolute pleasure, John. The funny thing is – and this will circle back as we continue to talk about the issue of wine and climate change – I actually started that website when I rocked up on shores of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, which was right prior to my assignment starting for covering the winter Olympics there in 2010. So, that was kind of my first introduction to the Napa of the North. I had just arrived at this beauteous, idyllic, beautiful wine region of British Columbia, and I became fascinated with writing about it. That’s where the genesis of Local Food and Wine started. It kind of married to the region very well because British Columbia and Vancouver pride themselves on being one of the first places to really be strong proponents of the whole local food movement, so people there are really dedicated to the principles of eating locally and organically as well. The wine of the Okanagan – It’s a young region, but it’s an amazing region. So, then when I came over to France, I continued. I mean, France is just the capital. The French cuisine actually has a UNESCO heritage designation, so how can you not write about food and wine when you’re in France? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. Wow. So, through your writing, like you said when you were talking about the connections between wine and climate change, you’ve now developed this concept into a film. Tell our listeners where the film is, and what are you exploring in the film that articles don’t lend themselves to? PAIGE DONNER: Yeah, that’s a great question, John. I was thrilled when my signing editor at the International Herald Tribune gave me the go-ahead to do the article on wine and climate change, and he knew that I had spent some time in Bordeaux and that I also was very familiar with the California wine regions, namely Napa. Those are two areas that the climate scientists have been looking very closely for the last decade, monitoring climate change and how this can affect the cultural areas. Wine grapes and viticulture have long been recognized by climate scientists as being the most sensitive agricultural crop in terms of climate change. So, what you see happening in wineries is kind of like harbingers for what’s coming down the pike for other agricultural regions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Explain to us, though. Climate change is affecting so much. Paige, I’ve realized in California our weather patterns have changed. This winter in New York, I felt like it was so much different than any other winter I experienced when I was growing up here. How is it really affecting wine for people who enjoy local food and wine, for people who enjoy the fun, the excitement, the pure pleasure that food and wine bring us all? Is climate change going to affect our opportunity to enjoy wine in the future? What’s your thoughts on that? Is that going to be explored in your film? PAIGE DONNER: Yeah. Another great question, John. In the film, what I can show more than you can in print, is that wine is basically a family industry. It’s about people cultivating the land. I mean, even the best winemakers and growers are often very humble and really down-to-earth people. They’re the first to say, “Hey, I’m a farmer.” So, the human side of it lends itself much more to telling this tale to film. More specifically to your question, John, that’s the big question the scientists are asking themselves. Is this going to affect how we enjoy wine? Now, everyone is kind of abuzz because on April 8th, the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, so just last Monday, released a study that examines these climate change issues. What they’ve come up with is that it’s a lot more serious than anyone prior to this had ever wanted to acknowledge. I mean, one of the foremost scientists out of the University of Oregon is called Greg Jones, and he’s really recognized as the foremost climate scientist in terms of viticulture. He’s been saying these things at least since 2005. There’s an article published, and he’s come out with a couple of books. I cited him at length in my International Herald Tribune article, but this study just came out, and it’s a composite study of University of Davis, the lead scientist on it is Lee Hannah, so you can Google it and you can find the PDF and read the study yourself. The proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or pnas.org. And Google it under Lee Hannah. What they’re finding is that in certain regions – it’s not across the board – it’s just certain optimum regions, anything with the Mediterranean climate, the areas that are cultural capacity for cultivation may actually be reduced to up to 73%. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Unbelievable. PAIGE DONNER: Yeah. It is unbelievable. But it’s not across the board bad news because other areas, then, will be increased. So, parts of North America, so that would be Oregon, Washington, the Okanagan Valley, which is British Columbia, and then parts of Northern Europe like the area of Champagne is predicted to fare quite well. Of course, the English are elated, because they’re saying, “Look, pretty soon we’re going to be able to have thriving pinot noir and chardonnay vines, and we’ll be able to give you in France some competition and we’ll be making great wine ourselves.” So, it just really depends on the wines that you like and the regions that you’re attached to as a wine enthusiast. JOHN SHEGERIAN: If you just joined us now, we’re on the phone with Paige Donner, who’s a great friend of ours. She’s in France, and she’s talking about local food and wine and the impact of climate change, and also her film project. Go to localfoodandwine.wordpress.com to see all of her great work. Paige, give me a little timeline. What is your vision for how long it’s going to take to produce and then release your film? PAIGE DONNER: That’s a great question. I’m still doing that dance of being in pre-production and getting all the ducks lined up and that kind of stuff. I have been approached by several entities, and we’re in talks of underwriting the production and that kind of thing, so I would love to see it come out by 2014. My goal is probably a little bold to state it outright, but because I have a cousin who qualified his documentary in 2007 for an Academy nomination, and in fact he did have an Academy-nominated documentary film, so now because it’s in the family, I really want to be able to have it, or at least qualify for an Academy nomination. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s good. I have to ask you, Paige. You’ve spent now a lot of time in France and you know so many people and you’re doing so many fascinating and relevant things in terms of writing and producing. I really look up to you for all of this kind of stuff, but what is your favorite type of wine? If you’re going out tonight with some friends, what do you drink? PAIGE DONNER: John, thank you very much for those really kind words. I have to say that back at you. You’re one of the greatest green champions in the world of the environment and a great friend too, so thank you for that, John. It means a lot coming from you. That is such a difficult question because I have been afforded the most monumental experiences since I’ve been here in Europe and back in France in terms of the wines that I’ve been able to taste. I guess the simple answer to that is that I have to say, and I hope this doesn’t come off wrong, but I have to say I really do have champagne taste. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Oh my gosh. I was just going to ask you. It must be so amazing to have champagne in Champagne, France. That must be an amazing experience. PAIGE DONNER: You know, it really is. The funniest thing is since I’ve been in France, I found out that 68% of the champagne actually stays in France. It never even gets exported. JOHN SHEGERIAN: They love it so much. Good. Well, that makes sense. In your writings, I’ve read the quoted phrase, “Too late for two degrees of Celsius.” I’m unfamiliar with that. Explain to our listeners what you mean by that. PAIGE DONNER: Yeah, another great question, John. That actually refers to a report that came out back in November, and at that point, that was the cutting-edge report. Now it’s eclipsed by the PNAS report, but that was by Price Waterhouse Coopers, and I reference that on my short film “Wine and Climate Change,” and my little teaser that’s on Vimeo.com/localfoodandwine. You can also find it on YouTube, but it’s a report that basically says that we are such a trajectory of not having reduced our CO2 emissions in time, that by 2050, and certainly by 2100, we will not have reduced our carbon emission sufficiently to keep us in check of global warming of two degrees Celsius or less. I hope I stated that clearly enough. So, basically what that is, the report is saying, “Look, we haven’t gotten our act together in time to keep our climate change trajectory within safe limits.” So, it’s basically saying, “This is a red alert, folks. We have got to address what we’re doing to the climate, whether it’s man-made or whatever it is, we’ve got to do what it takes to keep the carbon gas emissions in check so that we don’t go on this trajectory where the climate is impacting our agricultural values to the degree that we will not be able to grow food sufficiently, our water will be impacted, it will be Earth as will not recognize it.” JOHN SHEGERIAN: That makes sense. We’re down to the last three minutes or so, unfortunately, for this show, but that leads me to the next question, Paige. You know we like to platform issues here and talk about important issues that we’re all facing and that are very relevant to all of us, but we also like to talk about solutions. Paige, you get to travel so much, and you’ve seen so much in your young life. Talk a little bit about what can we do to help push back the trends towards climate change? What can, especially food and wine enthusiasts, do to make sure that they can enjoy local good food and wine for the rest of their years and for their children’s and grandchildren’s years? PAIGE DONNER: Great question. In terms of enjoying local food and wine, it’s always great to buy as locally as possible. Also, in terms of impacting the Earth’s climate, it’s just extremely important that we all do our part, whether we drive less or we make do with less, and also I’m a big fan of investing in technology and research and development. I mean, I really believe in humanity’s capacity for adaptation and being able to use technology too to alleviate certain problems. I’m a huge advocate for R & D and using our brains to overcome some of these challenges that we have. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, Paige, any last thoughts? We’re down to the last minute or so. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave, pearls of wisdom you’d like to leave our listeners with? PAIGE DONNER: Yeah. You know, I encourage people to get anybody who likes to drink a glass of wine, visit whatever wine region that has always tickled your fancy. Just go and drive through the vineyard. Have a picnic with your loved ones in the vineyards with a beautiful bottle of wine, and just enjoy it. I mean, the Earth is such a beautiful, lovely, nurturing, wonderful place to spend time in. Just do it, and your relationship with the Earth will be so much more enhanced. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, thank you, Paige. Paige, you’re always welcome to come back. We’re going to want you to come back and share your journey and share all the progress you’re making and all the change that you’re effectuating. We’re looking forward to your film being produced and released. For all our listeners out there, to learn more about Paige and the great work she’s doing, go to localfoodandwine.wordpress.com. Paige Donner, you are a visionary thought leader, a great green evangelist, a good friend, and truly living proof that green is good. PAIGE DONNER: Thank you so much, John. That means the world to me.