From organic to biodynamic, more and more green labels are being added to bottles of wine in France. ENVIRONMENT travels to Alsace to find out how eco friendly vineyards can be. Meanwhile across in Germany climate change has put pressure on the survival of Bavarian beer.
The Zind Humbrecht domain in Alsace decided to become a biodynamic vineyard ten years ago. Such a vineyard is treated as a complete living organism. The moon, stars, the soil with its insects and weeds are all understood to play a part in the wellbeing of the vine and so the taste of the wine. The lunar cycle decides the timing of the harvest and natural potions made from rocks and cow horns are used instead of fertilisers or pesticides.
The owner of the domain, Olivier Humbrecht says that the vine thrives when it can access animalistic elements that it doesn’t ordinarily have. Taking “the powder of pulverized rock, this silica powder we put into a cows horn... The horn is the part of the cow where all the different energies come together...his ego and conscience...and in biodynamic wine, we understand that the plant is looking for a conscience," he explains.
The wine at Zind Humbrecht is recognised as one of the best in the region. Olivier Humbrecht underlines the need for biodiversity on his land and fears a future that would adopt genetically modified vines as that could reduce the diversity of land and vines and harm the flavour and development of the wine.
Meanwhile across in Germany, the region of Hallertau in Bavaria generates a 3rd of the world’s hops. The hops grown here give the traditional German drink its characteristic bitterness. The problem is that for the last few years the harvest has been hit by storms and adverse weather. Thomas Schneider, who cultivates the crop says his lost up to 40% of it this year. “Years ago we used to have a few days of good weather, and then a few days of rain. Now we get weeks of it. It's quite extreme,” he says.
It's up to the Hops Research Institute in Hull to preserve the regional traditions - so they're testing out new plants which are more resistant to climate change. If the trend continues and the temperatures keep rising - it could even have an effect on the taste of the beer. “You can tell the difference to American hops which is grown at 30, 35, even 40 degrees. Their beer doesn't have such an intense flavour. It's not as distinctive as the hops grown here in central Europe,” says Bernhard Engelhard, Director of Hops Research Institute.
Hops aren’t the only ingredient at risk. Barley is also suffering from climate change. But for German brewers substitutes just aren't an option, they’re bound by strict regulations. The German Beer purity law drawn up in 1516 is the oldest consumer regulation in Europe. “In China or America they can add rice or sugar beet to their beer and with that they get almost the same flavour. But in Germany the beer purity law says we can't do that,” explains master brewer Stefan Ebensberger.
Hops, barley, yeast and water - the magic formula for the perfect German beer, a drink that is getting increasingly expensive as high production costs add to climate change problems.