Wine valley’s water woes

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When Pau Pijoan began winemaking in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley it was home to little more than a dozen producers. Two decades later, he fears it is becoming a victim of its own success.

The growing popularity of Mexico’s wine heartland in Baja California has brought an influx of tourists – and with them a proliferation of hotels, restaurants and other development.

“When I bought land, there were 15 to 18 wine producers. Today there are more than 200,” said Pijoan, a veterinarian by trade. “We are responsible for this brutal and disorderly growth typical of Mexico,” he said.

Mexico is ranked 35th among world wine producers, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. The Guadalupe Valley produces around three-quarters of the country’s wine, but vintners fear for the future of their picturesque corner of north western Mexico due to tourism and climate change.

They have launched a campaign called “Let’s save the valley”, warning that discos, mass concerts and other leisure activities threaten the vines that bear grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

Mexico’s vineyards

Mexico wine lands. Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

“Between 2014 and 2019, we lost 18% of agricultural land. “If we continue on this trend, in 2037 there will be no more arable land,” they said.

Guadalupe Valley must not become a new Tulum, they added, referring to a once-sleepy fishing village in the Yucatan peninsula that has become a tourist magnet. “Something very curious is happening in the valley.

“An agricultural activity is combined with a tourist activity, which does not always happen,” said Keiko Nishikawa, spokesperson for the Santo Tomas vineyard.

Mexico vineyards. Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

“How can we balance this? Obviously, we wineries are jointly responsible for what is happening,” she added. Some restaurants and nightlife venues in the region “offer everything except local wine”, Nishikawa said.

 The warnings come as Mexico hosts the 43rd World Congress of Vine and Wine, as well as the International Organisation of Vine and Wines general assembly, which started on Monday.

Ahead of the week-long gathering in Baja California, the organisers symbolically announced that Ukraine would become the 49th member country.

The fallout of the Russian invasion is weighing on the global wine market after the pandemic saw a boom in online sales.

Mexico wine lands. Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

“Supplies – like bottle tops – arrive later and are more expensive,” as is electricity,” said International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) director general Pau Roca. Even so he feels a “certain optimism” about the industry’s future. “We are emerging from the crises quite quickly, much more than from the 2008 economic crisis, which was long,” Roca said.

The OIV hopes new technologies will enable producers to cope with economic and climatic challenges.

Winegrowers have a large amount of data “generated by the sensors in vineyards”, Roca said. But “we’re not able to integrate them into our decision-making. “Artificial intelligence can help us,” he added.

Mexico wine lands. Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

In Argentina, the National University of Cuyo is working on a programme “to improve the prognosis of crops” using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence.

In the Guadalupe Valley, the prospect of worsening water scarcity is among the most pressing concerns of locals and winemakers.

“It’s fine that everyone wants to build their own houses, but they should also take care of the water because we’ve almost run out,” said 38-year-old resident Luisa Guerrero.

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