Ingenuity in the face of adversity

Published February 2023

During these dark times, turning off the news and turning to a comforting glass of red (or other form of comfort) is becoming an increasingly common experience for many. Yet this (relatively) easy access to a glass of high-quality produce might itself be at significant risk.

Wine production is set to be down this year by up to 30% in some regions of France. Combined with an early harvest during times of labour shortages, vignerons are understandably seeking solutions.

In response to extreme weather events, from hard frosts to some of the hottest summers since records began, wine makers are also looking to nature to find solutions to help preserve their vines. Vines often inherited from their grandparents, who never experienced such extremities with such frequency. 

As a collective, vignerons are seeking to pool knowledge and move at pace. But whether practical measures (such as allowing grass to grow between rows to preserve moisture and placing cuttings to provide shade) will withstand the speed of climate change is currently unknown.  

An existential risk for the wine industry and French economy? Quite possibly and one with significant wider impact with winemaking claiming a sizeable chunk of agriculture revenue, listed as one of France’s top five biggest exports and featuring high on the GDP index of many countries. 

Synonymous with France and attracting millions of tourists to the country each year, much needs to be done and fast to protect this natural and historic product. Much more than a commodity, wine sits at the heart of many cultures, a precursor to celebrations, conversations, collaboration.

Vignerons are not alone: similar experiences are being repeated across agriculture, industry and businesses at risk from climate change. 

The bigger picture

The climate emergency combined with a cost of living crisis for households and businesses in many countries – and murmurs of recession on the horizon – means staying ahead of these events and their potential impacts is increasingly important for all businesses, large or small, global or local. 

Understanding the bigger picture context and then scrutinising your business operations in response is fundamental to building resilience.

How do you assess the strength of your business? What might be under the greatest threat? How can you create opportunities to thrive in the face of these challenges?

Answering these questions will help formulate a plan and give focus to your efforts. Importantly, it will help you avoid any surprises and head-off crisis.

As exemplified by the vignerons, three guiding principles can help businesses prepare:

  • Face things head-on. Don’t avoid having difficult conversations or dealing with problems. Trouble-shoot and explore solutions. Be open to new ideas.
  • Behave with honesty and transparency. If something is broken, or can be done better, talk it through. Have vision and be brave.  
  • Do not fear a change in routine or structure for a brief period if it means ‘riding the wave’ of uncertainty. To enable this, stay nimble and dynamic.
  • Share updates and how you are responding to different circumstances by keeping conversations and communication flowing within your team, stakeholder groups, customers and clients. 
  • See real-world challenges as a driver for change and improvement and think creatively and collaboratively, bringing heads together to build ideas.
  • No matter the challenges, stay focussed on your objectives and use them to guide decision making. 

A myriad of issues is now presented on a daily, even hourly basis through newsfeeds. In response, a feeling of despair, of being out of control and needing to switch off the tech, is understandable.

But if we are to tackle these challenges, we need to do so head-on and collectively. Speaking to Le Monde recently the vignerons summed it up –

The profession is taking action. Farmers are too often given the blame and discredited. The search for solutions to safeguard the vines, like other crops, is a concern for the entire population, it’s in the common interest…… We are faced with a challenge, we must quickly evolve our practices, without making mistakes, without compromising our quality.

They give hope: with ingenuity, vision and forward planning – and by moving at pace – we can remain stable, and resilient, through these times of adversity.

In the words of Claire Bortolussi of Château de Viella, “We are facing difficult times but we must remain far-sighted, driven by the need to preserve our heritage and quality wine for consumers”. She concludes:

One positive aspect of these difficult times is the opportunity offered to our young people to help shape the future of our industry and rise to the challenge of change!

Claire Bortolussi

Photo credit: Vines in the Dordogne, John Farber on Unsplash

This is an edit of an article originally published by Clare B Marshall in August 2022.