Making sense of sustainable wine
Let’s attempt to make sense about what exactly sustainability means (here come all the ‘buzzwords’… for quick cheat sheet click here). Sustainability as a term is vague and far reaching. This is largely due to so many people, industries and even governments, trying to carve out their own different understandings of the meaning of sustainability. While there are different definitions, all of them have one common goal: to create a bio-diverse policy that feeds and protects us, the planet and securing a future for generations to come.
A good place to start is understanding what exactly makes the wine industry not sustainable. Wine at its very core, is an agricultural product. And as such it is essentially about taking from the earth. The practice of growing the same crop year on year depletes the soils of nutrients, hence the need to encourage biodiversity in the vineyards to ‘put back’ these necessary nutrients. Also, we cannot forget that wine is very much a global product that does not come without carbon emissions from production, transport, and packaging. If climate change, and especially the global pandemic, has taught us anything, it is that we cannot take the planet for granted without repercussions.
It is this close association between the wine and its place, that makes wine such an illuminating topic when we think and talk about, sustainability, and the environment.
With all of that in mind let us now think about where sustainability and wine come together, and how it continues to shape the world of wine. Wine is so tightly wound with where it comes from. So much so that there is even a very specific word for this that tries to capture everything about where wine comes from – terroir. The roots of the word stem from terre, meaning earth in French. While inherently related, the word captures so much more just earth and land. It encompasses climate, soil conditions, local flora and fauna, sunlight hours, altitude, histories, culture, and long held traditions. It is this close association between the wine and its place, that makes wine such an illuminating topic when we think and talk about, sustainability, and the environment.
Sustainable winemaking attempts to mitigate the potential negative effects of wine production – from the vineyard through to the winery and business operations. For example, our winery partners at Araldica installed a water treatment facility for the whole of Castel Boglione as part of their sustainability programme. Cave de Tain has a corporate social responsibility programme that seeks to support and develop both direct and indirect jobs in Hermitage and beyond. It was over 20 years ago that Emiliana started their pioneering journey of organic and biodynamic viticulture on an expansive scale. In that respect, like terroir, sustainability means so much more than just the earth and land. Sustainability is deeply wound up and connected to all aspects of wine.
One way we can navigate the world of sustainable wine is through certifications and sustainability claims on the label (False Bay make an excellent example of this!). A recent Wine Intelligence report found that people were more likely to choose a wine displaying ‘organic’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘sustainably produced’, compared to a wine without any claim. These certifications offer a way for wineries to make sure their sustainability efforts are communicated to us wine drinkers. Plus it shows how notions of sustainability is starting to shape how we decide what wines to buy.
One of the most universally recognised certifications is Organic. According to the Wine Intelligence Report ‘organic wine’ has this highest awareness compared with other ‘wine types’, such as ‘biodynamic’ or ‘natural’. Organic certification isn’t just ‘stopping the use of chemicals’ – it’s a three-year long process requiring rigorous audits from third-party organisations. Even those wineries that are perhaps already farming organically, and or sustainably, still must go through this certification process to be able to put the green emblem on their label. Our most recent awardee is Chateau L’Ermite (formerly Chateau L’Ermitage) who are officially certified organic from 2020 vintage onwards. In the mix, they have introduced some new members of the vineyard team – sheep are used to act as natural pesticides and herbicides by eating pests that may otherwise have been sprayed against. The main rationale behind this is to work alongside nature and protect the wider ecosystem and environment. They are even looking to bring more holistic practices into the vineyard through their ambitions to be biodynamically certified.
A recent Wine Intelligence report found that people were more likely to choose a wine displaying ‘organic’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘sustainably produced’, compared to a wine without any claim.
These certifications offer a way for us to navigate the sustainable wine world, with a degree of certainty and transparency. So, as this short-blog piece became a rather longer blog… yet we have barely even scratched the surface of sustainability. It is such a huge topic that can be approached from many different angles, just writing this reminded me how the whole topic can seem overwhelming. It often feels that every aspect of the industry needs to be constantly scrutinised and under the sustainability microscope. Which, in all honestly, is the way it should be.
As we carefully emerge out of lockdown, I cannot help but wonder that these conversations that raise awareness of sustainability are increasingly more important, even if you have heard it all before. With the health of our planet at stake, any progress in awareness is welcome. And anyway, it is not about being perfect so to speak, it’s about constantly evaluating our actions and seeking to improve how we can both think and act (and drink!) more sustainably.