The hill of Hermitage
The hill of Hermitage

Hanna Halmari rounds up some of the latest media analysis related to sustainable wine around the world.

Adaptation in the face of climate change: Five key trends in the wine industry

“Viticulture by its nature is complicated. As the world’s climates are transformed, it is only becoming more so.” So states Eric Asimov, author of this New York Times article, in which he outlines the following five key trends in the wine industry related to climate change:

Hotter temperatures are re-shaping the borders of the global wine map: Regions that were previously too cold for winegrowing are now suitable due to warmer temperatures. “ In pursuit of the best sites, wine producers are moving north in the Northern Hemisphere, and south in the Southern.”

Not only is the wine map expanding horizontally, but vertically too: The warming climate is also driving producers to plant vineyards at higher altitudes previously “considered inhospitable to growing wine grapes.”

Maximum sunlight is no longer a key requirement for vineyards:  Wine growers are rethinking the traditional strategy of planting vineyards in such a way that they receive the most sun and warmth. With warmer temperatures, “the problem for wine producers is no longer how to ripen grapes fully but how to prevent overripening.”

The changing climate requires a change in grapes: For many producers new vineyards in cooler climates are not an option, meaning they must change to more suitable grape varieties. It may seem impossible to imagine Bordeaux without cabernet sauvignon and merlot, or Champagne without pinot noir and chardonnay, but the prospect of a much warmer future may require even the most famous wine regions to rethink their methods.”

The weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable: Climate change has led to the weather becoming less predictable than ever. The article quotes Gaia Gaja of the Gaja Winery: “It hails when it never used to hail, rains in the summer when it used to be dry, is dry in the winter when it used to rain.” 

Increased temperatures, higher altitudes

Familia Torres, an international wine company based in Catalonia, is leading the way in combating global warming in the wine industry, writes Eric Asimov for The New York Times. Having reduced its carbon footprint by 28% since 2008, the company hopes to hit its target of 80% by 2045. Alongside finding ways to lower carbon emissions, Torres is experimenting with potential solutions to adapt to the challenging and changing conditions wine producers are faced with. 

Asimov draws special attention to one specific effort made by Torres to adapt to climate change – planting vineyards at higher altitudes. For example, it has planted a vineyard 2,500 feet (750m) high in Priorat, an altitude that would have been impossible for for growing wine grapes 25 years ago. 

Jordi Foraster, winemaker at the Torres Priorat winery, tells Asimov, “People in Porrera thought we were crazy.” However, increasing temperatures are driving the need for such innovative solutions. “It’s a bet for the next generations to keep making wines with the freshness that we want,” she says. Read more here

“Soil is our largest potential tool in our fight against climate change”

So says Ms. Casteel, a farmer and wine producer in McMinnville, Oregon, in this New York Times article by Eric Asimov. A strong advocate for regenerative agriculture, or “a way of farming that emphasizes rebuilding, restoring and supporting the organic matter that composes healthy soils,” Ms. Casteel believes it has the capability to undo the years of damage caused by industrial farming.

“The care of the landscape was informed exclusively by a familiarity with the natural world. Learning how to do that was first formed by a relationship with the natural world, and we have moved completely away from that,”  she tells The New York Times.

Asimov writes how in Ms. Casteel’s view, the simplification of modern agriculture and its dependency on human intervention for compensation has caused soil to become “progressively less organic, less able to sustain life and play its role in the natural order.” Her goal is to restore the natural balance in agriculture through regenerative farming practices.

Although only a small  sub-sector within agriculture, Ms. Casteel believes that viticulture has the potential to give prominence to issues of agriculture and climate change. Ultimately, she hopes it will “lead to the next agricultural paradigm.”

WineParis to launch eco-friendly initiative “Wonderful” in 2020 Expo

Taking place from 10-12 February, 2020, the second edition of WineParis, an international business wine event, will see the launch of a new initiative called ‘Wonderful’, The Drinks Business reports. 

This eco-friendly initiative aims “to improve visibility for winegrowers, estates, co-operatives and negociants that have committed to at least one organic or eco-friendly scheme; clarify existing certifications and endorsements; highlight market and consumer developments; and signpost future trends and solutions,” states WineParis’s organisers.

Key certifications and green initiatives to be highlighted in the show include “AB, Biodyvin, Terra Vitis, Système de Management Environnemental du vin de Bordeaux, Viticulture durable en Champagne, Bee Friendly, France’s High Environmental Value certification, Vignerons en développement durable, B Corporations and more” writes The Drinks Business. 

“Wines are becoming fuller-bodied, more alcoholic and riper in flavor”

So points out Gaia Gaja of the Gaja Winery in Bloomberg’s article on the effects of climate change on the taste of wines. Author Elin McCoy reports that: “soaring temperatures from global warming lower acidity in grapes and increase sugar, which yeast turns into higher alcohol during fermentation.” In the Rhône Valley, for instance, increased temperatures have already pushed alcohol levels close to the strength of sherry at 16%.

As grapes ripen faster in a warmer climate, the growing cycle has shortened. Kimberly Nicholas, senior lecturer at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden, highlights how a shortened growing cycle may cause sugar and flavor ripening to fall out of sync. “Finding the sweet spot, when sugar, acid, color, tannin, and flavor in the grapes are in perfect harmony, will be more and more difficult,” she tells Bloomberg.

However, some vineyards are benefitting from warmer temperatures. The article notes how  regions with a cooler climate can now produce better tasting wines. Citing the example of Germany’s “once anemic pinot noirs,” McCoy highlights how “most of the country’s regions used to be too cold to ripen these finicky grapes every year; now the wines are increasingly fleshy, seductive, and delicious.”

To be sure, the world’s wine map is changing in response to global warming. With producers moving into new regions and terroirs, “by 2050, Idaho, Norway, and Sweden may be the source of some of the world’s great wines,” writes McCoy.

Producers are also experimenting with growing new grapes better adapted to a hotter climate. Dan Petroski, winemaker at Larkmead in Calistoga, “has planted a 3-acre parcel with zinfandel, tempranillo, and more varieties to blend with cabernet in the future, to add color and density to keep the valley’s plush, sun-kissed style.” As he duly tells Bloomberg, “with wine you better think 20 years ahead.”

Portugal: leading the way in wine sustainability

Writing for Fortune, Shana Clarke discusses the impressive strides Portugal has made to become a leader in the sustainable wine industry. Describing the emergence of the Porto Protocol, Clarke reports:

“From (the) initial (2018 Climate Change Leadership Summit) conference, and the subsequent event in 2019 that featured Al Gore as a headline speaker, the Porto Protocol was born. At its core, the Protocol is a pact that a winery makes with itself to improve its methodology and commit to making changes in its practices in order to mitigate climate change. On a broader scale, it connects the wine industry through an online think tank, where information and case studies can be shared on a global scale.”

The article also introduces two Portugeuse companies with high-reaching plans to tackle climate change. First is Symington Family Estates, a Porto-based wine company. As the first winery in Portugal to become a Certified B Corporation, the company believes in a holistic approach to sustainability: “It’s not just about the vineyard or your practices around viticulture,” Rob Symington, associate director of communications and sustainability, tells Clarke. “It’s everything from people, suppliers, environment, and governance…B Corp is a way of communicating a lot just through that stamp of approval.”

Second is Amorim, a global cork producer. Clarke notes how the company has “earned certification from the Forest Stewardship Council in 2005, which enables full traceability of the cork source and ensures the material came from a sustainably managed forest. Within the factory, no element of cork goes to waste. Material that is unfit for bottle stoppers—or any of the other products produced by Amorim—gets ground down into dust, which is then converted to an energy source, fueling 70% of the factory’s energy needs.” Read the full article here.

On Monday Sustainable Wine hosts our first event, a sold out conference in London on The Future of Wine. We’ll report back on the website as to what was said (Chatham House rule allowing) as soon as we can!