The SW Summary: Key messages from the Future of Wine conference, Loire commits to organic, Sonoma goes hi-tech, and climate change at ProWein

By Hanna Halmari

Wine producers in Loire Valley “will not stop doing things the organic way”

So says Benoit Amirault, winemaker at Domaine Yannick Amirault in Bourgeuil, quoted by Edith Hancock in this article in The Drinks Business. Benoit tells Hancock that climate change is the region’s biggest challenge, with some estates having “lost as much as 60% of their crops this year.” Hancock points out that despite the increased difficulty of practicing sustainable viticulture in Loire compared to other regions in France, “the Loire’s small producers are championing sustainability.” 

The Loire wine region is highly diverse. Total area production is composed of white, rose, red and sparkling wines at 41%, 24%, 21% and 14% respectively, as reported by Hancock. Certified organic wineries cover over a fourth of the region and this figure is expected to grow over the coming years. The article quotes Sylvain Naulin, director of the industry body Interloire, who says “it’s a lot of noise from a small proportion.” Naulin also “predicts the global [organic] trend will become even more important in the region as more producers swap from applying pesticides to copper in their vineyards.”

However, Hancock notes how the switch to copper is not necessarily sufficient. Copper, a toxic metal, poses its own environmental issues of water and soil contamination. The article states how “many producers in other parts of France, like Champagne, believe eliminating the use of copper as a fungicide in vineyards will be the biggest issue for the wine business over the next 10 years.”

Organic wineries are therefore experimenting with alternative methods to protect their vines without using copper. The article shares the fantastic example of Château Pierre-Bise’s innovative power-steamer. Built from duct tape and lawn mower parts, the estate uses the steamer to “kill harmful microbes that could infect the grapes with mildew, but leaves the fruit itself unscathed.” Whilst currently still a prototype, Claude Papin, owner of Château Pierre-Bise, tells Hancock he expects the machine to be in daily by 2021.

Climate change takes center stage as key theme at upcoming ProWein 2020

Lisa Riley for Harpers reports how ProWein, the world’s largest industry meeting for wine professionals, will explore key sustainability issues in next year’s conference. Taking place across 15-17 March 2020, the three day trade fair will cover sustainability topics including “how winegrowers are reacting to changing weather conditions and coping with higher temperatures and longer dry spells, and if vine portfolios are changing in the wine growing regions affected by climate change.” 

Quoting ProWein director, Bastian Mingers: “Climate change is playing an increasingly disruptive role in the wine industry, and Prowein 2020 is paying attention.” Read more here.

Sonoma County Winegrowers use augmented reality to share sustainability message

“There is an over-saturation of ‘sustainable’ or ‘environmentally conscious’ products that are flooding marketing channels with these terms being overused, sometimes inappropriately, and many times in a judgemental manner,” reports Cathrine Todd in this article for Forbes. As a result consumers face an increasingly difficult time identifying truly sustainable products. So how can Sonoma County Winegrowers cut through the noise and share its sustainability message?  With 89% of its vineyards third-party certified sustainable, the organisation is very close to achieving its ambitious goal “to become a 100% sustainable wine region” set in 2014. Todd reports on how Sonoma has adopted an innovative approach in its use of AR, or augmented reality, to reach consumers in an engaging and powerful way.

By downloading the Sonoma County Winegrowers app, the user simply needs to scan the wine label of a participating Sonoma wine producer and the captivating AR experience comes to life (see an exemplary video here). As the article explains, the AR experience delivers two messages: first is the “message of the importance of sustainability and Sonoma’s grand goal of 100% sustainability that is within arm’s reach…the second part is a video with members of the winery…talking about what it means to [them] to be sustainable.”

Whilst not many producers are yet willing to experiment with AR, Todd quotes Anisya Fritz of Lynmar Estates, who talks about the “importance of her community standing out with this technology” and “telling the story of wine”.  With Sonoma’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and history of protecting nature, AR provides a fun and unique opportunity to “[share] stories of real people and a real community making significant change.” 

The Future of Wine Conference

Vineyard Magazine published a comprehensive summary of our inaugural “The Future of Wine” conference which took place on November 4th at the Conduit Club, London. Bringing together over 120 winemakers, distributors and other industry executives, the sessions drove honest and open debates on a vast array of viticulture sustainability issues. It was “ultimately concluded that [sustainability] is too much of an all-encompassing subject to be fully unpacked” and that it clearly “touches every inch of viticulture, winemaking and subsequent marketing and retail.”

Key sustainability viticulture topics discussed throughout the day included the use of pesticides, soil health, water management and vine health. As reported by Vineyard Magazine, an overarching consensus centered around  “the overall importance of not trying to fight nature, but simply finding better ways of dealing with it.” This was echoed by Jane Awty, owner of Oately Vineyard in Somerset, who shared how she and her husband Ian had realised “that is is much easier to work with nature.” She provided an example of how “after planting [they] were faced with a lot of Chamomile and didn’t quite know what to do. Instead of using herbicide, [they] bought a ride on lawn mower. Now [they] allow alternate rows to come to seed and with this [they] attract over 50 species of insects, which include beneficial predators.”

Not only is there an environmental impetus for producers to follow sustainable viticultural practices, but economic and social too. Vineyard draws attention to the “economic and social responsibility to ensure that the crop makes it to the winery,” as highlighted at the conference by one estate owner. Indeed sustainability is all about balance, as accurately summarised in the feature:

 “Sustainability is about having a balance between doing what’s right – mechanical weeding, instead of herbicides; pheromones instead of insecticides – without compromising the end product – not spraying, losing all fruit to disease and having no product for sale. With this in mind, producers need to find better ways to facilitate open dialogue with consumers to explain what sustainability is in simple terms and why it is perfectly acceptable to use non-organic products and methods in certain situations.”

This need for an open dialogue with consumers also extends to issues regarding sustainable packaging, the subject of the much-awaited closing debate of the conference. Vineyard Magazine quotes one conference attendee who succinctly captured the issues around the on-going narrative on plastics: “sometimes plastic is the right decision, but companies don’t know how to say it, and consumers don’t want to hear it.” To read more about alternative packaging options and other key topics discussed, see the online issue here.

The Future of Wine 2019 conference, November 4th, London


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About the author

Hanna Halmari

Hanna Halmari is the editor at Sustainable Wine and the head of conferences at Innovation Forum. Hanna specialises in sustainability research and events across various industries. She holds an MSc in international development from Kings’s College London, where she developed a strong interest in political economy and post-communist transformation. Hanna speaks Finnish, Bulgarian and English. In her spare time she is a dedicated Radio Lollipop volunteer at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, enjoys travelling, and tasting new wines.