The SW Summary: Record-early harvests, exclusionary wine language, alternative wine packaging formats on the rise in the UK, dangerous conditions for Californian farmworkers, and De Bortoli’s new sustainably-produced wine range

By Hanna Halmari

France’s record-early harvests

Writing for Bloomberg Quint, Rudy Ruitenberg reports how France’s “record-early start to grape harvests” is fuelling optimistic forecasts of a recovery in the country’s wine production. The French Agriculture Ministry predicts a 6.3% YoY increase in the 2020 vintage, amounting to 45 million hectoliters, or “about 6 billion bottles.”

In light of global rising temperatures, Burgundy saw its earliest harvest in over 600 years, starting on August 12th, and a day later, Champagne experienced its earliest harvest start on record. According to the Agriculture Ministry, the early harvests are “explained by a spring that was the second-warmest in 120 years and a relatively warm winter.”

Whilst total volume output is expected to increase overall, Ruitenberg reports how some designation wine producing regions have set production limits due to the Covid-19 induced slow-down in the wine market. For example, given the decrease in sales, Champagne’s wine board have decreased the “maximum amount of grapes that can be used to produce Champagne-labeled sparkling wine by 22%…this year.”

Read more here.

The limiting effects of wine lexicon

Writing for The San Francisco Chronicle, Esther Mobley discusses the exclusionary language used in the wine industry and its limiting effects on diversity. Mobley highlights how descriptions of wine are “almost farcical in [their] specificity,” providing examples such as “notes of smoldering tobacco or forest underbrush or underripe Jonagold apple.” Not only is wine lexicon “intimidating and opaque,” but it has a dangerous implication in that it “[excludes] dimensions of flavor that are unfamiliar to the white, Western cultures that dominate the world of fine wine.”

Mobley notes how French words appear frequently in descriptions of wine, with commonly used terms including “pate de fruit (a jellied fruit candy), coulis (a fruit sauce), fleur de sel (very fancy salt).” Whilst this makes sense given France’s widely exported wine tradition, such terms “carry considerable class baggage with them” as not everyone has the access or opportunity to know and truly understand these specific tastes. Furthermore, Mobley highlights how many wine professionals are “conditioned to ‘mold’ [their] palates to a French ideal” even if “French flavors [aren’t] evocative for them.”  The dominance of such exclusionary language “is part of [the] larger exclusion” and diversity issues in the wine industry. 

Mobley also raises the issue of sexism in wine lexicon. For example, the common descriptions of wine as ‘masculine’ (meaning “aggressive or muscular”) or ‘feminine’ (meaning “delicate and floral)….[adhere] to an outdated, irrelevant set of gender norms.”  Even more sexist is the use of the term “slutty,” used to “describe a wine whose appeal is obvious, rather than subtle.” 

The use of such heavily gendered language in the wine industry has declined in recent years, proving that the industry can “change its own norms” and that “a deeper examination of the racial and class-based undertones is possible.” In a call to promote more accessibility in the wine industry, Mobley urges the industry to broaden its use of language. This does not mean that “western European flavors should be vilified, or use of French restricted,” but rather that “the dictionary should be expanded.”

Wine Intelligence report finds alternative wine packaging on the rise in UK

Wine Intelligence recently published its UK Wine Packaging Formats 2020  Report exploring the different trends in the UK wine market. In his article for Wine Intelligence, Richard Halstead shares the key takeaways of the report, highlighting how alternative packaging formats are on the rise in the UK. 

Alongside Sweden, the UK is at the forefront of alternative packaging trends in Europe. Although the standard 75cl glass bottle still remains the most common in the market, the last three years have seen an increasing openness among UK consumers to try “alternative wine packaging formats that save weight, offer value and avoid waste.” The report reveals growing “awareness [and consideration] levels for other formats” in the UK.

Despite being lesser known packaging alternatives, almost half of regular wine consumers in the UK are familiar with formats such as “pouches and cans.” Bag-in-box wines, offering an eco-friendly option, “convenience and good value for money,” saw an increased purchase frequency during June and July 2020, likely further driven by the Covid-19 lockdown. The report also demonstrates a clear link between “specific occasions and packaging types,” with consumers more likely to purchase glass bottles “for more formal and gift occasions.” Cans are more commonly purchased for “travelling and outdoor events,” but the report highlights “an emerging opportunity…as consumers associate [cans] with the opportunity to try new brands and styles of wine.”

However, as Halstead notes, the key obstacles to purchasing wine in alternative packaging such as pouches, cans, or bag-in-box are still widespread. Among these are “the belief that these packaging types typically contain lower quality wine” and the “long-standing and habitual preference for standard glass bottles.” Despite these challenges for producers looking to sell wine in alternative packaging in the UK, the overall tone of the report is positive. Wine Intelligence “[expects] the positive attitude and curiosity, especially among younger consumers, to continue to drive alternative packaging formats for wine for years to come.

Read Halstead’s summary here. The full report can be purchased here.

Limited choices for Californian vineyard workers: “Unhealthy,” “Hazardous” or “No pay”

Although recent cooler temperatures have helped firefighters in containing the LNU Lightning Complex wildfires across Napa and Sonoma Counties, the drastic impacts on Califorian wineries are not easing up. Writing for Wine Searcher, W. Blake Gray shares how over the last two weeks “California wineries have been scrambling to harvest grapes,” even in “evacuated areas (with permission)…despite thick smoke.”

Farmworkers in California have been presented with a limited set of unfavourable choices: picking grapes in dangerous levels of air quality, or forgoing work and missing out on important pay. Robert Rivas, California assembly member, shares how many “farmworkers live paycheck to paycheck” and how many are undocumented and therefore not eligible for any unemployment benefits. “Whether it’s a pandemic or these severe wildfires, they have no choice but to continue to work,” says Rivas. 

Given the dangerous conditions all farmworkers should be provided with a N95 mask. However, with many wineries having donated their N95 masks due to the medical shortage, they are now not in a position to provide one to each farmworker. Furthermore, the wineries continue in their struggle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Farmworkers are especially at risk due to their “crowded [living] conditions” and regular “[commutes] to work together in vans or buses. 

Gray highlights a report from a county supervisor in Sonoma County that reveals how 65 percent of positive Covid-19 tests “came from the Latino community” even though “the county is only 27 percent Latino.” Of the 65 percent who tested positive, 20 percent are agricultural workers.

Read more here.

De Bortoli Wines launches sustainable 17 Trees range

Sonya Hooks’ article in Drinks Retailing reports on the recent launch of sustainably-produced wines from De Bortoli Wines in Australia. The sustainable range is produced under the new label 17 Trees and includes three wines: a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Shiraz. De Bortoli says the range is vegan-friendly and supports “essential tree regeneration projects in Australia via a commitment to plant one tree for every six bottles sold.”

The new range takes its name from and builds upon De Bortoli’s existing sustainability initiatives, the first of which began in 2008, reports Hook. In 2008 the winery committed to “[planting] 17 trees for each company vehicle to offset the carbon effects of its fleet.” The winery’s tree planting scheme comes at a crucial time given the recent bushfires in Australia, which have burned over 11 million hectares of land. Having partnered up with non-profit organisation Trillion Trees, De Bortoli “[hopes to contribute] to rebuild the Australian bushland lost.”

The 17 Trees wine bottles are made up of recycled glass bottles and paper, are “packed in recycled packaging materials,” and are retailing at a favorable price point of £9.00 RRP.

De Bortoli is working towards becoming a Zero Waste Wine Company. Hook quotes managing director Darren De Bortoli who shares how “through initiatives including wise water management, energy efficiency and improved waste management over the past 15 years [De Bortoli is] demonstrating [its] commitment to a future where great wine and a healthy environment can be enjoyed by everyone.”


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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.