The SW Summary: Switching grape varieties, crowdfunding for biodiversity projects, and millions of litres of fake Italian wine

By Hanna Halmari

Adapting to climate change: The switch to more heat-tolerant grape varieties

The Washington Post and Wine Spectator draw attention to an alarming prediction made by a research paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team, headed by Ignacio Morales-Castilla at the University of Alcalá in Spain and Elizabeth Wolkovich at the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, found that “global warming of 2 degrees Celsius would wipe out 56 percent of current wine-growing land; increase that to 4 degrees and an estimated 85 percent of grapes won’t be viable.” 

However, there may be a potential solution to mitigate these losses. As Laura Reiley reports in The Washington Post, the scientists conducted a study on 11 varieties of wine grapes and found that “potential losses at 2 degrees of warming could be halved, and cut by a third if warming reached 4 degrees” if grape varieties are switched to more heat-tolerant types.  

Reiley quotes one of the study’s authors, Ben Cook, who says “each variety has a different sensitivity to the climate. Basically, replacing varieties with more climatically suitable varieties, called cultivar turnover, increases resilience to climate change. It’s a story of mitigation and adaptation.” 

She also quotes Geoff Kruth, the president of international sommelier organisation GuildSomm, who points out that whilst global warming is indeed a major factor affecting vine growth, “it’s important to remember that there are dozens human decisions — rootstocks, trellising, timing of vineyard work, etc. — that have significant impacts on how a vine reacts to a climate.” Kruth uses the observed “increased ripeness in grapes and higher alcohol levels,” often regarded as evidence of the impacts of climate change, as an example, calling out how:

“The real reason wines got riper is that people wanted them to get riper. Generally, if you look at wines from the 2000s, you see more sugar in the grapes and more alcohol in the wines. People have been quick to associate this with climate change, when in reality it was conscious human decisions. Now you see the alcohols are dropping. It’s a consumer trend. The grower and winemaker have a strong hand in all of these things.”

Whilst human actions do play a large role in vine growth, it is crucial that winemakers take actions to combat, adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. Concerned winemakers around the world are indeed diversifying their vineyards. This is highlighted by Dana Nigro, reporting for Wine Spectator, noting how “producers in Bordeaux—where Cabernet and Merlot have long ruled—have approved the use of “seven new wine grapes from Portugal, Spain and southern France in their blends”. 

However, starting over with new grape varieties is no simple task. Nigro discusses the large risks that come with changing grape varieties given the fact that it can take multiple years to see commercially viable results and a return on investment. Despite the risk and uncertainties facing growers, Nigro quotes Wolkovich, who emphasises how vineyards don’t really have a choice other than to adapt: “If they choose to stick with their older plants, they will have some good years, but as it gets warmer they will see lower quality.”

Read more about the study and its findings in The Washington Post article here and the Wine Spectator article here.


Crowdfunding for biodiversity projects: Chêne Bleu leads by example

Intensive farming poses one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, or the variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms. Writing for The Drinks Business, Edith Hancock highlights this issue by calling out a recent white paper by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation which declares that “24% of nearly 4,000 wild food species – mainly plants, fish and mammals – are decreasing in abundance.” 

As an increasing number of vineyards are designing and implementing biodiversity projects, Hancock draws attention to a specific winery based in a UNESCO biosphere reserve in the Southern Rhône. The Chêne Bleu estate conducts sustainability research in partnership with Avignon University and UNESCO biosphere reserve scientists, and launched a crowdfunding platform on a few months ago. The vinery sells a range of enotourism packages to its customers and the proceeds will directly finance a number of biodiversity projects, including:

“Purchasing up to 10 new beehives and new bees for Chêne Bleu, a study on bees and their impact on biodiversity and winemaking; research on the health benefits of honey in humans and propolis in the vineyard; “BEE-o-Diversity” educational tours at the estate; developing publicly-available educational materials; and increasing the estate’s bee population to cover a wider territory around the vineyard to help wildflowers and flora thrive.”

To read more about Chêne Bleu’s initiatives, click here.

CSWA’s third annual Certified Sustainable Report

The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) recently published its third annual Certified Sustainable Report. This press release by Wine Institute describes California as a “global leader in sustainable winegrowing practices, with one of the most widely adopted sustainable winegrowing programs in the world in terms of both winegrape acreage and case production.”

The Certified Sustainable certification was launched by CSWA in 2010 to provide Californian vineyards with a third-party verification of sustainability practices and conditions, covering areas such as “soil health, water and energy conservation, habitat preservation [and] natural pest control.” The new report demonstrates the increasing trend among Californian vineyards and wineries to receive the Certified Sustainable accreditation. According to the report, as of December 2019, 85% of the state’s total wine production is produced by 149 Californian Certified Sustainable wineries.

Read Wine Institute’s press release here and visit the CSWA Certification page for more information on the sustainability requirements.

Italian police discover over a million litres of counterfeit DOC (PDO) and PGI wines

Writing for Meiningers Wine Business International, Barnaby Eales reports on the recent discovery of an Italian wine fraud organisation. Bringing a year-long investigation to an end, police raided 28 premises across Italy in late January and arrested five Italians involved in the creation of over a million litres of fake Oltrepo Pavese DOC (PDO) and PGI wines.

Among those arrested are Alberto Carini, chairman of wine co-operative Cantina Sociale di Canneto in Oltrepo Pavese, and Aldo Venco, vice-chairman of the Lombardia-Liguria regional branch of the Italian winemakers association Assoenologi. 

According to the article, the wine fraud organisation made these counterfeit wines by using “large quantities of substances prohibited by industry standards, including inverted sugar and water and carbon dioxide.” Flavourings were used in an attempt to replicate the taste and aroma of Oltrepo Pavese DOC and PGI wines, with some even being falsely labelled as organic. It remains uncertain as to whether any of the fake wine has been exported.

Read more here.

SWR Logo

Sustainable Wine is the free online magazine of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR).

Join 70+ companies in collaborating to define sustainable wine. Click below for details.

Find out more

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.