The Future of Wine Forum, November 26-27 Zoom business conference, some notes

By Tobias Webb

Over November 26 and 27 we had 1100 registrations for our sustainable wine conference, and more than 700 grape growers, wine makers, retailers, logistics firms, and the wine trade in general, took part over two days. 

The videos from the event are available here, and you can access the audio recordings via our podcast channel. Just search for ‘Sustainable Wine’ on your podcast app to listen to them. 

The conference covered a broad array of sustainability issues for the wine sector, you can see the agenda here. From Covid-19 impacts, to standards, certification, logistics, packaging and social issues.

Here’s a few of my takeaways from the conference, and then below, some bullet points from various speakers who offered some thoughts in response, post conference. 

  1. Covid-19 may have changed expectations of the industry forever. Combined with demands of younger drinks for transparency, the story, and sustainability of wine, matters more than ever now. There are opportunities here! (selling direct, telling a story, building trust, fostering innovation, online tastings, etc etc). We wrote about this recently here

  2. Regenerative agriculture is competing with organics, biodynamics and conventional farming. We now have combinations such as Regenerative Organic Certified. More and more vineyards are looking to work with nature, and reduce artificial inputs, however they call their approach. This involves agro-forestry approaches, biodiversity work and a big focus on improving and measuring soil health. Retailers, wine producers and the whole wine value chain are keen to discuss both standards and certification. As wine production and demand becomes more global, so a need for a unified set of principles and criteria for what defines sustainability is more needed than ever. Regenerative agriculture adds to that need. Bottom line: We need to discuss how the wine industry can learn from other industries – and build consensus around global sustainability principles. This is perhaps towards a global standard, which takes account of localised issues and innovations. A great place to start is with those local schemes.

  3. Climate change is not just for grape growers and wineries. As we know better vineyard practices can capture carbon in soil and give us more resilient vineyards. And wineries can now capture CO2 and perhaps even sell it (Potassium Bicarbonate, uses in creating Spirulina etc) But the total GHG footprint of vineyards and wineries is definitely less than half the total, perhaps only a third. It is now clear the rest of the value chain, from distribution to retail to consumer and post-consumer waste, wants to tackle climate change too. This means wine delivery systems (packaging to recycling) will change to lower CO2 options over time. How fast, depends on both the industry, consumer demand, and regulations and incentives. But CO2 reduction will be huge all along the value chain as we look to hit national / international climate targets towards 2030.

Further comments from speakers are below:

    • As we all already are aware.. Sustainability in the wine industry is a complex and broad concept.

 

  • The sustainability concept is very comprehensive and encompasses a plethora of aspects going ‘from the farm to the fork’.

 

 

  • The wine industry needs to come together to define a common ‘sustainability goal’ or ‘framework’. A set of universally agreed standards is a desired goal, but a difficult one to achieve given the varying regional requirements. It seems we need a global framework.

 

 

  • Going for an official (policy) certification in terms of sustainability would be desirable for the wine sector. It is important that this certification also considers aspects for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change, actually considering climate change as one more ‘ingredient’ of the certification.

 

 

  • Communicate together on a big goal around how what wine ‘does’ not just what it is. So, how the wine industry is acting to provide greater economic, social, and environmental benefits.

 

 

  • Having a globally-accepted definition of sustainability is an important starting point and we’ve worked with other U.S. and international programs to ensure that we share a common definition of sustainability. Certification, in our case Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, adds rigour to that definition.

 

 

  • The substance of certification matters – being credible and transparent, following international protocols – especially to younger generations that may be particularly sceptical of sustainability claims.

 

 

  • We need to be clear. Who drives the market should decide if they want to recognize programs that get a lot of members to improve the industry overall (maybe also self-evaluation programmes, with no third-party audit), or if they want to help the consumer find the quantitatively and qualitatively more sustainable wines, which requires fulfilling set standards. This is the real question. Especially since all the large programs (in California, in Italy and in other places) with bigger budgets are process based; and the most comprehensive programmes with higher requirements will for a long time have fewer members.

 

 

  • We are not far from having a shared interpretation of what is sustainability in the wine sector but there is still a wide difference on how strict the requirements of the several standards are. Praise is to be acknowledged to the NAM (Nordic Alcohol Monopolies) and to Denner, (Swiss supermarket) that last year decided to conduct a complete study to analyse all the main programmes, so to be able to differentiate between programs that are designed to improve the industry overall, and programs that are based on third party certifications and that face the three pillars. There is a lot of study and there’s a strategy behind each of the programmes, but we need to understand that they are different from one another.

 

 

  • The wine industry must clearly differentiate between ‘sustainable’ wine and the other wine classifications (i.e organic, clean, natural) and educate the consumer on these differentiations.

 

 

  • What was surprising to me was the awareness of many players in this business to differentiate what is sustainable and how different is from organic and even very critical to other denominations such as clean, natural wine and others.

 

 

  • There are still too many confusing terms within the topic which the industry collectively must seek to make clear and simple.

 

 

  • The wine industry needs to learn to better communicate to the urban, mass millennial consumer.

 

 

  • Talk to the mass millennial not just ‘people like the wine producers’. We need to design communications with the millennial target for channels that they use.

 

 

  • Millennials are the demographic most attracted to [sustainability].

 

 

  • As a brand, your authenticity on sustainability must be genuine.

 

 

  • Sustainability has enormous potential for making wine more relevant to younger consumers. The care that’s shown in every step of growing grapes and making wine – can help connect to younger consumers who increasingly care about how things are made, how the people who make them are treated, and being connected to a sense of place.

 

 

  • A few findings from recent consumer and trade research with Wine Intelligence and Full Glass Research, in 2019 and 2020:
    • Younger drinkers are more open to sustainability in wine:
    • Gen Z’s have a stronger perception that the wine quality will be enhanced in sustainable wines.
    • Millennials lead the way in terms of purchasing sustainable and environmentally produced wine and 9 in 10 are willing to pay more for sustainably made wine.
    • And younger consumers are significantly more engaged with sustainability, view it as increasingly important to protect the future, and have a strong affinity towards sustainable wine certifications.
    • 75% of trade respondents feel that the demand for sustainably produced products has increased over the past five to 10 years; and slightly more think it will increase in the next 5 to 10 years.

 

 

  • Sustainable winegrowing has been widely embraced in California, which is the 4th largest wine producing region in the world. A vast majority of the wine is now made in a Certified California Sustainable winery and nearly half of the acreage is certified to our program or to other California programs.

 

 

  • The future of the wine industry is changing, both as a result of COVID as well as the need for more sustainable practices

 

 

  • With the industry under pressure from COVID in many ways, merchants need to look for innovations to be economically sustainable.

 

 

  • There is a balance between the cost of being sustainable in logistics – the consumers don’t want to pay too much and merchants don’t want to ship too much in advance.

 

 

  • We need more people to work in value added roles to generate more value for consumers and charge more which will attract more broader talent bases.

 

 

  • The cork sector is a clear example of a regenerative economic model because it adds value to society and the environment through activities that promote the capture of CO2, the maintenance of forest habitats and the revitalization of rural areas. 

 

 

  • The catalan cork sector has been a pioneer in the ecological footprint measurement of cork stoppers, providing verified and certified information to wineries on sustainability. In 2010 the first scientific studies on the carbon footprint appeared, demonstrating the positive contribution of cork stoppers for the wines. 

 

 

  • The Catalan Cork Institute Foundation has started a process of accounting for the social value contributed to our environment and evaluating the contribution of our activities to the common good. We must put social and environmental concerns at the center of our business model, prioritising social and environmental impact over profit maximization. 

 

We’ve been working on a ‘concept note’ about what a Roundtable on Sustainable Wine might look like, and try to achieve.

You can find that here. We’d value your views, please email Tom@sustainablewine.co.uk if you’d like to contribute. One focus of the Roundtable will be how we can create a global standard on sustainable wine, collaboratively, as an industry.

About the author

Tobias Webb
Founder

Toby Webb is co-founder of Sustainable Wine. He is also founder of Innovation Forum, a leading platform for change in sustainable supply chains. He has spent 20+ years working in business and sustainability and has spent ten years teaching the subject at various London universities. He advises a number of companies large and small on sustainability. Businesses he has worked with include Patagonia, Interface, Bayer, SOK Group, Boots/Walgreens, Metro, Unilever, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, and many others. He co-authored the UK’s national CSR strategy for David Cameron from 2006-10. He has been organising events, advising, teaching writing, blogging and podcasting on sustainable business since 2001. His (non-wine) blog is at www.sustainablesmartbusiness.com