The SW Summary: The launch of the Regenerative Organic Certification, a spotlight on sustainable wine producers, CO2 recycling at Château Montrose, and an attack against ‘conventional winemaking’

By Hanna Halmari

The newly launched Regenerative Organic Certification 

Writing for The Washington Post, Dave McIntyre reports on the new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) program. Launched in August this year by the Regenerative Organic Alliance based in Santa Rosa, California, the ROC is “dedicated to reforming agriculture and fighting climate change.” The certification’s main sponsors are Patagonia, the Rodale Institute and Dr. Bronner’s, and applies to any industry based on agriculture, including wineries.

The ROC is based on three ‘pillars’ of protecting soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. McIntyre shares how the “new ROC program aligns companies who reject the ‘greed is good’ ethic” that focuses only on the bottom line. Instead, these companies “accept a degree of stewardship for the plane and their communities.” 

Ten companies participated in a three-year ROC pilot program that came to an end this summer. The only winery among these was Tablas Creek in California, a winery that follows organic and biodynamic farming principles. Jason Haas, owner of Tablas Creek, believes that the ROC will become “the gold standard of certifications” for wineries, calling it “the most rigorous evaluation of farming and business practices” so far. 

McIntyre quotes Haas, who comments on the ROC’s transparency and global approach: “The ROC is built around the idea that agriculture has to be involved in the fight against climate change if that fight is to be successful, because such a large part of the earth’s surface is used for farming. If that surface can be used for carbon capture, it will go a long way toward controlling carbon emissions.”

Tablas Creek wine bottles will soon include the ROC certification label.  Haas notes how the ROC logo “is not going to tell [consumers] much about the wine, but it’s going to tell [them] a lot about the company,” that it treats people fairly and is playing a role in the fight against climate change. McIntyre believes the certification logo will appeal to today’s increasingly eco-conscious consumers and comments how interest in the new certification is spreading “among other eco-minded wineries.” 

Read more here

A spotlight on sustainable wine producers: Jancis Robinson 2020 wine writing competition winners announced

This year’s wine writing competition (WWC20) invited entrants to submit stories that championed the “sustainability heroes” of the wine industry, or the producers “who put sustainability at the heart of everything they do.” Receiving over 85 entries, shares how “the number of wine producers who are clearly taking sustainability seriously” is heartening “for those of us keen to see increasing awareness of sustainability in the world of wine.”

In reporting on the origin of the entrants, notes how “wine truly is a global business and interest.” The top three groups of entrants came from the UK, the US, and Canada. Other entries came from Australia, New Zealand, France, Hungary, Italy, Greece, China, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and Venezuela.

With 75 entries deemed as publishable quality by the team, the website published two entries a day up until last week (see the guide to published entries here).However, as with any competition, a winner had to be chosen. To help pick out the top stories, consulted two external sustainability experts, Irina Santiago-Brown in Australia and Tobias Webb in the UK.

Out of the 18 entries shortlisted (see them here), the two final winners were declared on Thursday this week as:

External judge Irina Santiago-Brown shares how when reading through all the entries “the writers unearthed so many great stories that [she] felt moved to write this article sharing [her] thoughts on sustainability and highlighting many of these compelling ideas.” Discussing the different topics of the entries, she emphasises how “the wine community has…[adopted] and [adapted] to a changing world” and how the “sustainability heroes are changing the world’s status quo from the bottom up.” She provides examples of these initiatives, including: the careful consideration of farming systems; initiatives to reduce carbon footprints; smarter packaging; reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides; driving social change and “taking better care of employees and community;” and more.

Whilst the competition highlights and champions the producers pioneering sustainability in the wine industry, it also draws attention to the realities of doing so, in that “there are so many interrelated issues involved and no single way forward,” “sustainability is a constantly moving target,” and that “the sustainability concept is always more complex than one might think.”

Read the entries here and Santiago-Brown’s report here

CO2 recycling at Château Montrose 

For over 15 years Château Montrose has demonstrated its commitment to driving sustainability through ambitious initiatives. As part of this commitment, Château Montrose issued a press release earlier this week declaring its goal for the 2020 harvest “to recycle 100% of the CO2 from its alcoholic fermentations.”  

Recycling is a key priority for the winery and Montrose has recently focused on the capturing and recycling of the CO2 from alcoholic fermentation in the estate. Working in partnership with Alcion-SEDE Veolia, Montrose has trialled a process of reacting the released CO2 with sodium or potassium carbonate to produce bicarbonate. The process was first trialled in 2018 and the subsequent 2019 harvest saw the carbon capturing process produce 15 tonnes of potassium and sodium bicarbonate. 

This year, having installed the first “automated continuous CO2 capture system,” Montrose strives to capture 100% of the CO2. The system in place “consists of a network to capture the gas emitted from the tanks during fermentation and a network of columns to convert it into bicarbonate.” The 2020 harvest is expected to produce an estimated 40 tonnes of bicarbonate.

This will make Montrose “the first wine estate in the world to produce bulk quantities of bicarbonate from alcoholic fermentation.” Bicarbonate has many potential uses, ranging from “the food industry, cosmetics, pharmacy and agriculture.” 

Read more on Château Montrose here.

An attack against ‘conventional winemaking’

In her article for Meininger’s, Felicity Carter talks to Todd White, owner of online natural wine store Dry Farm Wines. According to Carter, “this is no ordinary wine site. It’s an expression of White’s mission to turn wine on its head.”

Favoured among health-conscious consumers including “biohackers*, athletes and performers,” Dry Farm Wines strictly only sells additive-free natural wines that have been tested in the lab for “purity,” sugar levels of “less than one gram per litre,” and lower alcohol levels under 12.5% ABV.  The article describes the story behind Dry Farm Wines,  explaining how “it didn’t start out as a business,” but as White trying to find a healthier way to drink. He soon discovered natural wines and began sending them to labs for testing. 

Shortly after in 2015, Dry Farm Wines “became the official wine supplier to an annual biohacking conference” and business took off. In 2018, White launched his “own direct import company” and now works with around 800 wineries, which “[represent] about 70% of the wine inventory.” Carter shares how “according to the San Francisco Chronicle, White now has 100,000 subscribers and sells about 3m bottles a year.”

In light of White’s commercial success, a paradox to the “anti-corporate movement” of natural wine, Carter notes how “White attracts plenty of criticism.” This is further fuelled by Dry Farm Wine’s advertising which is loaded with health claims such as “Minimise hangovers & brain fog with Natural Wine.” As Carter raises this point with White, he responds by saying, “I don’t know a single person who’s in the natural wine business that won’t make that same statement,” and points out he also posts about how “alcohol is a very dangerous neurotoxin and ruins millions of lives a year.”

In his fight against “conventional winemaking,” White is working on a campaign in the US to “[get] labelling and transparency on wine bottles.” He preaches strong views on what he calls the “big, deep, dark collusion between the wine industry and politicians” to keep what goes into wine a secret. He shares how upon testing the “top 20 bestselling wines” in the US they “found high sulphur and sugar levels.” He continues to explain how “Big Wine lobbies to keep ingredient labels off wines,” especially in light of the rising alcohol levels which keep consumers addicted.

Meininger’s set out to check White’s claims on Big Wine and Carter quotes vice president of Government Affairs of WineAmerica, Michael Kaiser, who says, “We have not actively lobbied against ingredient labelling in the 14 years I have worked for the organization.” Over in Europe, secretary general of the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) Ignacio Sánchez Recarte argues that “asking small wineries to update labels every vintage would impose an economic burden,” but that “legislation is underway” in response to the increased consumer demand for transparency. According to the article, Sánchez Recarte believes that “by the end of 2022, European wine bottles will have ingredients lists.”

Carter concludes by noting how although “someone who spins conspiracy theories about wine is clearly no friend to the industry…White is probably the best enemy the wine world ever had….outraged and energetic enough to push it to do the things it should already have done, from paying people properly to labelling ingredients.” Read the full article here.

*Biohacking “aims to optimise the body through diet, exercise, and supplements.”

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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.