The SW Summary: On climate adaptation in Bordeaux, sustainability in Portugal’s Douro Valley, the defiance of Ukrainian winemakers, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Climate adaptation: Is the Bordeaux blend under threat? 

How will classic Bordeaux grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot respond to climate change? Château La Tour Carnet, one of Bernard Magrezne’s four grand cru classé estates, is working hard to find out. In Decanter Chris Mercer reports on the estate’s experimental vineyard aimed at understanding how the region’s vines will react under the climate conditions expected for the Bordeaux 2050 vintage.

The Château will use aeronautics technology to impose artificially higher temperatures to heat the sap of the vines and accelerate the growth cycle in line with predictions for future vintages. According to Julien Lecourt, head of research and development at Maison Bernard Magrez, the models indicate that the harvest will take place 15 days to three weeks earlier than today. A key priority for the estate is to check whether the classic Bordeaux blend varieties are “really threatened or not” and whether “other varieties have characteristics that may help Bordeaux to retain a signature style.” Read more here

Sustainability in Portugal’s Douro Valley

Writing for Sustainability Magazine Blaise Hope shares the sustainability work of Symington Family Estates, a B-Corp leading Portuguese wine producer in the Douro Valley. The family-run wine business, managed by Rob Symington, is focused on tackling sustainability challenges at both the vineyard and packaging level. 

As “one of the drier wine producing regions,” Douro Valley is entirely dependent on a stable climate, Symington explains. In an effort to understand which grape varietals have a greater resilience to climate change, the winery is undertaking a multi-year study of two control vineyards with 200 varieties of plants. However, as Symington points out: “It’s obviously not just about resilience…Since 2013 we’ve been doing a micro vinifications of each varietal every year. If they produce bad wines, there’s no point in banking on them.” 

As for packaging, the winery has partnered with Denomination, a drinks design agency with a focus on sustainability. Together they are working hard to shift the “association of quality with heavier glass to instead bring in lighter, recycled glass.” Read more here.

Ukrainian winemakers stand up to Russian aggression

Since Putin’s full-scale invasion at the end of February, Ukraine has displayed unfaltering and fierce resistance against Russian forces. In Euronews Paul Stafford highlights one of the “more surprising” sources of this resistance: the country’s wine sector. In 2014 the Ukrainian wine industry suffered a huge blow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, losing more than half of its production. Since then, the winemakers of mainland Ukraine have been forced to “make a concerted effort” to raise the international profile of the small-scale Ukrainian wine market. In the meantime, “the Russian government [has continued to] reap profits from the [Crimean] harvest.”

The Ukrainian wine industry is still predicated on a Soviet model, with the majority of production in industrial wineries. It was only in the summer of 2021 that the country’s archaic moratorium on agricultural land trade was lifted. The recent changes in land ownership laws have created a new focus on the “small-scale, independent farms” producing wine in limited batches.

The future of the wine industry and of course the country itself remains “deeply uncertain.” However, Stafford concludes by describing the defiant mood of winemakers as one “underpinned by a hope that they will be left in peace to make their wines and continue working towards gaining a stronger recognition beyond Ukraine.”

Consumers and sustainable wine: Bridging the value-action gap

The latest Strategic Report from Wine Intelligence, Opportunities for Alternative Wines, studies wine consumer attitudes towards 13 types of alternative wines across 15 markets. The research shows that although “consumers across major wine markets…had a high connection with sustainability in general,” this does not translate into their wine purchasing behavior. This value-action gap is well-documented, with higher prices typically standing out as “one of the key dissuading factors.” 

The Strategic Report highlights natural wine as “the standout performer [on consumer engagement] over the past two years.” Writing for Wine Intelligence, Serina Aswani explains how this is likely due to natural wine’s “[focus] on the intrinsic” with its highly distinctive flavor profile. Organic wine, on the other hand, has an “extrinsic selling point” based on “perceptions of the category as an ethical or sustainable choice.” Read more about the research and its findings here

Sustainable Wine is the free online magazine of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR). The SWR is the only global, independent, non-profit, multi-stakeholder roundtable built to include everyone in the wine sector, from producers to consumers. The SWR will develop global agreement on a definition of sustainable wine that fully embraces the well-known concept of sustainability. For more information on SWR membership, please visit the SWR website and join us on this journey!

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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.