The SW Summary: On horse viticulture, changes in Champagne, refillable wine bottles, digital wine labelling, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Why growers are replacing machines with horses

Writing for SevenFifty Daily, Sophia McDonald explores the reasons why many winegrowers are returning to the “traditional, yet difficult,” method of farming with horses. This artisanal way of using horses to power cultivators and plows comes with many practical benefits. As the horses move through the vineyards, often able to squeeze into narrow rows where machines can’t fit, they naturally aerate the soil “by kicking up small bits of dirt.” As horse hooves are much gentler than tires, they exert less pressure on the ground, reducing soil compaction and thereby helping prevent soil erosion. However, as McDonald points out, horse viticulture is expensive, time-consuming and requires a high degree of skill. Read more here as to why many farmers still opt to do it.

Adapting to a changing climate and consumer demand

In Wine Enthusiast, Jacopo Mazzeo draws our attention to the rise of still wines from the prestigious Champagne region and the decline of sweet and fortified wines in Europe. He calls this trend “a symptom of a wider shift in the world of wine,” pointing to our warming climate and changing consumer demand as the key drivers.

Champagne, with its “northerly location,” has traditionally been known to produce “austere still wines.” However, increasing temperatures have led to “increasingly riper [and] richer” grapes, from which Champagne houses are able to produce high-quality still wines.

Over in regions known for their sweet and fortified wines, such as Marsala in Italy and Madeira in Portugal, winemakers are turning to increasing their dry wine production. This is in response to the declining consumer interest in sugary, alcoholic drinks. Read more here.

Champagne sees lowest yields in 40 years

Extreme weather conditions in Champagne have led to the region’s smallest harvest in 40 years, reports Patrick Schmitt in the drinks business. Schmitt explains how the crop damage began with the frost in April, followed by “persistent rainfall…during the spring and early summer,” as well as a number of localised hailstorms. Together, these events have resulted in an “overall loss in yields of almost 60%, with 25-30% of that attributed to mildew, and around 30% due to frost.” 

The low natural yields will not affect the amount of Champagne produced this year thanks to the region’s “extensive stocks of wine in reserve.” 

New legislation signed in Monterey for refilling wine bottles

In The Monterey Herald, James Herrera reports on a newly signed bill in Monterey County changing the rules around refilling containers. Prior to the new law, only “wineries with tasting rooms attached to production facilities” were allowed to refill containers, creating significant disadvantages to off-site tasting rooms. The new legislation, which was largely facilitated by the Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association, will allow consumers to also refill their own wine bottles at participating wineries’ off-site tasting rooms. Not only will this enable the reduction of packaging waste and carbon emissions, but this sustainable option will also enable wineries to expand business. The law will come into effect on 1st Jan 2022.

The Sustainable Wine Roundtable

September 15th saw the formation of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR), the only global, independent, non-profit, multi stakeholder roundtable built to accelerate sustainability in the wine industry. Over forty founding members from across the global wine industry have joined forces to lead on the initiative. You can see the full list of founding members here

In the drinks business, Eloise Feilden reports on the formation of the coalition, highlighting founding member Journey’s End Vineyards. Feilden shares a quote from Rollo Gabb, Managing Director of Journey’s End Vineyards, who said:

“Coming together as a group with an aim of defining what sustainability means for the wine industry, in theory and in practice, represents a major step towards safeguarding the future of wine production and consumption, globally. We are proud to be founding members of this highly progressive collaboration.

Writing for The Napa Valley Register, Sam Jones highlights the three founding members from Napa locations, Amorim CorkNapa Green and Treasury Wine Estates. Jones shares a quote from Will Drayton, Director of Technical Viticulture, Sustainability and Research for Treasury Wine Estates, who said: 

“All of us, the wine industry included, have our work cut out for us if we want to keep our world a livable place in the face of a changing climate, loss of biodiversity, plastic in the environment or any other number of things that need tackling. One of the key roles of the SWR, apart from crafting industry solutions, is to do a better job of telling the public what the wine industry is doing.”

The Wine Industry Advisor shares the reasons why founding member Domaine Bousquet was attracted to the SWR. Among these are the fact that there is “no greenwashing as members must demonstrate continuous improvement themselves, and the membership reflects the diversity of the industry, from leading brands to small producers to distributors and retailers. That diversity means the proposals will be refined by all the major sectors in the industry for a unified approach and workability in “the real world.”

One of the main objectives of the SWR is to define a global standard for sustainability in wine, while respecting and reflecting local conditions and contexts. Wine News shares a quote from Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, President of founding member Equalitas, who says: 

“[This initiative is] necessary to avoid duplication in international certifications for wineries. This has been one of the objectives of Equalitas since the birth of the project and the partnership with SWR goes in the right direction. After our efforts on a national level, we want to offer our contribution to encourage greater harmonization of sustainability protocols on an international scale, simplifying the administrative burdens of our exporting companies.”

Membership is open to all stakeholders in wine. You can find out more about the SWR and how to join here

Towards a more inclusive drinks industry: From pledges to progress

Last summer we saw the significant issues of diversity, inclusion, and racism pushed to the forefront of the drinks industry. Many companies responded by launching diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and scholarships in an effort to create “real, sustainable pathways to wine, spirits and beer careers for BIPOC individuals.” In SevenFifty Daily, Chasity Cooper takes a look at the progress made so far.

Although the creation of an inclusive industry undoubtedly takes time and “systemic change requires more than pledges and reallocation of funds,” Cooper believes that the industry is in the process of real change. She delves into the key drivers behind this, highlighting the importance of “changing corporate culture,”“creating inroads through hiring,” and the important work of new “independent organisations…created to raise awareness and offer financial, resource, and skills support to BIPOC industry members and aspirants.” 

Whilst the industry is certainly moving in the right direction, as Samara Davies, founder of Black Bourbon Society, notes, “This is systemic and generational change, and small changes will lead to big impact over time. Brands and consumers both have to be patient and be committed to the journey of diversity and inclusion.” Read more here

Digital wine labelling 

Recent EU Common Agricultural Policy legislation states that as of 2023, wines and spirits will be required to provide consumers with the ingredients list and nutritional value of the product. The information will need to be provided either on the label or digitally. Meininger’s reports on the development of a “voluntary QR Code-based initiative” launched by Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV) and SpiritsEurope. The initiative, called the ‘U-Label,’ will allow producers to get ahead of the curve before the new legislation comes into effect. 

Meininger’s explains how not only will the QR code provide consumers with ingredients and nutritional information, but it will also “provide details of [the producer’s] sustainability efforts” – without affecting the appearance of the packaging. 16 companies have already signed up to the initiative, including Campo Vieja, Taittinger, and Absolut Vodka. Read more here.