The SW Roundup: On hybrid varieties, sustainable wine tourism, owls in the vineyard, and more

By Hanna Halmari
New EU rules: Member states can now use hybrid varieties in appellation wines 

Writing for Decanter, Jacopo Mazzeo reports on how EU member states are now allowed to use resistant hybrid varieties in appellation wines. Previously, EU rules stated that PDO (protected denominations of origin) wines were only allowed to use the vines of the vitis vinifera species. However, in response to the increasingly challenging growing conditions posed by a warming climate, member states can now use grape hybrids “containing both vitis vinifera and non-vinifera genetic material.” Such hybrid varieties require less treatment given their higher resistance to common vineyard diseases.

Mazzeo points out that although the modified rules “are likely to have a revolutionary impact on the future of winegrowing,” this won’t be happening any time soon. This is due to the fact that the integration of hybrid varieties into specific PDO regulations requires approval from both member states as well as the relevant regional authorities. Read more here.

What does sustainable wine tourism look like?

How do sustainable wineries approach and mitigate the environmental footprint of wine tourism? Writing for Meininger’s, Roger Morris discusses the world of ‘sustainable wine tourism,’ defined by Adrian Bridge, CEO of Portugal’s Taylor Fladgate port house, as “that which is beneficial to all parties,” which includes the tourist, the winegrowers and the surrounding community.” Morris looks at the ways in which “meaningful sustainable wine tourism” must achieve “social, cultural, environmental and economic balance.” Read the article here

Environmental action isn’t enough

Writing for Meininger’s, Jacopo Mazzeo highlights how younger consumers are becoming increasingly aware of company ethics. Whilst the global wine industry has seen encouraging growth in environmental commitments, issues of social responsibility have received considerably less attention. However, focusing a sustainability agenda primarily on environmental issues is no longer sufficient. Companies must also urgently address the salient social issues of modern vineyard slavery and labour exploitation throughout the wine value chain. Mazzeo points to the growing number of certifications, such as B Corp and Equalitas, that adopt a holistic view of sustainability to drive action on social responsibility. Read more here.

Owls: An effective natural replacement for rodenticides?

In EcoWatch, Paige Bennett reports on a recent study of the use of owls for rodent control in vineyards. Instead of using pesticides to deter pests, 75 vineyards in Napa Valley are part of a long-term research study to see if owls can serve as an effective natural replacement.  The study is directed by professor Matt Johnson of the Department of Wildlife at Humboldt State University in California. Out of the 75 vineyards, “four-fifths now use the owl nest boxes and notice a difference in rodent control. The preliminary results are encouraging but “whether the use of barn owl boxes caused that reduction in rodenticides is, of course, not proven,” says Johnson. 

Treasury Wine Estates announces Sustainability Linked Loans

Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) has recently committed to refinance AUD $1.4 billion of existing loans into Sustainability Linked Loans (SLLs) in the Asia-Pacific region. As one of the largest SLLs in the region, and as the first wine company to do so, the TWE is committed to delivering on its targets for a lower carbon future.

As reported in Winetitles, the structure of the SLLs will drive TWE’s action towards achieving

  • “100 per cent renewable electricity by 2024;
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Undertaking a comprehensive review of water usage and footprint at a catchment level in F22; and
  • 50 per cent women in senior leadership and 42 per cent female representation overall, by 2025.”
The only thing a heavier wine bottle guarantees is a higher carbon footprint

Glass bottles account for the largest proportion of wine’s carbon footprint, making up 29% of total emissions. In The Washington Post, Dave McIntyre reports on a petition that emerged during COP26, calling for wineries to decrease bottle weights and reduce the industry’s contribution to climate change. McIntyre shares some of the progress made in the industry so far, such as the recent announcement from The Liquor Control Board of Ontario. As of 2023, the Canadian province’s alcohol purchasing body “will no longer purchase wines packaged in bottles weighing more than 420 grams, or 14.8 ounces.” Whilst some wineries are taking action and reducing bottle weight or exploring glass alternatives, they’ll also need to tackle the widespread misconception among consumers that the heavier the bottle, the higher quality wine inside.

This misconception is further discussed by Rupert Joy in Decanter, who stresses how wine consumers are not changing their habits fast enough. More and more high quality wines are now available in alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, aluminum cans, PET bottles, and Tetra Pak, for example. However, changing consumer perceptions requires increased consumer education. Joy quotes Richard Bampfield MW, who believes that “if sustainability was properly communicated, consumers would be willing to pay more [for sustainable wine.]” Read more here.

Moët Hennessy’s new $23M sustainable viticulture research center

In BeverageDaily, Rachel Arthur reports on Moët Hennessy’s inauguration of the Robert-Jean de Voguë Research Center, dedicated to sustainability in wine. In response to “today’s [unsustainable] viticultural model,” the $23M research center will focus on four key areas:

  1. Microbiology and biotechnology
  2. Plant physiology “to mitigate the impact of climate change on vines and grapes”
  3. Process engineering to promote recyclability and wine production optimization
  4. Sensory analysis and formulation “to study the sensorial profile of products at different production stages”

Arthur also notes how the center will progress the sustainability initiatives of the Living Soils Living Together program announced in 2020, as well as serve as a knowledge-sharing hub among LVMH Maisons and external organizations.