The SW Summary: On Champagne’s “big talk about sustainability”, vintage variations in Cava, Cru Bourgeois classification, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Champagne under criticism

In Wine-Searcher Caroline Henry critiques Champagne for its failure to live up to its “big talk about sustainability.” Henry specifically calls out the Comité Champagne (CIVC) for backtracking from its ‘zero herbicide’ goal, which was originally set for 2025. Earlier this year the CIVC made a U-turn on the commitment and the region’s vineyards were “nuked…with herbicides” in the spring.

The CIVC’s new website outlines a number of ecological commitments from integrating circular economy elements to increasing biodiversity, but fails to mention the earlier zero-herbicide commitment made in December 2018. Henry points out the contradiction here, as “herbicides cannot be upcycled in the circular economy, they hamper the biodiversity, pollute the water, erode the soil and emit chemicals back into the air, and thus add to the carbon footprint.” Although short-term economic goals seem to be the priority for most of the region, Henry notes how an increasing number of vineyards are engaged in organic viticulture, with “some pleasant surprises especially in the houses and cooperative sectors.” Read more here.

Climate change and vintage variations in Cava

Until recently vintage variation was never really a factor in Cava production. However, it may be time to start considering vintage when buying Cava. So suggests Caitlin Miller in her article in SevenFifty Daily, in which she explores the growing importance of vintage in the Spanish sparkling wine region. She highlights the two main driving forces behind this: the impacts of climate change and the DO Cava’s new production regulations.

As is the case across many wine regions, extreme and unpredictable weather means Cava can no longer rely on consistent harvests. Furthermore, new production regulations for D.O Cava came into effect this January. One new key requirement is that all Cava de Guarda Superior must be 100% organic by 2025. Whilst this requirement applies only to Cava de Guarda Superior, most producers across the region are converting to organic farming “for practical, environmental, and commercial reasons.” Miller notes how although working organically can pose additional challenges when grappling with the effects of climate change, the benefits — and embracing each vintage’s unique crop of grapes — far outweigh the costs.” Read more here.

An assessment of alternative packaging

Writing for ProWein Paula Redes Sidore and Stuart Pigott provide an overview of the “packaging revolution” underway in the wine industry. An increasing number of producers around the world are experimenting with alternatives to the standard glass bottle. This shift has not only been driven by sustainability motivations, but also largely by glass shortages and increased costs. Carbon isn’t the only issue associated with glass – “it now creates a stack of cost and logistical problems.” 

Sidore and Pigott discuss the benefits of bag-in-box wines, highlighting an example from Tablas Creek in California. The winery packaged three of their entry level wines into bag-in-box formats and saw an 84% reduction in carbon emissions and a 60% reduction in transportation emissions. Consumers benefit too through a 15% price saving and prolonged freshness of opened wine. The reaction from the public has been highly positive, contradicting the industry’s main argument against alternative packaging which is that of consumer resistance.

Sidore and Pigott also explore the rise of aluminum cans, PET bottles and stainless steel kegs. Read more here.

Cru Bourgeois du Médoc classification spotlights sustainability

In the drinks business Arabella Mileham reports on the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc, which is a Bordeaux classification system that applies to seven appellations on the Left Bank: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Margaux, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe. The classification is awarded every five years and is divided into three quality tiers: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. Marguerite de Luze, owner of Chateau Paveil de Luze in Margaux and a member of the board of Cru Bourgeois du Médoc, explains how sustainability is now a key focus of the classification. All châteaux will need to have achieved High Environmental Value (HVE) certification in time for the next reclassification exercise in 2025.

Producers are also experimenting with the new climate-resilient grapes now allowed in the  Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations. The Cru Bourgeois board will need to be quick to decide whether these new varieties – Touriga Nacional, Marselan, Castets, Arinarnoa, Alvarinho and Liliorila – will be allowed in the classification. Alternative packaging formats, including bag-in-box, are another area currently under consideration by the organisation. “Nothing is decided yet, but it is something that maybe we can look at in a few years,” de Luze says. “[First] we have to see if the members are willing, then we have to change the text of the specifications.” Read more here.

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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.