The SW Summary: On climate adaptation in Chablis, the packaging problem, Bordeaux’s mildew problem, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Climate adaptation in Chablis

In Wine-Searcher W. Blake Gray takes a look at the young Burgundy vintners leading climate change adaptation in Chablis. As the region relies on just one grape variety, Chardonnay, it could be considered one of the most climate-sensitive wine regions in the world. Winemakers in the region are responding accordingly.

One of the biggest changes in Chablis is the earlier harvest. Marie-France Vilain, 30, who runs Domaine de Chaude Ecuelle with her sister, Marianne, 33, shares how during their grandparents’ time, harvest was often in October. Now, it takes place in September. “We are trying new things to work with climate change. We are looking at new American rootstock to graft our Chardonnay onto. We can’t change Chardonnay. Chablis is always going to be Chardonnay,” she says.

As grapes in Chablis have “historically struggled to barely get ripe,” climate change has brought some benefits to the region. Pierrick Laroche, 36, owner of Domaine des Hâtes, explains how “now, every year the maturities are very good. The years are more warm than before. Sometimes when it’s too much, the wine can be unbalanced with a low acidity. We have to be careful about the date of picking. It’s important to pick the grapes early to keep the characteristics of the Chablis wine.”

Villain and Laroche are just a few of the many young vignerons who are placing a greater emphasis on sustainability and transforming viticulture in the region. Practices include the planting of cover crops and hedges, agroforestry, and a reduction in the use of herbicides. Read more here.

Can cork help vines retain water?

In the drinks business Gabriel Stone discusses the potential of cork to help producers tackle climate change. He shares how Luisa Amorim, CEO of the Amorim family’s three wine estates in Portugal, has trialed the use of cork to help vines retain water. When planting a new vineyard at the Amorim estate Herdade Aldeia de Cima in Alentejo, the team placed cork in each hole before inserting the vine. According to Amorim, “the water stays.”

Amorim recently extended the trial in their vineyard at Quinta Nova in the Douro. They inserted cork around the base of existing vines across six hectares and look forward to observing the results. Amorim encourages the wine industry to adapt to the changing climate and the hotter and drier summers that she believes are part of a longer term trend. However, she advocates the need for a more gradual shift: “We are not going to change everything, because if you change everything you are going to change totally the style of the wines.” Read the article here.

Lightweight glass or recycled PET: Which is more sustainable?

Writing for Drinks Retailing News, Christine Boggis explores the sustainability debate around plastic packaging. Recycled plastic wine bottles can provide a sustainable alternative to the traditional glass bottle, which is responsible for the greatest proportion of wine’s carbon footprint. Recycled PET plastic (rPET) wine bottles are lightweight and easy to transport; offer a lower carbon production and distribution process compared to glass; and can be recycled in turn.

However, plastic is not a silver bullet solution. Whilst some industry sources claim that rPET can be “melted down and transformed into new materials again and again”, conservationists point out the quality loss that occurs each time. A single piece of plastic can realistically only be recycled a couple of times, they argue. Another issue stems from recycling infrastructure. Boggis highlights the low recycling rates (just 9% of plastic waste is recycled globally), and the complexities and variance of “which plastics can be recycled where.”

Health concerns have also been raised. According to Greenpeace’s new report titled ‘Forever Toxic: The Science on Health Threats from Plastic Recycling, both virgin and recycled plastics “contain toxic chemicals which can leach into the foods they contain, and are linked to cancer, obesity and other health issues.” Wine quality poses another potential issue. Simon Mason, head of sustainability at The Wine Society, points out that glass is still the best option for wines benefiting from maturation.

Having explored alternative wine packaging for a number of years now, The Wine Society has found that a “portfolio approach” makes the most sense for them. Formats will be chosen based on the wine and occasion. Their research shows that rPET, despite other environmental trade-offs, can cut almost “a third of its greenhouse gas emissions from glass.” When it comes to glass packaging, The Society is working to reduce all of their glass bottle weights below 420g (compared to a standard bottle weight average of 550g).

“It’s really important to recognise that no single packaging format offers a complete solution at this stage,” emphasizes Mason. Read the full article here.

Bordeaux battles mildew

Meininger’s reports on the ongoing mildew crisis in Bordeaux. Southwestern France has been hit by a second wave of downy mildew, wreaking havoc across vineyards. According to Christophe Chateau, communications director at the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB), the full extent of the damage cannot yet be assessed, but it is expected to be significant. Some areas will probably suffer a complete loss of the expected harvest, whilst other areas with less rainfall will be less affected. The final damage will be revealed with the start of the upcoming harvest. 

Bordeaux’s agricultural authority is in talks with insurance companies and has set up a hotline for affected winemakers. Chateau highlights the use of biological pesticides as one of the reasons for the rapid spread of the disease. These organic pesticides “are not sufficient for…effective disease control,” especially in the face of extreme climate change. 

“Blessed is he who is not a winemaker today,” says Chateau. “The one I spoke to today no longer knows how to maintain his business under all the existing challenges. Insurance is also getting more expensive…Something needs to be done urgently.” 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.