The SW Summary: On forest fires in Bordeaux, Wine Australia’s new biodiversity program, sustainability in the Rhône, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Bordeaux is burning

Extreme weather events such as wildfires and drought are becoming increasingly common with climate change. Persistent heat waves have wreaked havoc across Europe, causing wildfires, evacuations and heat-related deaths. In Decanter Chris Mercer reports on the fires near Bordeaux that led to an emergency evacuation of the Liber Pater vineyard in Graves and nearby communities.

Known for its rare wines, the winery produces some of the world’s most expensive small-batch wines. Owner Pater Loïc Pasquet has spent the last 25 years reviving rare grape varieties and greatly fears “[losing] the native varieties of Bordeaux [he has] saved.” Luckily, no damage to vines or smoke problems have been reported so far. Read more here

Wine Australia’s new ‘grassroots’ sustainability program

Wine Australia recently announced a $2.2 million new sustainability program to help improve vineyard biodiversity and soil health across the country. Over three years, the program will work in ten wine regions across four states, helping grape growers plant cover crops, boost functional biodiversity, and enhance soil health. Participating growers will have access to “new region-specific resources, an online information portal, 40 demonstration sites and on-the-ground support from local coordinators.”

The program will be delivered by Retallack Viticulture Pty Ltd, in consultation with Evidn, a behavioral science company. Dr Liz Waters, General Manager Research, Development and Adoption at Wine Australia says the program is “an exciting step in improving sustainability and the resilience of Australian vineyards.” Read more here.

Sustainability in the Rhône

During the Crus and Côtes du Rhône press and trade tasting earlier this month, Patrick Schmitt held a Q&A with Julie Coutton-Siadou, export media relations manager for Inter Rhône. They discussed how climate change is impacting the Rhône and how the region is responding. Schmitt has published their conversation here in the drinks business

For example, Coutton-Siadou shares how the Inter Rhône association is providing economic and technical support to help producers adapt to climate change related challenges. Extensive research into new varieties is being conducted at the ‘Institut Rhodanien.’ Recently, four varieties have been  accepted for experimental authorisation for Côtes du Rhône AOC due to their “adaptation to drought and late maturity.” These are white hybrid Floréal, Rolle (Vermentino), indigenous Carignan blanc, and red hybrid Vidoc.

Read more here to find out about how the wine region is approaching water usage, energy efficiency, organics and regenerative, community involvement, and more.

Lessons from Australian grape growers

In The Conversation Bill Skinner, Douglas Bardsley and Georgina Drew discuss what the broader farming community in Australia can learn from grape growers on climate change adaptation. Although farmers throughout the country are “already responding to climate change threats”, it is the grape growers who have reacted the fastest. This quick response has been driven by the fact that “wine has enormous market differentiation based on variety,” the choice of which is largely dependent on water and soil. 

Water availability becomes less and less predictable as the planet heats up. With water abundance no longer a guarantee, grape growers are finding ways to adapt to less rainfall. Such adaptation methods include increasing plantings of grape varieties suitable for hotter and drier climates, installing desalination plants, and investing in new water pipelines. The authors stress how farmers must “remain vigilant in confronting new climate risks” and the importance of “strong and coordinated local action and political cooperation.” Read more here.

“Sustainability is the goal, not the means”

Just as in many other sectors, the wine industry is no stranger to a slew of sustainability buzzwords. From ‘organic’ to ‘regenerative’ to ‘biodynamic’, these terms are frequently thrown around without much understanding. They’re also often conflated with the term ‘sustainable,’ a concept largely misunderstood by many as a static ‘destination’ that can be reached. This is a key point made by Dudley Brown in his article on farming systems recently published in Jancis Robinson. “You can be more or less sustainable, but never sustainable,” he points out. 

His article differentiates between the four main vineyard farming systems: conventional, organic, biodynamic and regenerative. Although many of these have substantial overlap, Brown highlights the regenerative approach as “the ‘best’ pathway,” due to the virtuous cycle it builds upon. Regenerative practices such as cover crops and crop rotation improve soil health, which leads to increased productivity and vine quality, which in turn reduces the need for “external or off-farm inputs.” Read more here about the benefits and principles of the regenerative approach.

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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.