The SW Summary: On generational shifts in wine consumption, insetting, the campaign for lighter wine bottles, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Are generational shifts in wine consumption “the new phylloxera?”

Well, probably not. But it’s an interesting comparison from historian Gonzalo Rojas referenced by Tim Atkin in his recent article for Harpers. Atkin considers the key threats facing the future of the wine industry, one of which is indeed generational shifts. 

Wine sales are on the rapid decline as millennials and Gen Z are drinking less alcohol than prior generations, largely due to prioritising healthier lifestyle choices. When they do choose to drink, they favour other alcoholic beverages such as beer or hard seltzers over wine. The big question looming over the industry is how the wine trade can make wine more approachable and relevant to younger consumers.

This challenge is made more difficult by the “increasingly strident” anti-alcohol messaging from the World Health Organization (WHO). At the start of the year, the WHO declared that “no level of alcohol is safe for our health.” In her recent article for Wine Business Monthly, Felicity Carter reveals how temperance groups such as Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and Movendi International are driving the anti-alcohol agenda via the WHO.

The gravest threat to the wine industry is that of climate change – one which so many people are shockingly still in denial of. Extreme weather events, higher temperatures and prolonged droughts will significantly change the future of wine. The evidence is clear and the warnings are widespread. “Sooner rather than later, it’s up to us to take measures to avoid them,” says Atkin.

Regenerative viticulture: The Wine Society invests in its supply chain

The Wine Society has launched a new climate and nature fund to support its suppliers and partner producers in regenerative farming practices. Producers will be able to apply for grants for individual projects from the £60,000 fund. In the drinks business Arabella Mileham notes how this is the first time that the organisation formally invests in its supplier base. 

Dom de Ville, director of Sustainability at The Wine Society, shares how the aim of the fund is to help their “producers survive and thrive in the face of climate change.” Investing in nature is key to achieve this. “We often hear that growing grapes is becoming harder, in no small part due to the world’s changing climate which brings with it ever more extremes – temperature, droughts and floods, pests and diseases and unpredictability. We want to play our part in helping growers become more resilient, more financially sustainable and part of the solution to the climate and nature challenges we all face,” he says.

The emphasis of the projects will be on improving soil health due to the massive carbon sequestration potential. However, The Wine Society will be “as flexible as possible” in terms of projects that can be submitted. The Society will provide enough funding to get the project underway and will then monitor the development. Read more here.

70% of wine regions at risk from climate change

A new study published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment warns that 70% of wine regions could disappear if global warming exceeds 2°C, Martin Green reports in Decanter. According to the researchers, 29% “might experience too extreme climate conditions, preventing premium wine production, while the future of the remaining 41% will hinge on the feasibility of effective adaptation measures.” Those are some scary stats.

2023 was the hottest year on record, resulting in prolonged droughts, deadly heatwaves and storms. We saw the impact of this on wine production, with yields at their lowest level since 1961. Clearly, urgent action is required.

This is emphasised by the researchers: “About 90% of traditional wine regions in coastal and lowland regions of Spain, Italy, Greece and southern California could be at risk of disappearing by the end of the century because of excessive drought and more frequent heatwaves with climate change.” Whilst certain adaptation measures can be taken, they do not guarantee that wine production will remain economically viable in these areas.

The report also noted that warming temperatures could make viticulture easier in regions such as northern France, the UK, Washington State, Oregon and Tasmania. The wine map as we know it is changing. Read more here.

The campaign for lighter wine bottles

“Up to 60 percent of a wine bottle’s carbon footprint is related to the weight of the glass bottle and its transport.” This is a statistic many of us are undoubtedly well familiar with already, and Dr Laura Catena of Bodega Catena Zapata is determined to continue to spread the word. SevenFifty Daily highlights the winery’s efforts to reduce bottle weight and lower carbon emissions.

This year Catena will release its 2022 Catena Appellation ‘Vista Flores’ Malbec in a lighter weight bottle, weighing 45% less at just 380 grams. The release will be accompanied by an educational campaign for staff and consumers on the importance of lighter bottles. “Wine lives within a bigger context of luxury products, such as perfumes, Champagne, and spirits that come in heavy bottles with lots of packaging,” Catena says. “To me, our campaign is about spreading the message that what matters is the juice inside the bottle and not the packaging. If enough people are talking about the benefits of reducing bottle weight, then consumers will start preferring lighter bottles. Producers always follow what the consumer wants, so the key person we need to convince is the wine lover.”

The glass bottle and its carbon footprint is an industry-wide issue – one which the SWR and its retailer members are also tackling head on. The SWR launched the Bottle Weight Accord last year, with major wine retailer signatories committing to reduce the average weight of the still wine bottles they sell from 550 grams to below 420 grams by the end of 2026. To learn more about the Accord and why you should join it, listen to our recent webinar 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.