The SW Summary: On insetting in the vineyard, Bordeaux’s early harvest, sustainable wine closures, Champagne’s first B Corp houses, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Towards net-zero grapes: Insetting in the vineyard

In New Zealand Winegrowers Sophie Preece discusses the climate action initiatives underway at Dog Point Vineyards, the largest organic vineyard in New Zealand. Since 2019 General Manager Matt Sutherland has been working closely with Ekos, a carbon management company, to measure and reduce emissions, as well as develop carbon credits. The company is well set up to embark on numerous insetting projects. This is thanks to three decades of native and exotic plantings in the vineyard, including “hillsides of olives, banks of Tasmanian blackwood, a pine nut grove, smatterings of oaks and more than 10,000 native trees, flax, grasses and bushes.”

Dog Point Vineyards currently emits 570 tonnes of carbon per year. The company aspires to achieve “net zero carbon grapes at the farm gate.” Whilst not all the plantings can be registered for carbon credits, insetting can allow Dog Point to generate enough credits a year (taken over an average of 30 years) to offset 19% of the vineyard’s footprint. Preece notes that Dog Point’s carbon footprint will also lower over time as the company progresses with its reduction plans such as switching to solar panels. As for the company’s overall reductions strategy, Sutherland compares it to “health and safety – a simple and unassailable expectation of day-to-day business.”

Read more here.

Bordeaux experiences its earliest harvest to date

Bordeaux’s harvest usually begins in mid-September. This year however, the harvest started about a month early in mid-August. As Sylvie Corbet reports in AP News, this is due to a warming climate and extreme weather events.

Despite the 15% to 20% reduction in yield, the series of heat waves and severe drought “paradoxically…produced excellent grapes” in Bordeaux. Whilst “the 2022 vintage may be better than ever,” winemakers are wary of the rapid changes and impacts of global warming. Vintners are being forced to adapt their growing practices and techniques to the changing conditions.

During the drought between June to mid-August, for example, estates were allowed to water adult vines, “a practice usually banned in Bordeaux.” Instead of positioning the grapes to allow for maximum sunlight for higher sugar production, growers “let leaves protect the grapes…to preserve the fruit’s acidity and freshness.” Some growers are reducing plot density to lower water requirements, or are considering experimenting with different grape varieties. 

Although winemakers are finding ways to adapt, many are worried. Fears of destructive frosts and wildfires, prolonged droughts, smaller harvests, and less balanced grapes are on the mind of many, especially smaller producers. Read more here.

Climate-friendly commitments: USDA announces $300 million organic agriculture initiative

Since 2008 the number of US farms transitioning to organic production has been on a steep decline. In an attempt to reverse this trend, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced its Organic Transition Initiative. Gianna Melillo shares the details of this in The Hill.

The $300 million multi-phased and multi-agency initiative aims to increase the production of organic goods and boost farmer and producer revenues. The program will help farmers overcome the technical, cultural and market challenges in the transition to organic production, as well as in the first few years following organic certification. Of the $300 million committed, up to $100 million will go towards the Transition to Organic Partnership Program;  $75 million towards a new Organic Management conservation practice standard; $25 million for a new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program; and up to $100 million towards improving organic supply chains in specific markets.

Read more about the initiative here.

Does the perfect wine closure exist? 

In SevenFifty Daily Diana Hawkins explores the confusing worlds of sustainability and wine closures. She starts with cork, the traditional wine closure that dates back centuries. Natural cork stoppers are a sustainable option, as their production generates very little waste and cork forests are carbon sinks. However, natural cork allows air in at inconsistent rates and is at risk of being tainted by TCA, a chemical compound that ruins the enclosed wine.

Many winemakers are instead opting for technical cork closures that guarantee consistency, such as micro-granulate and micro-agglomerate corks. These are made by finely grinding and treating the cork to eliminate TCA and control oxygen transfer rates. The binding agents used can be derived from fossil fuels, or less damaging biological sources. Closure producers are actively developing eco-friendly binders, such as bio-polymers from sugarcane.

Screwcaps are another option that provide winemakers with similar control, but their production requires a significantly higher amount of energy than cork, notes Hawkins. Although screwcaps are far easier to recycle than natural and technical corks, Hawkins emphasizes how significant progress needs to be made across the board in improving closure recycling and upcycling rates.

Whilst Hawkins concludes that the perfect closure does not yet exist, she remains “cautiously optimistic.” 

Diageo commits £450k to help African smallholders in climate change adaptation

In the drinks business Eloise Feilden reports on Diageo’s recently announced £450k climate fund for African farms. The fund has been established as part of Diageo’s ‘Society 2030: Spirit of Progress ESG action plan’ and aims to “lessen and monitor the impact of water and climate crises” on smallholder farmers in Africa. With a focus on carbon, biodiversity and water, the climate adaptation fund will begin with pilot projects in East Africa. Should these be successful, the projects “will be rolled out across Diageo’s smallholder farmer networks across Cameroon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Tanzania, Turkey, the Seychelles, South Africa and Uganda.”

Read more here.

First Champagne houses achieve B Corp Certification

Piper-Heidsieck, Charles Heidsieck and Rare Champagne are the first Champagne houses to receive B Corp Certification. In Decanter Richard Woodard reports on how the houses, all part of the family-owned EPI Group, achieved the certification after being assessed on their social and environmental impacts, “concerning governance, employees, communities and the environment.” Significant reductions in carbon footprints, energy saving measures, organic practices, and diversity and inclusivity efforts all contributed towards the successful certification. 

President and CEO of the Champagne houses and of EPI’s wine division Damien Lafaurie shares how, “[they] are honoured to be the first producers in Champagne to achieve Certified B Corporation status and are fully committed to B Lab’s vision of working towards an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economic system.”

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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.