The SW Summary: On labor troubles in Tokaj, challenging climate conditions in France, Champagne’s U-turn on herbicides, New Zealand’s carbon neutrality goal, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Labor troubles in Tokaj

In the drinks business Sarah Neish reports on the troublesome labor shortages in Tokaj, Hungary’s famous sweet wine region. The grapes used for the region’s sweet aszú wines are traditionally picked by highly skilled elderly women. As wine educator Dr Gabriella Mészáro at Tokaji-Hegyalja University simply states: “You would never find a man doing it. It’s always been this way.” 

Whilst a widely accepted practice, the tradition means Tokaji wineries are exposed to a significant risk as the older women begin to retire. With no one to replace the female pickers who are able to “recognise the ‘perfect’ berries by sight and touch alone”, “the knowledge of the complex task [is] at risk of being lost along with its pensionable practitioners.” Read more here about the ways in which Tokaji vineyards are trying to teach and integrate younger pickers to secure the next generation of workers.

Time to change traditions?

Writing for VinePair Rebecca Ann Hughes discusses how extreme climate conditions are forcing French winemakers to “rethink age-old practices.” From freak April frosts killing young buds to increasing temperatures driving greater sugar production in grapes and therefore higher-alcohol percentages, French winemakers have no choice but to adapt to new challenging conditions.

For some regions this might necessitate a switch in production to more resistant grape varieties, as certain traditional varieties can no longer thrive under the new climate conditions. Whilst some see this as an advantageous opportunity, not all winemakers are excited about such seismic changes. Hughes also points out how “even if winemakers are willing to experiment,” they still require the approval of the national regulatory body, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), which is no easy feat. Read more here.

Champagne’s U-turn on herbicides

In recent years the Comité Champagne (CIVC) has been a strong advocate for sustainable practices, with a focus on decarbonisation and achieving a zero-herbicide target. However, as Caroline Henry points out in Wine-Searcher, the region has made a stark U-turn on its zero-herbicides policy, largely due to the failure of the French legislation to enforce the full herbicide restrictions. Instead, “for the past month, many of the region’s sloped vineyards have been nuked by herbicides” and the region is “back to the old bad ways.” 

Henry discusses the ecological consequences of this excessive herbicide use, arguing that it “will have disastrous effects on the local rivers and may even render tap water in the region undrinkable.” She also notes the adverse impact herbicides have on climate problems. She quotes sustainability manager at Familia Torres, Josep Maria Ribas Portella, who stresses that “the wine sector should target to become as much organic regenerative as possible. This means increasing soil health, water retention, micro-diversity and carbon sequestration. This is obviously against the use of herbicides that will kill all sorts of herbs and make the soil poorer.”

Read more here.

New Zealand wine industry to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050

In Decanter Martin Green reports on the sustainability progress in New Zealand’s wine industry. In 1995 the industry launched the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) certification programme, which now covers 96% of the country’s vineyards. To achieve the SWNZ certification, growers must meet a set of ambitious targets in the areas of “water, waste, pest and disease control, soil, climate change and people.”

With an industry goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, “reducing emissions, conserving water and enhancing soil health” are focal points for growers. Whilst substantial progress is being made in these areas, there is still a long journey ahead. Read more here.

“Is organic or sustainable enough to measure a wine?”

In Vino Joy News Natalie Wang draws our attention to the human side of wine production. The focus of ‘sustainability’ in the wine industry predominantly falls on what is (or is not) done on the land. Wang discusses how South African winery Journey’s End is “expanding the conversations on wine to include producer’s ethical practices.” 

Journey’s End is a founding member of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR), as well as a WWF Conservation Champion. Although highly committed to sustainable farming, the winery does not believe that the parameters of organic or sustainable are “enough to measure a winery’s success.” Wang quotes managing director Rollo Gabb who explains the many criteria through which the winery measures success, including “the well being of [their] team, [the] community, [the] farm (conservation), and [their] business as a whole (financial success).” 

Read more here about the winery’s many initiatives to support and benefit the local community.

SWR Logo

Sustainable Wine is the free online magazine of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR).

Join 70+ companies in collaborating to define sustainable wine. Click below for details.

Find out more

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.