The SW Summary: On the UK’s new farming system, winery impact reduction, climate chaos in California, and more

By Hanna Halmari
“One genuine benefit of Brexit:” EU farming subsidies overhauled in the UK

In Sky News Victoria Seabrook reports on the new farming system to be implemented in the UK this year. The new Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFI) pilot will direct £1bn of the £2.4bn annual agriculture budget “to support food production while protecting habitats and wildlife.” This new system replaces the European Union’s farming subsidy program, which is often criticised for favouring wealthy land-owners over struggling farmers.

Under the SFI pilot farmers will be compensated for “280 different measures to protect Britain’s natural world.” These include the planting of wildflowers, new hedgerows, organic farming and more. Seabrook notes how the UK “ranks among the worst countries globally for the state of its life-sustaining plants and wildlife.” Whilst the new measures will not be enough for the UK to meet its climate and nature targets, green groups herald the new system as a small step in the right direction. Read more here.

Going green: How wineries can reduce their impact

In Wine Enthusiast Kathleen Willcox reports on the ways in which eco-friendly wineries are reducing their environmental impact. Whilst almost half of wine’s carbon footprint comes from the production and packaging of wine, the impact of the winery itself should not be overlooked. When it comes to construction, sourcing local and eco-friendly materials is key for reducing emissions. For example, Christophe Landry, ​​owner of Chateau des Graviers in Bordeaux, shares how his “winery is made in part with 600 bales of straw purchased from a farmer about 25 miles from the winery.” He explains how the straw was then compressed to make a low-carbon wall-building material. 

Many winemakers are also looking for alternatives to concrete. According to Nature the production of concrete accounts for around 8% or more of global carbon emissions. Over in the U.S. Remy Drabkin, founder and winemaker of Remy wines, and John Mead, founder of Vesuvian Forge, are working in partnership with Bioforectech and Lafarge Labs on the creation of a carbon-neutral concrete. 

Turning to renewable energy is another way for wineries to significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Joshua M. Pearce, Ph.D., professor in materials engineering at Western University in Canada, explains how using solar power not only benefits the environment, but it can also improve the economic value of farms: “Once implemented, solar is the lowest cost source of electricity in most places in the world.”

Find out more here.

High hopes for higher elevation

As average temperatures continue to rise, the ripening time between veraison and harvest continues to shorten. In Wine Enthusiast Kate Dingwall looks at one of the ways in which winemakers around the world are adapting to higher temperatures: by moving to higher altitudes. Warmer temperatures and increasingly regular heatwaves not only shift harvest times forward, but they also impact the balance, freshness and flavours of the grapes.

Andrea Buccella, production manager of Cesarini Sforza in Trento, explains how acidity is key to production of their Trentodoc sparkling wine. In response to the hotter temperatures, “the winery is investing in plots up to 2,000 feet above sea level in Val di Cembra.” This way they can preserve acidity and freshness in their grapes, as the “valley benefits from a regular wind and noticeable diurnal range.”

However, Dingwall notes how higher elevation “isn’t a band-aid solution to a climate in crisis.” There are many variables to consider with higher elevation, such as maritime influence, water availability, increased risk of frost, and more. Some winemakers are instead – or in parallel – experimenting with more climate-resilient grape varieties. Spanish winery Familia Torres, for example, is testing lesser-known indigenous varieties like Moneu, Forcada, and Querol. Read more here.

Climate chaos in California

In Decanter Clive Pursehouse examines how California’s winter storms are impacting the state’s wine regions. Although the state “has been in the grips of drought for 20 years,” the recent winter storms have resulted in tragedy and severe losses. Pursehouse provides insights into the current outlook of winemakers across key wine regions, including Santa Rita Hills, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, Napa Valley and Monterey Country. 

Despite the damages caused by flooding and landslides, the impact of the heavy rainfall seems largely positive across the board. Following the drought emergency declared in mid-December last year, the much-needed rain has refilled reservoirs, replenished aquifers, and pushed salts back down into the soil profile. Winemakers remain hopeful for the 2023 vintage. 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.