The SW Summary: On upcycling grape waste, Champagne’s ambition, New Zealand’s harvest, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Upcycling: From grape waste to new revenue streams

Not only is food waste one of the key drivers of climate change, but its disposal can often be costly. In SevenFifty Daily Sophia McDonald discusses how winemakers are reimagining grape waste as a resource and bringing about significant economic, environmental and social benefits. Dropped fruit, free-run press juice, and discarded grape pomace can all serve as key ingredients in other income streams, such as spirits and cosmetics.

Although grape waste can be composted, this doesn’t necessarily align with a key principle of the circular economy model that stipulates that materials should be returned to their “highest and best use.” Waste should be “treated as [a resource] and remanufactured into useful products wherever possible.” McDonald highlights numerous initiatives by winemakers who are upcycling their grape waste into new profit centres.

One of these winemakers is Alex Villicana from Villicana Winery and Vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Having identified an opportunity to transform his free-run press juice into various spirits, Villicana opened Re:Find Distillery in 2011. The distillery produces whiskey, vodka and gin made from Villicana’s free-run press juice as well as juice he buys from other local winemakers. Today, Re:Find “works with around 30,000 gallons of liquid a year, which translates to approximately 200 tons of grapes.” Villicana notes how “that’s an 80- or 90-acre vineyard that was being farmed and then the grapes were thrown away. Think about all the water, manpower, diesel, and other resources that takes!”

Read more here.

“Champagne is set to change its ways – just not yet.”

In February the two co-presidents of the Champagne region, David Chatillon and Maxime Toubart, presented a roadmap for the next decade. The CIVC plans to increase its annual budget by €10 million for further investment into research and development, legal protection and promotion of the appellation, and sustainable development. Caroline Henry reviews the region’s plans in Wine-Searcher, noting how the ambitions are grand, “but the detail is a little sketchy.” 

A significant portion of CIVC funds will go towards a new research centre, which will focus on deadly vine diseases, the impact of climate change on wine quality, carbon footprint reduction, and on training producers on new best practices. The region aims to reduce its 2003 carbon footprint by 25% by 2025 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Henry notes how following the CIVC’s U-turn on the no-herbicides commitment, the committee is eager to “shift the ecological focus off herbicides, and onto its ambitious decarbonization objective.” Although Champagne has made considerable progress in emissions reductions, Henry believes the region is unlikely to meet the 2025 target, as “exports continue to grow and warmer temperatures require previously unnecessary cooling techniques.”

Read more here.

New Zealand harvest begins amidst storm damage

Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand in mid-February, triggering a national state of emergency for the third time ever in the country’s history. The damage caused by the Cyclone is estimated to exceed $8 billion and the impact on New Zealand’s winegrowing community largely varies. In the drinks business, Eloise Feilden notes how the storm “could not have hit at a worse time for producers,” occurring just before the 2023 vintage. 

As the more fortunate winegrowers begin to harvest their crop, the “road to recovery is a long one” for others. The worst-affected regions are Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne. Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, shares the efforts underway with “regional associations and government agencies to support and help [winegrowers] access the resources they need to ensure the future viability of their vineyards.” Read more here.

New California bill to fund smoke taint research

In The Sacramento Bee Maggie Angst reports on the new California bill that aims to fund around $5 million for research on smoke taint in wine. Winemakers have grappled with catastrophic wildfires for years and are asking the state for support to “answer some of the industry’s most pressing questions.” These include how to identify which grapes have been damaged by smoke taint, the levels of harmful compounds that grapes can endure before they become tainted, and whether smoke taint prevention before a wildfire is possible.

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry introduced bill AB 54 in the hopes that the legislature will earmark $5 million in the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture budget to fund this research. Angst notes how some research is already underway. For example, a coalition of researchers Oregon State University, Washington State University and UC Davis is currently studying the impact of smoke taint on grapes. However, as Aguiar-Curry points out, more research is needed. “This industry employs thousands of people — the growers, producers, those trucking and shipping the products,” she says. “We want to help keep these people employed and give people the best quality products.” 

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.