The SW Summary: On vineyard agroforestry, Mendoza’s freak frost, bees and bats in Bordeaux, and more

By Hanna Halmari
Advantages of agroforestry on the vineyard

In SevenFifty Daily Betsy Andrews shares why so many winegrowers are adopting agroforestry practices. Agroforestry, or the “integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems” brings a myriad of environmental, social and economic benefits. Agroforestry on vineyards “is nearly as old as winemaking,” with practices such as Arbusta, or using trees as living trellises, dating back to ancient Roman times. Agroforestry fell away during the shift to modern mono cropping, but now many vineyards are again embracing the practices in response to the climate crisis.

From Bordeaux to Napa Andrews shares the practices vineyards around the world are implementing and the benefits they’re seeing. These include more birds in the vineyard providing organic pest control, hedgerows that moderate extreme temperatures and protect vines from strong winds, trees which act as carbon sinks and provide leaf cover, improved soil structure and water retention, and much more. 

Given the benefits in the vineyard, why is agroforestry not more widespread? Andrews finds that key reasons include the lack of information and education in the U.S. and Europe, the time and labour required to implement complex agroforestry practices, and the high costs associated with new plantings and new equipment. Read more here.

Mendoza’s devastating late season frost

In the drinks business Amanda Barnes reports on the agricultural state of emergency declared in Mendoza, Argentina, following two nights of severe frost in early November. Temperatures plummeted down to -4.5C, impacting over 10,000 hectares of vineyards and other crops. The unexpected frost came after a year of severe droughts, meaning producers had less water available to irrigate vineyards to reduce the impacts of frost. San Carlos in the southern Uco Valley was the hardest hit region, “with some vineyards reporting almost total losses.”

Read more here.

Accelerating the shift to alternative packaging

In Decanter Rupert Joy explores the “quiet revolution” underway in wine packaging. Alternative packaging formats such as bag-in-box (BIB) wine and aluminium cans typically contained cheaper, lower quality wines. This is no longer the case, however, as the climate crisis, packaging innovation, and technological developments are driving producers to present high-quality wines in more sustainable, non-glass formats. 

As the majority of wine’s carbon footprint comes from packaging – the manufacturing and transportation of the glass bottle – many producers are experimenting with alternatives such as BIBs, pouches, and cans. These alternatives come with their own challenges, with issues ranging from limited shelf-life to difficulties recycling plastic aluminium laminates in BIBs and pouches. However, as Jessica Julmy of Château Galoupet says, “if you get paralysed trying to find the perfect solution, you’re doing nothing.”

Joy notes that whilst non-glass formats are fairly common in Europe and America, supermarkets in the UK remain cautious. He quotes Barry Dick MW of Waitrose, who explains how “customers are very interested in both quality and the environment, but wine is an indulgent emotional purchase and consumers still feel wedded to glass.” The perception problem remains a significant barrier, along with the fact that many consumers mistakenly believe that glass is an environmentally-friendly container that’s easy to recycle. As Jancis Robinson MW says, most consumers are ‘shockingly ignorant’ about the variance in recycling rates and the carbon-intensity of glass recycling. Read more here.

Bees and bats in Bordeaux

Winegrowers in Bordeaux have committed to reduce their carbon footprint by 43% by 2030. Increasing biodiversity around the vineyards is an important part of this carbon reduction plan, as it helps with pollination and organic pest control. Writing for Forbes Liz Thach, MW, explores the research underway in Bordeaux on the impact of bees, bats and spiders in the vineyard. 

Years of research on the impact of bees on biodiversity at Domaines Denis has shown their importance, with studies showing that “bees pollinate 80% of the plants in and around the vineyard.” Vignobles Arbo has spent over a decade studying the role of bats in the vineyard. Their findings verify that “bats reduce the number of predatory insects” which “assists in reducing the use of agri-chemicals and tractor passes.” The environmental benefits of bees and bats in the vineyard are clear, but what is the impact on wine quality? Research is still underway, but initial findings suggest that vineyards with higher levels of biodiversity produce wine with “an additional freshness.” 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.