Top champagne producer sees sustainability as an opportunity, not a threat

By Hanna Halmari

Stanislas Milcent, Moët Hennessy Sustainable Development Director, spoke to Sustainable Wine Co-Founder Agatha Pereira at the recent Vinexpo Paris. See the interview highlights below and continue reading for the full Q&A.

Stanislas Milcent


  • During 2020 Moët Hennessy will stop using herbicides in their vineyards in Champagne
  • They have decreased consumption of water from 4.5 liters per bottle of Champagne to 3 liters
  • They have a pilot project to capture and store CO2 from fermentation
  • Moët Hennessy Champagne has decreased bottle weight by 50 grams per bottle without affecting integrity

Agatha Pereira (AP): Could you please tell us about your professional background and what do you do today?

Stanislas Milcent (SM): First I studied agronomy, then I got a Master’s in Finance. I started as a Business Controller and Chief Financial Officer. I came back to university ten years ago in order to obtain a Master’s degree in Viticultural Analogy and to become a winemaker. Then I had a chance to spend two years in California, in Napa Valley. I came back five years ago to LVMH in order to deal with sustainable development.

AP: Moët Hennessy has many initiatives in sustainability, could you please talk us through them?

SM: Quite a challenge in a few minutes! First of all, we are convinced that we need to change our ways of working, dealing with a more sustainable way of practicing. We are committed to sustainable viticulture, meaning getting certifications in all the regions we act in – in Champagne and in Charente. All over the world we want to work on continuous improvement and to make sure that with external auditors, we improve our ways of working.

This year, we will stop using herbicide in Champagne. After many years of working in the field, with the grass coming back in the vineyard, we will use technologies such as electrical straddle tractors in order to manage these weeds. In the meantime, we are taking care of CO2 emissions.

We are also working on our production facilities in order to save water. We have decreased the consumption of water from 4.5 liters per bottle of Champagne to 3 liters per bottle. For five years in a row, we have managed to take care of energy consumption by investing in high environmental quality buildings, for example. We are also working on eco-designs for secondary packaging. We take care of our supply chain in order to make sure that we send our bottles in the market with Ocean Freight rather than other means of transportation that would consume much more CO2.

AP: Is there a group emissions reduction target?

SM: Yes. We are committed to Life LVMH Environmental Program and we aim to decrease our consumption of CO2 associated with energy consumption by 25%, by 2020 as compared to 2013.

AP: The wine industry is fragmented. How can large corporations, like yourselves, bring smaller ones with you? Do you have some examples?

SM: We aim to share our concern regarding sustainable development with the whole competition, or the whole industry. The idea is to bring together experts and non-experts and to share our ways of working, technologies and ideas in order to tackle those issues with collective intelligence because we are confident that it is a challenge for the whole industry, for the whole planet. We have only one Earth, and we want, all together, to address the issues we are facing.

AP: Everyone wants to ban chemical inputs before 2025 or 2030. How realistic is that?

SM: You can’t switch your ways of working from one year to another, even five years in a row. We started working on those issues of reducing inputs at the end of the 1990s. It’s a long journey, but we managed to commit to French regulations, meaning we decreased our input by 50% between 2008 and 2015. It was obviously a challenge, given we started the reduction initiatives way before this milestone.

Another main challenge is to make sure that we drive the change for family businesses working with us and from whom we purchase grapes from. Working on our own vineyards is key because we need to try new technologies and can set examples. For instance, we have set up new technologies for weeding and need to share them with people who are working with us, to make sure that all the regions are moving in the same direction and at the same pace.

AP: How do you deal with the challenges of “communicating” complexity?

SM: I agree with your comment, complexity is hard to communicate. The world is not black and white and dealing with nature certainly brings complexity. We therefore cannot go into specification to explain our ways of working. The best way is probably to come and spend time with us, or to discover our vineyards, and to realize that we have changed the way we are working in the field.

You will see grass coming back, you will see hedges, you will see biodiversity. For example, two days ago we had a viticulturist in our vineyards explaining that he is passionate about birds and that thanks to grass coming back, insects are coming back. As a result, he’s now seeing birds he hasn’t seen over the last few years. For us, it’s a great example and a great achievement.

AP: How are you communicating that to the end consumer? When they pick up a package, how can you expect them to know what exactly you are doing?

SM: This is probably something that we need to improve in the coming years. I think that digital tools could be a good way to share our concerns regarding nature. For example, websites of our brands should add more explanations on our ways of working and on the way we deal with biodiversity or nature protection.

AP: How do you turn sustainability from a threat to an opportunity for the smaller growers and other actors beyond big brands?

SM: Sustainability is not a threat. Sustainability is a key. We have a chance to work in vineyards that have been in place for a long period of time. Most of them were found in the 18th century, so sustainability for us is in fact in our DNA. As we all know in sustainable development, there are three pillars. Planet of course, people obviously, but there’s also profit.

We need to make sure that we match those three pillars together. Otherwise, we don’t have sustainable development. I understand that change management could be an issue for small businesses or family structures. Nevertheless, those families understand and share our concern to protect our environment and I think that even in a small structure they understand that we need to work differently.

Our purpose and our goal is to make sure that we can support them in this path. For example, that we help them with getting certification. Smaller growers don’t tend to record their practices, for example, or face difficulties in understanding what the best option is for their family business. By getting them together through collective

certification we can bring support and help them with other farmers, other wine growers, to define the best way to achieve their certification.

AP: Yesterday, at Vinexpo Paris you mentioned commitments to sustainability via carbon sequestration during fermentation. Could you please explain to those not familiar with carbon capture what Moët Hennessy is doing? 

SM: Yes, it’s a research and development project. During fermentation, the sugar is transformed by the yeast into alcohol and CO2. However, this does not impact our carbon footprint because this CO2 is coming from the sugar and was sequestered from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. So, all in all, it doesn’t impact the carbon balance.

Today we are piloting a project to capture and store this CO2 from fermentation. If we are able to catch the CO2 released during fermentation and to value it, we become a carbon trap. Currently, at the pilot scale, we manage to purify, to store, to compress the CO2.

We could use the captured CO2 for internal purposes, but we could also use it to produce algae that could be of interest for other businesses or other industries. Last year we succeeded in growing algae with the CO2 coming from the fermentation.

AP: Heavy bottles and transportation have a large impact on carbon emissions. Changing consumer behavior is very difficult and that linked with heritage is even more difficult. How can you see those changing?

SM: First of all, we managed to reduce the weight of our bottles in Champagne. We decreased the weight by 50 grams while taking care of the solidity of the bottles because as we have pressure in the bottles, we need to be very careful. We are working with the glass industry in order to make sure we can improve the carbon impact of the glass.

We have a chance at least in Europe to make sure that this glass is easily recyclable and the more recyclable it is, the less energy we consume in order to melt it. It’s something we need to address, and, in the meantime, you are right, glass is heavy and we send our bottles from France to many countries. However, we take care of our supply chains in order to make sure that we minimize the impact of transportation on CO2 emissions.

For example, we use compressed natural gas trucks from our facilities to our warehouses. We are using inland waterways from Paris to Le Havre in order to avoid the trucks on the road. In Cognac we use rail in order to avoid trucks on the road and we pay a lot of attention to our supply chains in order to be more and more sustainable.

AP: As for water, do you currently have any practices in place to either recycle water or to reduce the usage of water?

SM: We made a strong plan five years ago to save water. With several facilities in Champagne it was an asset for us to make sure that people are sharing their practices. By bringing together our experts, we have managed to save water in a significant proportion, but it’s definitely something we need to pay attention to.

We know that water is a key resource in the near future, especially spring water, and luxury products or wines and spirits cannot afford to spend too much water to craft our products.

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