The SW Summary: Weekly ‘Climate Talks’, the EU’s greener future, bees in the vineyard and post-Covid predictions for fine wine

By Hanna Halmari

The Porto Protocol ‘Climate Talks’

The Porto Protocol is an open platform that brings together hundreds of voluntary members from the wine community committed to the fight against climate change. Throughout this month The Porto Protocol has held a series of online talks and roundtables with speakers from across the wine industry to discuss “wine in a changing climate.”

The first webinar “The Elephant in the Room: Sustainable Packaging in Wine” was a roundtable moderated by Marta Mendonça from Porto Protocol. The speakers discussing wine’s carbon footprint and the role of packaging were Tiago Moreira da Silva from BAGLASS, Santiago Navarro from Garçon Wines and Nicolas Quille from Crimson Wine Group. Watch the full webinar here

 The second webinar “Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture a Carbon Footprint Approach ” was a roundtable moderated by David Guimaraens from The Fladgate Partnership. The panel discussing the various approaches to viticulture consisted of Diana Snowden Seysses from Domain Dujac and Snowden Vineyards (organic), Stan Zervas from Silverado Farming Company (sustainable) and Fred Loimer from Loimer (biodynamic). Watch the full webinar here

The third webinar “Building a Climate Response in Wines and Vines – Technology and Nature” was a roundtable in which a panel shared how they use technology and nature across the wine value chain to mitigate climate change. Moderated by Jamie Goode from the Wine Journalist, the panel was made up of Simon Grier from Villiera Wines, Corney Beck from Coppola Winery and Fernando Buscema from Catena Zapata. Watch the full webinar here.

The last webinar of the series, “New Wine Generations – A New Sustainable Breed In The Wine World,” will take place on May 28th at 5pm BST and will be available to watch here.

The ongoing confusion around what  ‘sustainability’ means in the wine industry

This was a key point of discussion in The Porto Protocol’s second webinar on “Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture A Carbon Footprint Approach.” The lack of a global wine sustainability standard has significant consequences for both winemakers and consumers. With no established international standards, it is difficult for winemakers to clearly communicate their sustainability initiatives, thereby creating notable uncertainty for conscious consumers. 

Andrew Catchpole elaborates on this in his article covering the webinar for Harpers, sharing how the panel discussed consequences of “the various sustainable pathways” that have emerged from the “many parallel and often competing local and regional certifications and schemes.”  On the one hand, this provides vineyards with a degree of flexibility. Catchpole quotes Stan Zervas of Californian Silverado Farming Company, who pointed out that this enables winemakers to have a “certain amount of creative spirit” to adopt the sustainable practices most suitable to their current capabilities.

On the other hand, with so many different certifications and with many wine producers choosing not to be certified at all,  “the whole concept of sustainably produced wine [is] undermined” as “the consumer doesn’t really know what is in the bottle.” Catchpole quotes Fred Loimer of Loimer estate, who argued that certification is necessary to create “fair conditions on the market…We need guidelines, not for the work, but as a consumers’ right, that when a consumer buys something he gets something, [it] should be safe, that that’s really in the bottle.” Read more here.

The EU’s vision for a greener future 

The EU Commission recently published its strategies to improve Europe’s biodiversity and its farming systems. Anton Lazarus, communications manager at The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), provides a clear overview of the EU’s plans in this press release. With €20bn of yearly funding secured, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 commits to achieve “increased resources for implementation and enforcement of the EU’s flagship nature laws” and sets targets to protect 30% of all EU land and seas respectively by 2030. 

Commenting on the biodiversity strategy, Sergiy Moroz, EEB Policy Manager for Biodiversity and Water, says:

“The coronavirus has taught us how important it is to listen to scientists and heed their warnings and scientists have been warning about the threat posed by biodiversity loss to our own survival for decades… It is good to see that the European Commission listened to the science in proposing those important commitments, it is now up to Member States to endorse them and have all hands on deck to tackle the biodiversity crisis we are facing.”

In regards to improving European farming systems, the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides by 50% and sets targets  for cutting nitrogen pollution and the use of fertilisers. However, Celia Nyssens, EEB Policy Officer for Agriculture, notes how the strategy lacks sufficient focus on driving a healthier and more sustainable European diet, stating that “if European governments really want to improve public health, helping farming produce and people consume food that is healthy and sustainable is a great place to start.” Nyssen also flags how whilst the strategy “sets a welcome direction of travel.. the real moment of truth will come when the EU updates its €60bn-a-year Common Agricultural Policy. “

Both strategies still require endorsement from the European Parliament and EU Member States. Furthermore, questions remain around additional funding requirements and the need for new legislation. Read more here.

The benefits of bees in the vineyard

In recognition of International Bee Day on 20th May, Amy Wislocki draws our attention to the importance of bees in the vineyard. In her article in Decanter, she discusses Chêne Bleu’s ‘Bees for Biodiversity’ crowdfunded project that aims to better understand the impact of bees in sustainable viticulture. Nicole and Xavier Rolet of Chêne Bleu are working with a team of leading scientists from the Mt Ventoux Biosphere to expand the research on the link between bees and winemaking.

Wislocki quotes Nicole Rolet, who explains how existing research demonstrates “how bees help cover crops (and vice versa), and how cover crops help the soil’s microbe, and how the microbiome helps the vines and the taste of the wines. It is these micro-organisms in the soil that transmit the sense of place. If you don’t have these, the wine will taste homogenous.”

By improving the vineyard health, there is less need for the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. This gives rise to a virtuous cycle. As Wislocki explains, “Bees need a chemical-free environment to thrive. When they do, they help to cross-pollinate certain types of cover crops, many of which are endemic to the region. These are the same kind of cover crops that are recommended for sustainable viticulture – cover crops that allow you to be chemical free and avoid pests.” Read more here.

Predictions for the post-Covid fine wine world

Over the last few years the fine wine landscape has been ‘disrupted’ as a result of changes in climate, regulations and technology. However, as Pauline Vicard from ARENI Global, a research institute focused on the future of fine wine,  notes in her article for Meininger, the onset of the global pandemic has changed “the very nature of disruption itself” and “[ushered] in a new era.” Having spoken with a number of international experts about the future of fine wine post Covid-19, Vicard highlights four key predictions.

First discussed is the increased vulnerability of global trade systems. With higher geopolitical uncertainty even before Covid-19, “the current crisis could lead to a global blame-game, resulting in a strengthening of tariffs and hostile trade measures and an increase in volatility and instability.” Given the heavy reliance of fine wine on international trade for market access and reputation building, a deterioration in global trade poses significant challenges. 

Second discussed is the impact of the “great economic cessation.” Vicard quotes Richard Portes CBE, founder of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and Economics Professor at London Business School, who says, “This crisis is really unique, in that it is not an economic depression nor a recession, but an almost complete cessation of economic activities, without, so far, a crash of the financial system.” Vicard predicts a shrinking fine wine market, especially given the fact that “so much of the on-trade [is] in lockdown or facing restricted trading.”

Third is the impact of long-lasting travel restrictions. According to The Atmosphere Research Group, air traffic levels “won’t be back to ‘normal’ before 2023 at the earliest. How does this affect fine wine? With less tourism and cancelled events, sales are likely to be highly impacted. Another concern relates to the future of wine choices, as shared by one respondent interviewed by ARENI: “My wine merchant has so far done a fantastic job in opening my interests and constantly selecting new regions or producers for me to discover. With them not being able to travel that much and visit wineries, I might have to go back to classics because of a lack of alternatives.”

Finally, Vicard discusses the changing definition of luxury, describing how the 2008 crisis saw it shift from “acquiring and showing it” to “experiential luxury.” Vicard ponders whether Covid-19 may shift the definition of luxury from “doing” to “helping.” Perhaps in a post-Covid world “the ultimate luxury will be having the opportunity to help other people.”

Also, the Real Business of Wine recently hosted a webinar focused on sustainability in the wine industry. Sustainable Wine’s Toby Webb took part in the panel of wine experts discussing topics such as bottle weight, sustainable purchasing, certifications and more. Watch the ‘Getting to Sustainability’ webinar 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.