With images of forests and vineyards burning in the world media, the message that the wine industry sits on the frontline of climate change is strikingly clear. So far the pressure is with the those producers who are, at best, trying to mitigate and adapt, and at worst, just trying to survive. At the consumer end things are changing too, as the industry seeks new ways to communicate.
Consumer choices blurry
With many of the world's leading wine regions now achieving new certification levels denoting sustainability, or that their wines are (overtly) vegan, and many more turning to organic and biodynamic principles, there is no wonder that consumers are making choices based on a myriad of pretty much opaque signals. Recently at the UN climate conference in Madrid I spoke to Miguel Torres, head of the international brand, Bodegas Torres, as well as president of Spain’s Wine Federation (FEV).
When I asked about impacts to date, Torres replied:
Climate pressure rising
Severe and life-threatening climate impacts are imperilling the lives of millions of people from around the world. From a wine-loving perspective, fires in Portugal in 2017, California and Australia in 2019, have all been particularly striking. The latter are still raging now with many devastating images pouring out on to social media.
These intensifying extremes are set to continue and worsen as the global climate continues to transition to a new hotter state. When asked about his level of optimism that people will change Torres says:
MT: The vineyards are like a thermometer for climate change or climate emergency. We see this constantly but for most people it is still not a priority. Most people, they just continue with business as usual. They continue to fly, to drive their cars, to eat meat all the time. So, very little changes.
Are wineries doing enough?
Bodegas Torres has long been a leader in communicating the climate crisis and starting collaborations with other wineries. When I ask him how these are generally going he says:
Torres has recently embarked on a wider collaborative international effort to engage the wine world and consumers in taking action on climate:
New environmental labels in 2020
One of these new innovations coming from International Wineries For Climate Action is a label that will launch in early 2020, clearly showing the environmental footprint of the wine in a way that consumers can recognise:
New Torres Label: 'WE MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE'
Currently, consumers in the UK have no clear identification that wineries are truly sustainable or whether they are abiding stricter rules in their definition of sustainability. These new labels aim to make it very clear as to what efforts are being made, in a snapshot.
Portuguese dry wines have been steadily increasing in popularity with a broad choice of variety and modern styles of winemaking, charming professional tasters and consumers alike. Climate impacts are very much on the rise too.
On a recent tasting trip in the Dao, one producer told me they lost 50% of their harvest in the region last year, and 70% of their harvest in Vinho Verde where they own a second estate. These are colossal losses in terms of business output.
At lunch in Lisbon with Portuguese wine bureau (OIV) President, Bernardo Gouvêa, he explained:
Portugal boasts over 300 indigenous grape varieties and in time of changing climates, this is a huge resource in terms of scientific research into new strands of resilient vine properties.
Gouvêa emphasises the work they are doing:
UK’s Wine Show launches refillable Reserva from Lisbon
Torres highlighted above that bottling and transportation are not always included in the carbon accounting for some winery businesses and yet these can account for 80% of emissions. Billions of bottles of wine in transit around the world obviously tots up the emissions counter.
In a project that seems to tackle this head-on, UK TV show, ‘The Wine Show’ has launched a refillable Portuguese wine aimed at what they term the ‘unpacked market’. The white wine is blended from Chardonnay and other ‘field blend’ (indigenous) grape varieties and has some light oak ageing. It is made by producer Luis Vieira, using grapes from his vineyard, Quinta do Gradil, located in the foothills of the Serra de Montejunto.
Bulk shipping not new
Merchant bottling was popular in Britain for centuries as barrels of wine shipped here could then be bottled and sold on to drinkers. This new concept has been piloted at 4 stores of Waitrose retailers in the UK in the run-up to Christmas and has a refill price of £6.99, after the initial purchase of £7.99 that includes the glass carafe. The press release states that this wine if sold in bottles, would retail at £12, so the saving is not only on the environment but on the consumer’s budget too.
Will this method prove more popular? Perhaps for everyday drinking wines, it is a very reasonable proposition.
Drinking forward into 2020
Climate change is now a firmly established narrative at the winemaking end of the business but is not yet percolating down to the consumer level. This is bound to change as public awareness and action to reduce personal footprints becomes a major trend in the next year.
The UK is also set to host the UN Climate talks, COP26, in November which will put the subject front and centre for the nation. As companies like Torres, and retailers like Waitrose, make efforts to bridge the gap to better inform consumers, hopefully, climate awareness will become an important factor at the point of sale, in write-ups and marketing.
Listen to the full interview with Bernardo Gouvêa, President of OIV, POrtugal