Miguel Torres has long been the most outspoken proponent for action to face up to climate change in the wine industry. In this candid interview, he talks about the pressures his global business faces today and the actions his team has taken in response, to mitigate and adapt. He also emphasises that action on climate change is in his company and family DNA and that he is joining the youth movement in demonstrating for climate action.
Nick Breeze: What was it that first drew your attention to a changing climate and the impact on wine?
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Miguel Torres: Al Gore’s movie in 2008, An Inconvenient Truth.
Nick Breeze: And what connected you in your mind to the wine industry and your wine business?
Miguel Torres: I am an oenologist by training and realised that the consequences for the vineyards were going to be terrible. So we decided as a family to try to do something to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Nick Breeze: What are the current challenges you are facing in the vineyard that you are focusing on today?
Miguel Torres: Basically the year 2017 was a disaster. In Chile, in February, we got fires. Half a million hectares burning. One of our vineyards, near the city of Concepción, 20 kilometres from the sea, the forest around was burning. The vineyards were affected, the first 10 rows, you know, the smoke gave a terrible taste to the grapes.
So Chile was first, then we got hail in Penedés. We got frost, also in Catalunya, and also in Ribera del Duero. It was a disaster.
Nick Breeze: It is literally all over the business… it is global?
Miguel Torres: Yes.
Nick Breeze: What is the most significant action you have taken to mitigate against climate change and what impact did that have?
Miguel Torres: We classified our actions into three categories. The first one is to adapt. We have to adapt to the situation. We cannot change this tomorrow. It will take many years. So adapting means we have two change our business culture.
It means we have to introduce new practices that can delay maturation. We want grapes that can mature later because if they mature in August it doesn’t work. The wines are not balanced. So we want late maturation.
It means also buying land at higher altitude because every hundred metres you reduce the daily temperature by one degree. So we bought land about 10 years ago at a thousand metres in the Pre-Pyrenees. Also in another valley we moved a bit higher, about 100 metres.
In Chile we will plant more to the south in the Itata Valley. Now, more recently, we bought 6000 hectares in Patagonia.
Nick Breeze: Wow!
Miguel Torres: For planting trees, not for vines. It is too cold!
Number 2, what we do is to invest in renewable energies. Photovoltaic panels, biomass, electric cars, and research!
Third, we try to influence other people. People come and see what we are doing. Like me coming here today to try and influence a bit. That is all we can do!
Nick Breeze: When you consider all the things you are doing, and the effects of climate change, does the possibility of style change, in what the consumer ends up with, worry you?
Miguel Torres: You know I think our technicians have done a wonderful job. In viticultural aspects first, delaying maturation, adapting grapes to new scenarios. You know today our best riesling doesn’t come anymore from Penedés. It comes from the Pyrenees. It is a cooler area so it makes sense!
Also, I think in our vilification techniques they have made improvements every year. So I think the quality of our wines so far has not been affected at all.
Nick Breeze: Wine conferences like this one show that industries are taking action. Yet globally emissions are still rising. What concerns you the most when you see the failure of efforts such as politics?
Miguel Torres: I feel very sad. Take the case of the Spanish Federation where I am the president. In 2011 we started a programme called Wineries For Climate Protection. We should have called it Wineries for Financial Protection because nobody is investing you see?
People are not prepared to invest. Of course, we had the economic crisis in the middle, in 2011, but still, the wineries would not invest because it is more recycling and reducing the use of water. You are not required to drastically reduce your emissions, so out of 700 wineries in the federation, only 20, in 8 years, came to join this group, Wineries For Climate Change. It doesn’t work!
So it is very disappointing. It is the same with politicians. When they are campaigning, nobody talks about climate change. Now in Spain, the socialists, I have to say, they have done much better.
With the previous government, we had 400 kilowatt PV’s waiting for authorisation for 2 years my friend! Everyday sending CO2 to the troposphere instead. When the new government came into power, within two months it was accepted.
Nick Breeze: Brilliant!
Miguel Torres: So I think with the socialists they are starting to realise the importance of the subject. In Spain, we have a very good minister who is doing a wonderful job.
Nick Breeze: You had a slide there of Greta Thurnberg at the end of your talk. This movement of young people who care about their own future, and are standing up to the generations who are business-as-usual…?
Miguel Torres: I love it! I wish I can meet one day with Greta. She is doing a great job and I plan to be on the 15th March on the Barcelona streets for the Barcelona strike, or demonstration. Maybe I will have to wear a wig or something?
Nick Breeze: One last question, how do you communicate your family values to the public?
Miguel Torres: I think it is good for our company. It doesn’t affect our sales of wine yet but it helps our company to have a purpose. Of course, we have our DNA in the company regarding our research, regarding our people, our social responsibility.
But I think the ecology and the fight against climate change is giving us a special purpose and I like that, very much!
Nick Breeze: Good! It is a mission?
Miguel Torres: Exactly!
Miguel Torres is the Managing Director of Bodegas Torres, the largest winery in Spain, and with vineyards also in Chile and the USA. Miguel Torres has spoken out for over a decade on the need for the wine industry to take action on climate change.