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Time for a collective effort if the wine industry is to tackle climate change

30/08/2017

Climate change and sustainability were arguably two of the biggest world issues. Learn How to tackle climate change for the wine industry here

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Change agreement might have put him at loggerheads with the rest of the world, but it has at least put the issue back on the political agenda. 

It is hard to imagine now, but 10 years ago, prior to the big recession of 2008, climate change and sustainability were arguably two of the biggest world issues. 

Any business of any scale or reputation had to have its own green policies with companies and businesses alike all signing up to commitments to offset their carbon emissions and energy use and planting trees for every flight taken. 

2017 feels like a very different place. The fall out from the big crash of 2008/2009 is still being felt today with economic uncertainty and global austerity measures higher up the business agenda than tackling the environment. 

Global terrorism has also pushed issues of climate change on to the back burner. 

No excuse for wine

 But is there any excuse for such an agricultural-based industry as wine not to be doing all it can to be as sustainable as possible?

Arguably no individual producer has done more to tackle the issue of climate change than Miguel Torres, president, of Bodegas Torres in Spain. He believes “every winery needs to do its own carbon footprint analysis and do what it can to help educate its consumers about the issue”.

He says there is so much a winery can do. “From water recycling, collecting rainwater, to how they ripen their grapes, prune canopies on their vines, change rootstocks, or have lower plant density,” he said. 

Steps Torres has taken to reduce its energy costs by 25% and wants to hit a target of 30% by 2020. It also invests 11% of its profits, around €12m a year, into climate change initiatives. 

But he is disillusioned by how little some producers are doing. “Wine producers in Spain, Europe and Chile are not as concerned about climate change as they should be,” he adds. 

There is also not the public or political pressure to do more. “Society is not mobilized on the issue which means our politicians aren’t either. In our recent Spanish elections not one of the candidates mentioned climate change in their policies as they don't think the wider society is interested,” he explains.

Collective effort needed

John Holdren, professor of environmental science at Harvard University, and former policy advisor to President Obama between 2009 and 2016 says such initiatives need to have a bigger, national if not global focus if there is going to be real change. Wine producers, he argues, should collaborate on a bigger regional and national scale.  

He also believes US big business is still very much behind sustainable and green strategies regardless of the steps being taken by its President. It simply makes good business and commercial sense to do so, he argues. 

He says there were are now “several 100s of CEOs” now lobbying President Trump to go back to the Par-is Agreement.  

Protecting wine’s future

Holdren says it is very much in the global wine industry's own interests to take climate change more seriously. The evidence is there (Mozell and Thach 2014, Wine Economics & Policy) that shows how wine grapes are particularly susceptible to minor changes in, climate, especially premium wine grapes. The wine industry needs to adopt a “low harm future”.

Kathryn Hall of Hall Wines in Napa, California, says the issue is very much being taken seriously by its producers. She points to various initiatives like the Napa Green project, which hopes to build on the 45% of Napa’s wineries that have signed up by having all wineries following green strategies by 2020. 

Hall Wines has used solar energy and other initiatives to cut its energy levels by 50%. 

Modern winemaking can help

Gaia Gaja, co-owner of the Gaja Winery in Italy, says the fact wineries were now far closer to their soils and their terroir thanks to modern viticultural techniques can only be good news for sustainability. 

It means the right grapes were being grown in the right areas, placing less stress on vines and protecting their vineyards’ future.

There was also far less use of pesticides in vineyards, and a better understanding of how vegetation, grass, and flowers can help a vineyard’s long term performance.

That increased plant diversity could have a major impact on how wineries can influence climate change, she says. 

But she agrees there is no co-ordinated effort to tackle climate change across Italy. 

Preparing for climate change

Holdren says it was inevitable the industry is going to be faced with higher than average temperatures, longer, drier growing periods, more extremes in weather.

He warns the areas suitable for vine growing are expected to decrease by 25% to 73% in major wine producing regions in what is known as higher Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) used to plot change in climate change, by 2050. In lower RCPs the decrease is expected to be between 19% to 62%, says Holdren.

Leading by example

Ultimately it comes down to individuals to step up and lead the way. People like Miguel Torres.

“I am very passionate about climate change and will remain so for all my life,” he says. “I just hope to see some changes. Everywhere I go and every opportunity I get I am happy to talk about climate change. It is part of me. We need to see more world leadership on the issue. We need our politicians to change. But it will be very difficult.

About London Wine Competition

The London Wine Competition is being launched to identify and reward those brands and products that consumers actually want to buy, rather than simply recognize good quality wines for their winemaking ability alone. To be a real success a wine brand has to be bought by consumers, be it on a supermarket shelf or a restaurant or bar's list. The London Wine Competition will single out and highlight the wine brands on sale in the UK and International markets that are truly commercially successful. Read more about how it works here.