Of all the challenges facing the international wine industry in a post-Covid world, the challenge of sustainability is perhaps the most urgent.
Part of the problem, of course, is that the definition of “sustainability” is constantly evolving. A decade or two ago, installing a row of solar panels and a wastewater treatment plant would be enough to tick off a few environmental boxes and satisfy visiting press. In 2021, sustainability covers every aspect of winemaking “from plants to packaging”, as delegates at a major conference will debate next week.
The Future of Wine Forum, which takes place online on 26-27 November, sets out to examine “how the wine industry can respond to sustainability pressures – and create business opportunity”. Organiser Tobias Webb told Club Oenologique he hopes to present “some insights into what drives sustainable thinking in wine businesses, but more importantly, how change is happening.”
Webb has gathered together a formidable group of winemakers, journalists, industry analysts and other experts, including Miguel A Torres, Jancis Robinson MW, Jasper Morris MW, Nyetimber winemaker Brad Greatrix, Waitrose partner and category manager Anne Jones, Dominique Tourneix, the CEO of the technological cork closure maker Diam, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte owner Florence Cathiard, and many other experts in their fields.
Sustainability is about so much more than wastewater and solar panels
Topics to be debated include how Covid-19 has changed the wine industry, how to tackle real and potential labour abuses in the wine industry, how wine will be sold by 2025 and beyond, and how sustainability can be used to attract the next generation of wine consumers.
For one of the panellists, Sally Evans of boutique producer Château George 7 in Fronsac, Bordeaux, sustainability is about so much more than wastewater and solar panels. “The wine trade and the consumer should understand more of all of the aspects that a producer is juggling,” she said.
The issue for her is a holistic one – “from plants to packaging… sustainability is way beyond just the environment/the soil/biodiversity. It has important economic and social sustainability elements that should not be overlooked.”
The issue will be debated from several different angles – there is a panel on standards, for example, at which David Horlock of the British Standards Institution will argue for an international sustainability standard that will be accepted in 165 countries (this can be achieved in “one to two years” he told Club Oenologique).
Miguel A Torres, one of the most vocal proponents of sustainability in wine, will present his case as a founder member – with Jackson Family Wines – of International Wineries for Climate Action. “The argument will be that Covid will pass but climate change will still be with us. It will be a call to action for more wineries to join IWCA,” Torres Director of International Communication Christoph Kammuller said.
Another potentially explosive topic to be debated is that of the difference between “natural” and “clean” wine. The latter, according to panellist Felicity Carter, editor of Meiningers Wine Business International, is mired in controversy. “I want the wine industry to understand just how alarming this is,” she said.
Scrutiny of wine is a good thing, Carter argues, but the craze for so-called clean wine is the “dark response” to legitimate questions about what wine contains. “Opportunistic companies use ‘disparagement marketing’ to cast doubt on the integrity of all wine, claiming that if it’s not ‘clean’, it’s full of toxins.” Consumers end up not knowing what’s dangerous and what isn’t, and the whole industry suffers. “There are powerful forces telling you that wine is bad for you in ways you never even imagined. It is alarming.”
Other discussions and round tables cover packaging (wine in cans is a hot topic), biodiversity, and regenerative agriculture.
“We hope attendees will take away some insights into what drives sustainable thinking in wine businesses, but more importantly, how change is happening,” Webb said. “We hope the meeting will get into how the industry, from vineyard managers to retailers, is dealing with the challenges and dilemmas, and making a business case at the same time.”
The Future of Wine Forum is in its second edition; it is sponsored by The British Standards Institution, Château Léoube, Concha y Toro UK, Control Union and Diam. It is supported by the IWSC, the International Wine Clubs Association and the Porto Protocol.
The conference is free to attend. It takes place November 26/27 – all details can be found here.