In our new series, Ask the Sommelier, we’ll be putting readers’ questions to the world’s top sommeliers. For the latest instalment, head of wine and beverage at Comptoir and Blandford Comptoir, and IWSC judge, Tanguy Martin, helps one reader decipher wine’s impact on the planet, as well as finding ways to make sure their drinking is as sustainable as possible.
“I’ve been hearing a lot about how drinking natural wine is better for the planet. Is this true, and does that mean that my usual wine selections are doing harm? In terms of making decisions when buying wine, is there a way for me to tell how sustainable a bottle is before I make a purchase – from the label or otherwise?”
Cherelle, Bristol, UK
Sommelier Tanguy Martin responds:
“It’s true that natural winemaking is better for the planet in some ways, because of an absence of chemicals used in the winemaking process. Plus, there’s less intervention in the winemaking, so it’s a laid-back approach to managing the vineyard and its ecosystem. That’s not to say that as winemakers they aren’t contributing to carbon emissions, though. Ultimately, they are still growing a plant, and through the work in a vineyard they are adding to levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
When it comes to sustainability, I would encourage any person to drink local
“But when it comes to drinking natural wine, sustainability becomes more complicated – obviously, we drink it all over the planet. I think that the most sustainable thing to do would be to drink those natural wines on the site where they’re created to avoid any negative impact to the carbon footprint of the vineyard. Transportation makes natural wine less natural in some ways, because the whole transport system – whether you’re talking boats or cars – cannot be fully sustainable, especially if you want to get a wine from one place to the other side of the planet. While drinking on site might not be possible, I would encourage this person to drink local as much as possible, for sure.
“For UK drinkers, with the climates we have in England, it’s not necessarily the right conditions to make natural wine. But in terms of the producers I love, you could try buying wine from Gusbourne Estate in Kent, or refreshing wine made by the late Steven Spurrier at Bride Valley Vineyard. If you’re keen to stick to natural wine, though, producers I’d immediately think of are Domaine Léon Barral in Faugères in the Languedoc; or you could look to wine producers in Alsace, like Pierre Frick.
“As for identifying a sustainable wine for drinking, producers these days know they should mention whether it’s an organic, natural or sustainable style of wine. Each producer making natural wine should be proud of it, and they should make sure it’s written on the label of every bottle.”