Climate change is a topic of the utmost importance for any winemaker, whether they are dealing with changing styles of wine, late season frosts, fire damage, or competition for restricted water access.
Influential figures in wine production like Miguel Torres of Bodegas Torres, Maggie Henriquez of Krug, or Adrian Bridge of the Fladgate Partnership, owners of port houses Taylor’s and Fonseca, are all asking how wine can be a leader in tackling climate change.
This is not about good PR, it’s about responding to myriad signals, including the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019, that repeatedly states that we must become more resilient to what the climate has in store for us.
It is also worth pointing out that we are currently producing more fine wines from more regions with greater consistency than ever before.
For Gilles Descôtes, Champagne Bollinger’s chef de cave, it’s not all bad news.
“In Champagne we’re getting riper grapes, the acidity is still very high, and the harvest is very regular. I’m not saying it is going to be the same in the future, but for now – and it’s awful to say this – it’s quite good news.”
Influential figures in wine production are asking how wine can be a leader in tackling climate change
Many big wine brands are maintaining their focus on the luxury element of consumption while behind the scenes serious sustainability efforts are underway. Bollinger and Krug are two Champagne brands which have been working hard to implement wide-ranging sustainable practices.
As Henriquez says, “Long ago we began a lot of changes that include working our vineyards, working with our soils, the way we fertilise, using organic treatments and nothing chemical… In addition to that we have changed all our mechanical weeding to electric tractors, so we are sure we don’t add CO2.”
Many of these improvements in cleaning up wine production can be seen around the world. Wine estates are often family businesses that are passed from generation to generation. This means that whoever is at the helm has to try to look far into the future to ensure longevity for their descendants.
Torres is probably the most forward thinking of global wine brands. President and CEO Miguel Torres said that the disastrous 2017 season highlighted what climate change meant for their business, which is headquartered in northeastern Spain and has multiple vineyard holdings in Spain, Chile and California.
“Basically 2017 was a disaster. In Chile, in February, there were fires which burnt half a million hectares. One of our vineyards, near the city of Concepción, 20 kilometres from the sea, was surrounded by burning forest. The first ten rows of the vineyards were affected; 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.”
A few weeks after this meeting in Porto a small group of journalists and climate change specialists were at Torres headquarters in Sitges, Catalunya for the Miguel Torres Climate Change day. Here again Torres spoke about the action the company is taking on climate change.
The list includes investing 10 per cent of profits into tackling the problem (over €15m to date), and using the company’s heft to set up producer associations (including a collaboration with California’s Jackson Family Estates).
Emissions from fermentation have been a big issue in the wine business with some declaring that the full cycle of production is intrinsically carbon neutral, while others say this simply isn’t the case. It is undeniable that the process of fermenting grapes releases an enormous amount of pure carbon dioxide directly into the atmosphere: Torres calculates its annual CO2 emissions from fermentation at 2,600 tonnes.
Fermenting grapes releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: Torres calculates its annual CO2 emissions from fermentation at 2,600 tonnes
If we are to restore our climate to safe levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, we need to reduce the current atmospheric burden by around 600 billion tonnes of carbon. This is a carbon weight greater than anything we currently manage on the planet, and to achieve this kind of reduction requires all of the largest emitters in every industry acting collectively to radically reduce their carbon footprints.
Torres is now working with Exytron, a German technology company specializing in developing emission-free energy. Exytron technology captures emissions and converts them into compressed methane so that they can be reused as carbon neutral fuel.
One wine business on its own capturing emissions is a mere drop in the ocean; if it spreads across the wine industry and then even further into other forms of agriculture, then this can be a seedling for change.
As Henriquez said in Porto, “It is a call to attention to the world, because the day Champagne is in a warm climate, which scientists talk about happening in about in 70 years, we will see a dramatic problem in the world before that happens. So we have to be conscious and do something now.”