What is Sustainability in the Wine Industry?

Sustainability

In a recent article, we talked about the link between sustainable farming and natural wine, and elsewhere we’ve touched briefly on what sustainable farming is in terms of wine certification. 

But we wanted to talk more in-depth about sustainability in the wine industry. In particular, what is being done to ensure that the nation’s favourite tipple, the one that has been around since before writing was invented, is around for as long as sustainably possible? 

Wine has been around longer than writing

The human thirst for wine has been documented as far back as 9,000 years ago when the Chinese made a form of wine from fermenting rice, honey and fruit. Even better, grapes were one of the first fruits to be domesticated to quench our insatiable thirst – in the Caucasus Mountains of what is now Georgia, they were fermenting natural wine, using wild fermentation – a technique that is still practised today, and spreading widely in popularity. 

The impact of the wine industry on the environment 

But the wine industry has grown at an exponential rate and our environment has taken a hammering because of it. You might not think that growing grapes could be detrimental to our planet, but it is, because of our desire for their end product. In fact, grapes are counted amongst the Dirty Dozen of fruits and vegetables as they have the highest concentration of pesticides on them. 

And it is this incessant spraying of grapes (grapes have naturally thin skins meaning they have a tendency to ripen quickly and mould, and so to stop this from happening farmers spray multiple applications of pesticides and herbicides and fungicides on them), with a plethora of chemicals that are negatively impacting the environment. 

These chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, when sprayed, don’t just land on the grapes themselves, they enter the soil (degrading it), they get carried away on the wind and they cause genetic mutations in insects which in turn affects higher up the food chain. 

The fight for sustainability in the wine industry

But we know all of this, hence the organic movement, the biodynamic farming movement, and the growing interest in sustainability. 

There is no one organisation responsible for Earth’s stewardship, it’s the job of all of us to ensure the survival of our little green planet, which we can do, whilst sipping on a delicious glass of wine (as long as it’s sustainably produced). 

A growing interest in sustainable wines

Interest in the impact of overuse of chemicals on grape growing first came to light when Claude Bourguignon (French soil biologist in the 1980s) stated that the soils in Burgandy’s vineyards were dead. 

It’s taken a while for interest in natural, biodynamic and organically produced wines to take hold, but they are here to stay. Not just because Millenials and the following generations are more invested in their health, but their whole attitude is geared towards authenticity and transparency, wanting wines (amongst other things) that are ethically produced and sourced, traded fairly, but most importantly, created in harmony with the environment. 

Sustainable practices in viticulture

So just how are wines created in harmony with the environment? 

For one, growers are adopting a more holistic approach and considering the farm as a whole agrosystem, not just a monoculture, in order to rebalance the natural order of things. For example, farmers are focusing on biodiversity through limiting intervention – both chemically during the grape growing phase, and also limiting the introduction of sulphites and fining agents during the production process. 

Other sustainable practices include: 

  • Setting aside areas of land to create natural habitats for wild animals, insects and plant life to thrive. 
  • Growing cover crops to negate the use of herbicides.
  • Introducing specific plants to encourage the presence of predatory insects to remove vine pests, thereby forgoing the need to spray insecticides.  

Sustainability is a collaborative approach

Basically to create sustainability in the wine industry we have to work with nature, rather than against her, by adopting a collaborative approach and viewing the farm as a whole ecosystem, and not the vineyard as a separate entity. 

And before anyone argues that it doesn’t make commercial sense to grow grapes sustainably, know this – it is ultimately more expensive to purchase the chemicals and spray the grapes continually than it is to sow and manage cover crops. Food for thought. 

But yes, transitioning from conventional farming methods to more sustainable farming methods is tough, no one ever said it was easy. However, the produce reaped is worth the effort. From sparkling wines to rose and whites, sustainability never tasted so good. 

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