Climate change and sustainability. If you love wine, you really can’t be a climate change denier. I have spoken with too many winemakers who are seeing the changes in their vineyards. They watch bud break as well as harvests coming earlier. In some regions, they are dealing with increased pressure from fires and the possibility of smoke taint, with some losing entire vintages. We watched this in Australia early this year and parts of California are dealing with this right now. Vineyards are looking at planting new varieties, geared toward the new climate that they see moving into their area.
This month the Italian Food Wine and Travel Group are tackling climate change and sustainability. It’s a big subject, even if we are just focusing on Italy. We are led by Katarina of Grapevine Adventures. You can read her invitation post An Invitation To Look Closer at Aspects of Sustainability to Better Tackle the Climate Change. I look forward to reading all the viewpoints and insights that my colleagues will bring. Scroll to the bottom to find links to their pieces on the subject.
We will be gathering on Twitter on Saturday September 5th at 8 am PDT. Just follow and use #ItalianFWT to join the conversation.
If we just talk about climate change…(this is the “why you should care” part)
I recently attended a session called “Wine and a Changing Climate: Will the terroir model of today survive”. It was presented by Roger C. Bohmrich MW at the Society of Wine Educators Virtual Conference earlier this month.
He points out that some regions may benefit from climate change, like Bordeaux and much of Germany, while other regions will suffer as more and more of their vineyards become too warm to sustain their traditional varieties of grapes. Italy is one of those places.
Defining Sustainable wines
But there is more to this. Sustainability doesn’t have a universal definition, but Sandra Taylor at “Discover Sustainable Wine” gives one that is easier to wrap your head around.
“Very simply it means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”Sandra Taylor, from Discover Sustainable Wine
There are 3 parts to this; environmental, economic, and social. We need to take care of the environment, produce a quality product, and be socially responsible. There are programs out there for certification, that vary on their focus and the area they cover.
Looking through the wines I have tasted recently
I looked through several wines that I had recently tasted from Italy to see where they were in addressing sustainability. To do this, I went directly to each of their websites.
The first I looked at was Banfi. Banfi is a large company, and if you can get these larger companies on board it is helpful, since they employ so many people and ship so much wine.
Banfi has an entire sustainability page where they note specifically their use of the Lightweight bottle, the bio-bed, Variable flowrate irrigation, corporate social responsibility, and certification from the vineyard to the bottle.
They did a bit of research in 2008 and 2009 on this. Reducing the weight of the bottle saves in multiple ways, obviously the shipping weight per bottle is less, which saves energy and there is less glass in the end. In addition, there is a savings on the energy needed to make each bottle. They first reduced from 570 g bottles to 400 g, then in 2014 reduced again to 360 g bottles. ( you can read more at https://www.banfi.it/en/sustainability/lightweight-bottle.php )
Under Corporate Social Responsibility they discus Eco-balance Low input farming. Reducing the greenhouse effect, maintaining biodiversity and working on erosion control.
I expected the “Social Responsibility” to contain something about workers, but it did not. It instead covered things like erosion control and reducing the greenhouse effect.
I moved on to other wineries I had recently tasted. I recently had a lovely Moscato d’Asti from Saracco. While they did not have a page devoted to sustainability, they did have a paragraph regarding their vineyards that included this.
“On their 50 hectares grapes are grown sustainably in harmony with nature and with attention to changes to the climate throughout the year.”(from the Saracco website)
That was it. 3 other brands that I recently tried, had nothing on any form of sustainability. Everything they had to say was on quality and tradition. They did not even link back to tradition in farming and respect for the land. Well, that felt a bit tragic, so I dug deeper into wines I had a month or so ago and remembered Caiarossa.
Caiarossa is a vineyard and winery on the Tuscan Coast. I had tasted a wine from them for a piece on Super Tuscans. They employ biodynamics here and look at the property in a holistic way, which includes the men and women who work on the land, although there are not full details on their vineyard staff. They have been Demeter certified since 1999, and embrace the idea of “…creating a harmonious bond between Nature and Man. …by creating a full resonance with the rhythms of the universe, we manage to fully amplify their effects.”
Okay, I feel a little better about my Italian wine drinking.
Perhaps as a consumer, I am pushing boundaries, expecting wineries to share, not just notes on the quality of their wine, but also on the ways, they are making the world a better place, or at least not making it worse.
I was feeling a bit sad about my choices of wine recently. I am good about researching wineries in the US based on their practices, but with fewer options on imported wine, I don’t research my purchases in advance as much as I evidently should.
What’s happening in Italy?
I went in search of information on wineries who are actively working toward sustainability in Italy and there is a great deal of hope.
Italian consumers are also looking for transparency, and the Ministry of Agriculture is working to create a standard for sustainability in wine. If this goes through, Italy could be the first country to set such a standard.
The ministry of agriculture in Italy is working with Equalitas as they create their sustainability program.
Equalitas has set a standard that requires biodiversity in soil, water and lichen. They set a standard for both carbon and water footprints. They cover working practices for both agriculture as well as winery and bottling practices. They deal with economic practices financially for the business and for employee programs as well as dealing with suppliers. There are social practices for workers’ rights and training as well as community relations. Finally, there are policies for transparency. The certification is set fo4 3 years and is monitored within that period. ( source)
Currently Equalitas, which was founded in 2016, has 17 certified sustainable wineries. I do not know about you, but that number seems pretty low to me. They are a young organization, so I look forward to them growing.
Italy is a leader in organic wine. From 2013 to 2018 the organic vineyard acreage in Italy increased by 57% (source Nomisma Wine Monitor). So there is that!
But figuring out if a wine is sustainable by its label? That’s a bit tougher.
My friend Lynn Gowdy, of Savor the Harvest, wrote a piece on how you can find details on Italian wine labels which is a great reference. “The Important thing you don’t know about Italian wine labels” So, there is a start there. Look for “Vino Biologico” on the label or look for the Agricoltura UE leaf or Ecogruppo Italia logos on the back label. Agricoltura UE has the Euro Leaf logo (a bright green background with a leaf outlined with stars) which certifies that the product meets the regulations for Organic farming in the EU. Ecogruppo Italia is a certification body for Eco-sustainable production.
These are ways you can check the label, if you are in the market or wine shop already shopping. The best Idea? Do your research ahead of time. In the meantime, let’s talk about some of the means to combating climate change that are out there for wineries.
Fighting Climate change with regenerative agriculture.
So what can a winery do about climate change? Well, as we mentioned with Banfi, lighter packaging can decrease the carbon footprint. In addition, farming methods can decrease a winery’s carbon footprint. That might be by less mechanical passes in the vineyard, or alternative methods of power, like solar.
Regenerative farming is being discussed quite a bit these days. Most people utilizing the techniques of biodynamics refer to it as regenerative farming. In combating climate change, this is idea of creating healthy soil that absorbs carbon. (source).
Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles recently joined a pilot program to become Regeneratively Organic Certified (ROC). Their vineyard is already Demeter Certified for biodynamics as well as certified organic. So why did they feel the need to jump on this new bandwagon? Regenerative is by the very name, beyond “sustainable”. This is not about just staying par for the course, it is able to improve the ecosystem. It encompasses soil health, animal welfare, and social welfare. Tablas Creek wrote a great article about why they felt the need to jump on board with this certification. You can read it here. They also released a beautiful video that will explain the idea behind the certification quickly.
That’s what I was really looking for, something beyond the status quo, something that is not just looking to keep us from falling over the edge, but something that might tip the scales the other way.
Beyond the soil, let’s talk about the people
This gets to the “Social” part. The recent uproar over Settimio Passalacqua, the agriculture magnate in Southern Italy who was arrested for systematic exploitation of migrant workers. This dramatically affected his daughter Valentina Passalacqua whose winery in Puglia was on the rise and was being imported to the US through several companies, who have dropped her label, waiting for her to be proven innocent. She works independently of her father and says she is outraged by these types of exploitation practices. She is listed, however, as having a 25% share in one of the companies and as recently as mid-October 2019 attended a shareholders meeting.
Just before this story on her father broke, I had tasted one of her wines and did a piece on it. I watched her videos with her out harvesting with her crew. I was enchanted. The comradery felt genuine. It did not show the whole picture though. (I encourage you to read the article in “The Morning Claret” if you are interested in further details)
The point I guess is, that people are holding companies accountable for unfair treatment of workers. For consumers and distributors you need to be transparent. They need to be sure that you are treating your workers fairly. More and more people are buying less blindly. Like me. But currently it’s not easy.
Why this is important and what you can do
The planet is warming and is on course to get warmer. Climate change is real and ass we look to the future, we must do something about it. People, workers are being taken advantage of. That has got to change. We make individual choices, as well as look to the businesses we support to make good choices. Ideally, we just support those willing to go the extra mile, because they hold the same ideals we do.
It’s not easy. Certifications are individual also. Some more respectable and trustworthy than others. Then there are small businesses and producers, who may not be able to invest in the certification.
We need to do our homework. Again, it’s not easy. I often am writing a piece and need to investigate a region and I get what is available. But more and more I try to research before purchasing, so I can find those brands, or better yet, those small wineries, who are doing things right or working to get better at protecting the land, our planet, and our fellow man. We ask the questions and increase the demand for products we trust and believe in. We won’t always succeed, but together, bit by bit we can get better.
The Italian Food Wine and Travel Group #Italian FWT
After all this digging, there are so many questions I still have and I’m sure we all have. I look forward to reading the work of my colleagues from the Italian Food Wine and Travel Group. If you are reading this in time, join us on twitter on Saturday, September 5th at 11 am EDT or 8 am PST. Just follow and used #ItalianFWT to join in the conversation. I’ll be there with my coffee! You can read my colleagues’ work below!
On Saturday, 5 September we will discuss more in-depth sustainability and climate change in the Twitter chat of the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel writers’ group. Join us on Saturday at 11 am EST / 17.00 CEST to learn more about Sustainability to Better Tackle the Climate Change.
Get into the sustainability vibe…
- These are the titles of the coming articles on Saturday.
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla takes inspiration from Siciliy in Pasta alla Norma + Tasca d’Almerita Lamuri Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2016
- Terri from Our Good Life shares the article Che Fico: A Wine that Supports Sustainability in Italy
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass heads to Alto Adige with Alois Lageder – Driven to create wines in harmony with nature
- Gwendolyn from Wine Predator shares Interview: Antonella Manuli’s and Lorenzo Corino’s patented method + wines, lasagna, and dogs #ItalianFWT
- Lynn from Savor the Harvest heads to Franciacorta with How the Ricci Curbastro Estate In Franciacorta Tackles the Sustainability Question
- Susannah from Avvinare tells us more about Sicily with Tasca d’Amerita, A Longstanding Focus on Sustainability
- Nicole from Somm’s Table looks closer at A Sustainable Sampler Pack with Umani Ronchi
- Jennifer from Vino Travels shares VIVA Sustainability at the Forefront with Michele Chiarlo
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen tells us about Italy’s First Certified Vegan Winery #italianfwt
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures will talk about Torre Bisenzio where Authenticity And Quality Is All About Sustainability
- Ecogruppo Italia
- Labelling Certisys
- Biodynamic Agriculture, Regenerative Farming and Climate Change
- The Important Thing You Don’t Know About Italian Wine Labels
- Il Ministero dell’Agricoltura verso uno standard unico italiano per la sostenibilità del vino
- VIVA Sustainable Wine
- The Morning Claret – Valentin Passalacqua – an inconvenient truth
- Tablas Creek – Introducing Organic ROC – Farming like the world depends on it
I highly recommend taking a peek at Discover Sustainable Wine. Sandra Taylor has written some insightful pieces on the subject of sustainability in wine.
Other great pieces I found, include:
- A Guide to Italy’s Organic Wine boom by Kerin O’Keefe for Wine Enthusiast
- Better than Organic: sustainability and Wine By Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly
- Organic, biodynamic, sustainable agriculture, natural wine…How to make sense of it all? By Grace Halligan on Le Blog iDealwine
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.