Winemaking sustainably; Liam Steevenson, MW

As we burst into the new millennium with world wide celebration, fire-worked skies became clouded as the human impact on the planet we inhabit became increasingly apparent.  Today, the inescapable truth of global warming and pollution of both land and sea requires us all to consider the effect the choices we make have on our environment.

Organic and Biodynamic viticulture has taken steps to address the effects of viticulture; realising the importance of bio-diversity and self-sufficient ecosystems. It has put man-hours back outside, physically connecting hands and soil to positive effect. Vineyard practices are however only part of the story; the wine industry as a whole is far from the green, eco-friendly one it has the potential to be.  Collectively; global Carbon impact, pollution of the land, air and water, and human mistreatment suggest that we head in a direction with multiple crisis points for the business and the natural world.  A consumer level image of green vineyards and traditional, family wineries is out of touch with the high intensity farming reality, and an industry that is in need of a world-wide sustainable plan.

‘Sustainable Winegrowing’ is more than just a pair of words, it is a comprehensive set of practices that are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable.  Sustainable vineyard and winery practices conserve energy, maintain healthy soil, protect air and water quality, enhance relations with communities, preserve local ecosystems, and improve the economic vitality of vineyards and wineries. 

Defining sustainability is complicated because of the unique environmental stresses of different wine regions. That said the above key areas apply globally albeit separately certified.  The EMS (Environmental Management System (ISO 14001 / ISO 14004)) provides and excellent international baseline with regards to reduction of environmental.  In California the Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW), includes metrics of over a hundred criteria which are ranked from 1–4 in water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen use. Adherence in the state is impressive; by 2019, the entire Sonoma wine region will be sustainable.

Sustainability in South Africa means vineyards and wineries have health and safety requirements for their workers, reduced usage of chemicals and pesticides, use natural predators to combat pests, and reduction in water usage and creation of waste water systems. Wines of South Africa intends to support this sustainability measure across 100% of their wines and, in 2011, 85% had passed the minimum compliance. 

Wineries and vineyards in New Zealand can expect an audit every 3 years for Sustainable Winegrowing NZ. This program focuses on a wide range of factors including crop biodiversity, soil, water and air standards, energy use, chemical use, vineyard and winery waste, social impact, and sustainable business practices. Almost 100% of all NZ vineyards are now SWNZ certified.

Whatever the body, the umbrella term of ‘Sustainability’, allows wineries and grape growers to collaborate together, share knowledge, organization and talent to drive key initiatives through.

The consumer is being increasingly bought into the argument, trade conferences such as Millésime Bio or IWA Specialized Conference on Sustainable Viticulture, Winery Waste & Agri-industrial Wastewater Management, have kick started Consumer events such as the RAW wine fair, which showcases wine-makers products in the low-intervention organic, biodynamic and natural wine community, and on shelf labelling are starting to dictate buying choices of both distributors and the end consumers alike.

Change is being driven by the younger generation, aware of the need to not only protect out natural work, but to start to repair the delicate spider-web we have torn holes into over previous decades. The Millennial, far less blinded by brands and corporate power, is returning to buying local, understanding source, and making ethical choices. With a much more independent mindset than the generation that went before they are increasingly aware of what they consume.  

Pressure is growing for an industry wide reaction. Growing in importance in peoples minds as climate change continues to become a reality, Journalists and Trade bodies are winding up the pressure; consumers starting to show the power of their wallet.  Sustainability deserves to be the most important wine related topic of our moment.  Questioning the practices that wineries have in place asked of every one visited, every bottle sold.  Now is the time, for the Wine Industry to see the benefit of implementing ever tightening set of rules and parameters; put in place to ensure that the global wine industry has a positive impact of the world that we live in.