Clean vineyards, “green” wines and lighter bottles? Many in the global wine and spirits business believe their only chance of long-term survival lies with sustainable development.
Even as the crisis threatens the industry’s short-term survival, winegrowers large and small are already grappling with long-term viability.
“Within five years, there will be a global standard of sustainability and a level below which you cannot be,” said Robert Joseph, a London-based writer and wine producer with interests in several countries.
He was speaking at Vinexpo, the world’s biggest wine trade show that ran last week in Bordeaux.
Sustainable development — not to be confused with organic or biodynamic production — relies on finding a balance between social, economic and environmental costs and benefits.
It for instance would allow vine treatments in humid climates where rot could wipe out a crop overnight, but with limited use at low doses. It also requires care for the watershed and surrounding habitat.
In some case the motivation is altruistic, but in many cases it’s about managing future costs.
Castel, the world’s third-biggest wine producer after Constellation Brands and Gallo, spent 3 million euros (US$4.2 million) on a water treatment and recycling system at their Loire region bottling facility.
Castel produced 579 million bottles of wine in 2007. At the Loire facility, they treat enough water for a city of 60,000 inhabitants.
“We were not required to go so far or invest so much money,” said Franck Crouzet, Director of Communication. “But now we are in advance of the restrictions we will face in 10 years time.”
Most agree that sustainable development means higher costs, initially.
“It does cost a little more,” said Larry Stone, general manager of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate. “But it gets repaid in the health and attitude of the worker.”
Stone and his fellow winegrowers are convinced that sustainable development is “the right thing to do to protect Napa Valley for the future.”
Growers in the 18,000-hectare region, which Stone estimates to be 95 percent family-owned, are pushing an initiative called “Napa Green” because “they don’t want to see Napa destroyed,” he said.
The desire to have something to pass on to the next generation also struck a chord among the Old World wine producers.
At the wine cooperative Val d’Orbieu, whose members’ vineyards stretch over 9,000 hectares along the French Mediterranean, the emphasis is on fewer vine treatments, waste reduction, renewable energy sources, water management and diversity amongst employees.
“The economic crisis has accelerated sustainable development,” said Michel Mathieu, Director of Marketing and Business Development. “But I just call it good sense.”
Val d’Orieu even rethought its stand at Vinexpo. The cooperative ordered an ecologically designed exhibit stand, including reuseable glass and wood panels, rented furniture and eco-friendly paint. The stand creator said it was the first such order they had ever received.
Peripheral issues also count, like packaging and advertising.
Joseph and his partners at Hugh, Kevin & Robert Wines, have launched a new line called “Greener Planet Sustainable,” which is a low carbon footprint wine. One of these, retailing at roughly US$10 and packaged in a lighter plastic PET bottle, has been snapped up by importers for Norway and Holland. The company’s overall French production is 85,000 cases a year.