The Sustainability in Sparkling Wine Summit at Glass of Bubbly's annual London event earlier this week was fascinating, offering some useful insights into the sustainability challenges facing not only the sparkling wine industry, but the broader wine industry.
Sustainability is a complex topic, having panellists from the food industry as well as wine, demonstrated how we can learn from other industries.
The irrepressible Neil Phillips “The Wine Tipster” chaired the event, with a panel drawn from different parts of the wine & food industries, it made for a lively and inspiring debate.
I have highlighted a few of the key themes in this article.
Scrutiny is coming
Wine educator Abbie Bennington from ABV Tastings made the observation that the wine industry has largely escaped scrutiny from consumers regarding sustainability, however scrutiny will come, and the industry needs to prepare.
Food industry perspective
It was interesting to have the perspective from the food industry which is arguable ahead of the curve. Shane Holland from the Slow Food movement and the person in charge of developing the movement's global strategy on sustainability offered interesting insights into consumer behaviour.
With younger consumers in particular interested in where their food is coming from, with most vegans being vegan on environmental grounds, he made the point that businesses are not going to able to operate successfully if they don't change.
Shane gave the example of landlords of food premises already having sustainability related clauses (like banning the use of single use plastic straws) written into leases. A change confirmed by the chef Michael Caines who recently signed a lease with such sustainability clauses.
Michael spoke about the key changes he has seen over the past 20 years, with more chefs now talking about the provenance of food and the importance of eating seasonally, passions of his from way back.
His customers are now looking to his businesses to operate in a way that helps offset the impact of their travel to his venues like Lympstone Manor in Devon. For example, buying locally whenever possible, using ship not air freight for seasonal produce, and changing the use of plastics.
Packaging & the elephant in the room
Packaging is a key issue for the wine industry, with the elephant in the room being the prevalence of using heavy glass bottles. As you can imagine the impact of this on the carbon footprint of the wine industry was a key point of discussion.
Dr Peter Stanbury, Research Director for the Sustainability Wine Roundtable highlighted that current 75cl bottles for still wines average 550g, these could easily be reduced to 420g bottles (a reduction of over 20%) without impacting wine quality but offering significant savings in the carbon footprint of wine transportation.
However, glass bottles also offer a useful insight into the complexities of sustainability. The downside of their weight having to be weighed against their place as arguably the ideal recyclable container for wine, with well-established recycling processes and, crucially, consumers fully engaged in those processes.
It was particularly interesting to have Barry Dick MW from Waitrose on the panel, with his role in introducing bulk wine shipping to Waitrose he spoke about the importance of tangible decisive actions in shifting consumer behaviour.
With a customer base which is interested in ethics and sustainability Waitrose have announced their intention to reduce the reliance on glass bottles by moving away from small glass wine bottles to cans and offering a wider choice of quality wines bag-in-box.
Communication is key
Barry Dick MW stressed the importance of effective communication to consumers. Having information which helps consumers understand the impact on their carbon footprint of say, buying small cans of wine for a summer picnic as opposed to small glass bottles.
The importance of communication to consumers was a key message from wine influencer Brad Horne from WineTimeLondon. Helping consumers make informed decisions has to be a key task of all involved in wine communication.
Dr Peter Stanbury also flagged the importance of collaboration across the industry in order to achieve clear and consistent messaging to avoid confusing consumers and helping them make the right decisions.
But it isn't just consumers
Abbie Bennington raised the issue of communication and education of the wine industry itself. Highlighting that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (as one of the key educator organisations) has very little on sustainability in their Diploma materials.
In recent years it has mainly arisen in dissertation topics. A fact I can confirm as my diploma dissertation was on Wine Production in a Changing Climate and having researched the subject, I know how important it is to include climate change and sustainability in wine education.
Assessing the impacts from vine to bottle gave me an insight into the complexities and challenges facing the industry and gave me a passion for being part of the communication and education needed to help the industry and consumers through this complex subject.
We need wine education to raise that same awareness (and hopefully passion) in other wine professionals.
In the vineyardOf course, sustainability impacts all parts of the supply chain, and there was also discussion about what is happening in the vineyard. This is an aspect we will return to in future articles.
The panel highlighted the importance of collaboration in helping the industry change. The panel chair Neil Phillips as Ambassador for Prosecco DOC introduced a video presentation by Silvia Liggieri, Head of Research, Viticulture and Sustainability for the Prosecco DOC Consortium
She explained the work the consortium is doing in terms of research and active support to the large number of small growers in the region. It can be difficult for small growers to move to a more sustainable and organic way of operating due to their size. By working as a consortium they will be able to achieve much more that they could do individually.
The key takeaways
- The importance of collaboration and clear messaging of a complex topic.
- Effective communication and education of the wine industry's decision makers and consumers alike is crucial.
- The aim needs to be helping everyone in the supply chain make informed choices.