What is sustainability in wine?

When writers from around the world were asked to write about sustainability, their entries revealed just how complex the topic really is.
 

Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

Sustainability is a much more complicated issue than most people realise. That’s the conclusion of one judge of Jancis Robinson’s 2020 writing competition, which this year focused on sustainability.

The competition, which attracted 85 entries, was open to entrants from around the world, as long as they wrote on the theme of sustainability.

“We have never had such an impressive response to one of our writing competitions as to this year’s competition with its demanding theme of profiling a wine producer who takes sustainability seriously,” said Jancis Robinson MW when she announced the 18-long shortlist.

Dr Irina Santiago-Brown, one of the competition judges, was so impressed by the breadth and depth of the entries, that she wrote a full report that synthesised the entries’ conclusions.

“When I was asked to help judge JancisRobinson.com’s 2020 writing competition as an external expert on sustainability in wine grape growing, I was surprised and delighted by the stories told of the many different journeys taken towards a more sustainable wine-growing world,” wrote Dr Santiago-Brown in her report.

The combined entries made it clear that the “sustainability concept is always more complex than one might think. It is not a farming system. It is a strategic lens that refracts all of our current decisions in navigating our future”.

The writers, she went on, tackled the big questions of the moment, including how sustainability should be measured in regions with markedly different geographies and histories. How do you judge sustainability when one region might need to spray more because higher rainfall means more fungal diseases, versus a region that needs fewer sprays but more irrigation?

Context is everything and one-size-fits-all solutions are not appropriate for the entire world of wine, not least because there are many factors over which wine growers have no control, from vineyard location to water availability, laws, distance to markets and labour.

“What sustainability are we talking about? Our wine businesses, our communities, our consumers, our countries, or the world?” Dr Santiago-Brown wrote. “These questions demonstrate the systemic nature of sustainability and the difficulty of communicating sustainable production to consumers.”

Dr Santiago-Brown of Inkwell Wines in the McLaren Vale, Australia was one of two judges, the other being Tobias Webb, the co-founder of Sustainable Wine in the UK.

This week, two equal winners were chosen from a shortlist of 18: Pascal Brooks’ profile of his family’s Brooks Wines in Oregon and the account of Spottswoode in Napa Valley, written jointly by Ashley Hausman MW and Martin Reyes MW.

The entries and report are free to read at jancisrobinson.com

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