Sustainability around the globe

Sustainability is a much-used term worldwide. Cultivating countries set different priorities – and the social responsibility of producers is increasingly coming into focus. 

Alexandra Wrann explores the world of sustainability.

Diverse flora and fauna are particularly important for vineyard health, for example with bee boxes next to the vines as shown here in the Yangarra Estate Vineyard in McLaren Vale in Australia. / Credit: Randy Larcombe - Wine Australia
Diverse flora and fauna are particularly important for vineyard health, for example with bee boxes next to the vines as shown here in the Yangarra Estate Vineyard in McLaren Vale in Australia. / Credit: Randy Larcombe - Wine Australia

“Priority number one is leaving the land in better shape for the next generation," is how the three scientists Armand Gilinsky Jr., Sandra K. Newton and Rosanta Fuentes Vega summed it up in their 2016 study "Sustainability in the global wine industry: Concepts and cases." The focus, it becomes clear, is on "land." This summarises the problem of the topic well: when it comes to sustainability in viticulture, everyone immediately thinks of colourful flowering vineyards and happy bees. And of course, sustainable viticulture is to a large extent about harmony with nature.

However, sustainability is much more than that. In addition to the environmental aspect, it includes social and economic considerations and implementation. Fair working conditions, further training of employees, green electricity, the CO2 footprint should all complement measures such as vineyard greening and avoiding herbicides on an equal footing. Organic certificates are not a must, but an option, as is forgoing plant protection. If it is essential, for example, to protect the harvest and thus economic stability, including jobs, moderate use of fungicides also fits into a sustainable concept.

Here, we explore what sustainability means from country-to-country and we examine the bodies that govern it, the initiatives that place a focus on it, and how it differs – or is the same – throughout the world. We also investigate the certifications, labels and seals that signify a sustainable process and product. 

In part 1, we travel through the New World. Part 2, which will follow next week, will discover the Old World’s sustainability projects.

 

New sustainable world

Two decades ago, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) drew up its first "Code of Sustainable Winegrowing." The 462-page book has been thoroughly revised twice since then. No less than 191 criteria for sustainability in wine production are listed and elaborated in 15 areas.

In addition, there is a workbook with more than 200 best-practice examples for measures in the vineyard and cellar. As with many other seals, external inspectors carry out the certification. It is repeated annually. 

In California, there are regional efforts for their own certificates and agreements. Lodi Rules, for example, was founded in 2005 by the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Wineries outside the appellation were later able to apply for the resulting California Rules seal. Another programme, Sustainability in Practice, or SIP for short, was launched in 2008. Today, 42,000 hectares of vineyards are certified, not only in California but also in the US state of Michigan, which is less well-known for viticulture. All labels claim to take into account the three pillars of environment, social and economic issues. The CSWA code even dedicates separate chapters to the topics of "Human Resources" and "Neighbours and Community." 

"While certification can be a communication tool in the marketplace, sustainability is really about growing and producing the best grapes and wines while protecting the environment, being a good neighbour and employer, and maintaining thriving family farms and businesses," says CSWA Director Allison Jordan.

There are 171 wineries which have been awarded the Certified California Winegrowing seal. These wineries collectively produce about 255 million cases of wine (about 80 percent of the volume of all of California) and representing about one-third of California's total acreage. If you add the other certifications, almost half of California’s total acreage is accounted for. The new website www.californiasustainablewine.com will go online soon, where certified wineries, wines and vineyards can be found with the click of a mouse.

 

Pioneer

Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) was launched in 1995, making it one of the oldest sustainability programmes in the world. It is also one of the most widely used: 96 percent of the acreage is certified, and 90 percent of all wines produced come from a certified farm. This makes the label far more widespread than organic certificates, of which only about ten percent of New Zealand wineries have. According to New Zealand Winegrowers, six "focus areas" have been redefined in the past 18 months: water, waste, vine diseases, climate change, people, and soil.

By 2050, according to the recently-set goal, the wine sector should be CO2-neutral. And those who want more than the minimal requirements for certifications have been able to enrol in the "Sustainability Guardians" programme for a year and exchange new ideas and measures with like-minded people. 

The topic of sustainability also plays an important role in communication. For example, the government has launched a food campaign called "Made with Care," which also aims to shine a light on the wine industry's sustainability efforts.

 

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Regenerative energy is crucial for sustainability. Here: Yealands Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand / Credit: New Zealand Winegrowers

 

Young programme

The important wine organisations in Australia, Wine Australia and Australian Grape & Wine, have recently identified sustainability as a "key factor" for exports and the domestic market. Only in June 2019, Sustainable Winegrowing Australia was established as a national programme to coordinate the various movements in the country. The programme is led by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI).

More than 600 members farm about a quarter of Australia's acreage. There are two levels: As a "Member," you must present your sustainability efforts and business results annually. In the second tier, as a "Certified Member," an audit is carried out every three years to check whether the required standards are being met at the environmental, social and economic levels.

The programme is constantly being further developed. An important step, for example, was the introduction of financial indicators that enable members to measure their financial performance in comparison with other members. 

In the future, Wine Australia says it will focus even more on social and economic measures. Furthermore, the wine sector aims to be CO2-neutral by 2050.

 

Better working conditions

In 2010, South Africa introduced the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) programme, the first sustainability standard, with the "Integrity & Sustainability" seal adorning the neck of the bottle. Today, around 90 percent of the land, i.e. 98,000 hectares, is farmed according to these guidelines.

The guidelines are aimed, on one hand, at the work in the vineyard and, on the other, at the cellar operations. Water and waste management, energy consumption, CO2 emissions, the use of pesticides, and biodiversity are all specifically listed. 

The organisation Wines of South Africa (WOSA) explicitly refers to a very important point for the country: the fight against the spread of introduced plant species. Their high-water consumption and increased risk of bushfires have an extremely negative impact on the ecosystem.

Another unique feature of South Africa is that the social component is regulated by its own standard, the WIETA Code (Wine & Agricultural Ethical Trade Association). This is intended to promote the "equality of a once disadvantaged section of the population," but in the meantime has the general aim of improving working conditions in agriculture and also to support farms in their personnel management. The inspection of farms in South Africa is in the hands of the state – not, as in most other countries, in the hands of private companies. This is to ensure a more uniform traceability. The motto of the next Cape Wine trade fair from 5-8 October 2022 also is "Sustainability 360°."

 

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The South African sustainability seal is clearly visible on the neck of the bottle
 

Fair labour law

According to the Sustainability Code developed in 2011 by the organisation Wines of Chile, 76 Chilean wineries are certified. They account for about 80 percent of the export volume. A winery can collect different coloured labels in four areas: Green for the vineyard, red for cellar and bottling facilities, orange for the social component. As a fourth – and with this Chile sets completely new standards – there is a purple seal for sustainable wine tourism. Grape producers or bottlers can obtain a certificate in only one colour field.

As in most countries of the New World, water is the number one issue in sustainable work. The programme therefore relies heavily on research into new irrigation methods, weather monitoring and "water recycling."

In Chile, protecting workers' rights also means preventing child and forced labour. The Sustainability Code also covers these points. More than 50 wineries have also joined the global Science Based Targets initiative, which defines CO2 targets for individual companies. The pioneer here in 2019 was Chile's largest wine company Viña Concha y Toro, which aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by 2030.

 

Producer initiative

The 250-member producer group Bodegas de Argentina launched the Wine and Viticulture Sustainability Protocol in 2012. The document was developed together with Argentina's leading wine research body, the Catena Institute of Wine. Four years of research work went into the 173 pages.

Bodegas de Argentina had already founded a sustainability committee in 2010, which also gave its final approval to the protocol and certifies the wineries if they fulfil all the required points – from environmental protection to personnel management to air quality. 

Since water is particularly scarce in Argentina, the issue is also central here. "Our wine-growing region, a high-altitude desert, is different from all other regions in the world," commented Laura Catena of the Catena Institute of Wine back in 2013. Most wineries relied on drip irrigation to use the resource as sparingly as possible.

In the meantime, there is version 3.0 of the protocol. As of 2020, 65 wineries are certified. In 2018, another protocol was developed for exporting companies, but this is a kind of guideline based on self-regulation. Currently, the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Cuyo and Bodegas de Argentina are working on an additional training programme.

Next week, it will be all about the Old World’s concepts, new ideas and approaches.

Alexandra Wrann

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