Wine writer Andrew Jefford reflects
on the challenges facing wine
producers in these extraordinary
times and what we can do to help.
Many wine growers endured a uniquely difficult year in 2020, beset by weather hazards,
trade-war tariffs and the multiple
disruptions caused by Covid. Some –
in South Australia, in California – have
lost vineyards, wineries and homes to
the natural disaster of wildfires, and
spent much of the last 12 months
struggling with insurers, picking through
burnt ruins, and wondering how to start
again. Every crisis, though, offers the
chance of change. How might we re-set
our wine world?
Not in isolation, of course. The
interconnectedness of the issues which
face us is plain. Atmospheric carbon
dioxide recognises no borders; it is the
human load on the planet (an eightfold
increase in the last 200 years) and our
newly acquired hyper-mobility which
makes pandemics likely, while sheer
pressure of population feeds back into the environmental crisis of which climate change is an intimate part. That throws up political challenges which result (though not inevitably) in wars: trade tariffs and
cyber warfare today; force of arms, at worst, tomorrow.
If we need anything from the decade ahead, it is skilled,
prescient and internationally minded leadership.
How complicit are wine drinkers and wine producers in
our current difficulties? We have, after all, been making
and drinking wine for 8,000 years; the first great book
of the European literary canon, Homer's Odyssey, brims
with wine-drinking occasions, with wine's refreshment
and solace. Can something that ancient really wreck
Not if we drink as Odysseus and his sailors did; sipping
locally-grown wine drawn from amphorae and served
in jugs. Yes, fermentation produces carbon dioxide, but
vine growth will actually sequester more carbon than
fermentation and biomass emit – and forward-thinking
producers are beginning to put carbon capture from
fermentation into practice.
We've been making wine for 8,000 years and the cost to the environment would not be so great if we were still enjoying it like Odysseus and his men did; sipping locally grown wine made in amphorae and served in jugs
Culpability rises with the carbon cost of shipping liquid
around the world – and magnifies greatly with the choice
of glass as the vessel in which to do this, especially when
wine is poured into that vessel at the winery itself, prior
to transport. Australian researchers have calculated that
68 per cent of wine's carbon footprint comes from glass
packaging and transport. Glass is melted sand, and sand
doesn't melt at much below 1,700°C; the world's dirtiest
fuel is the heavy fuel oil used by many container ships.
These are serious concerns, and wine producers, bottle
designers and retailers alike are confronting them – via new lightweight packaging formats. Our job as
consumers is to be open to change (and Covid has
shown how quickly we can adapt when we need to).
We shouldn't, though, give way to despair, nor assume
that the future will be nothing but wildfires, smoke taint
and ever higher alcohol levels. We have to live with the
warming we have already caused and will continue to
cause – and that means making the most of positive
changes as well as trying to mitigate negative ones,
arrest the damage we are doing to the environment and
decarbonise the atmosphere. England's burgeoning wine
scene is one example of these positive changes; so, many
consider, are the run of recent fine vintages enjoyed in
many key vineyard regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the
Rhône, Piedmont, Tuscany – and, fire aside, even Napa.
The wine world may in fact be enjoying a 'Goldilocks zone'
of benefit from warming in Europe at present, despite
repeated local losses from fires and wild weather. It won't
last – but that's not a reason to spurn it.
Wine growers are well aware that every glass of wine is
the result of a partnership with nature, and it's when we
drinkers feel we can taste nature most clearly in wine
(one definition, after all, of terroir) that we love it most.
The lesson of care that imposes on us all – wine growers,
winemakers and wine drinkers – is clear.
What is The Wine Society doing in response to climate change?
We are currently reviewing our environmental
policy which we will be able to share with
members later in 2021. At the moment glass
remains the best format for preserving quality
in wine though we are actively looking at
alternatives. We already offer a number of wines
in boxes and are trialling wine in cans.
We already list a number of wines shipped in
bulk and bottled in the UK. We're working with
producers of our Society and Exhibition range
wines to use lighter-weight bottles to help with
our carbon footprint, which will mean a possible
saving of just over 100g of CO2 per bottle, from
production to pulling the cork. We'll continue to
explore these innovations whilst we develop the
business's approach to all matters ethical, social
We'd love to hear what you
think about our approach to
climate change as we continue
to change our practices for a
sustainable future: simply email
with your thoughts and feedback.
Read more from Andrew Jefford