2023 saw seismic shifts in approaches to wine sustainability. While wine production has always been literally rooted in its environment, the wine ‘business’ sometimes takes a while to catch up. In 2024 many of the world's bigger wine companies will be required to have clear climate strategies. For the first time there is momentum on both sides of the spectrum: smaller producers who experience first hand the impacts of climate change, and large businesses needing to understand, manage and report their own environmental impact. Whatever the size or location of a producer, here are five key trends to keep an eye on in 2024.
With global temperatures set to rise above the 1.5° global target, wine regions around the world are reporting increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather. We have seen the warmest year on record coupled with unprecedented rainfall. According to the WineGB harvest report, September in the UK was the warmest month, matching 2006, July was the 6th wettest month ever, and March was twice as wet as usual. Elsewhere in the world, 2023 sent wildfires, frosts and freezes and unfortunately these see no sign of abating in 2024. Producers and regions are therefore focusing on climate adaptation strategies - for instance flood defences for too much water, or securing water sources if there isn’t enough to go around. More wineries are experiencing the personal, social, structural and commercial repercussions of extreme weather, leading to them becoming increasingly innovative, technical and reactive.
One of the fastest growing approaches to adapt and protect vineyards’ environment is regenerative viticulture. Every action should improve the health of the vineyard, minimising chemical inputs and maximising biodiversity, respecting the local environmental context. Agriculture is responsible for almost a third of the world's carbon emissions, and so regenerative principles are integral to mitigating the impact of farming. In viticulture we have the benefit of ‘farming’ vines, which can have a positive benefit on the environment, as well as benefiting from diverse habitats - and curating wonderful places that people want to visit and invest in. Vitiforestry is something else we will hear more about in 2024 - planting trees and shrubs in and around vineyards to support biodiversity, and also to protect the vines from adverse weather conditions. There are organisations such as the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation acting as centres of excellence and interest in their work is on a fast upwards trajectory: I’m sure that more people will take up this approach and talk about it in the coming months.
Regulations, certifications and reporting
In 2024 mandatory business climate reporting will be introduced. This sets the scene for a step-change in transparency. Up until now it has been difficult to check companies’ green claims and to avoid ‘greenwashing’ (or ‘greenhushing’, where businesses can’t articulate their sustainability credentials). So while data and reporting may sound tedious, or even ominous, there are real positives in helping the industry formulate its climate response. With such an increase in comparable information there are three main implications:
- The ability to have more regulation (and to incentivise or discourage certain activities)
- An increase in the number of sustainability certifications
- Investors being encouraged to finance ‘green’ schemes - encouraging financial investment in biodiversity, carbon mitigation and innovation
For wineries and vineyards this means that there may be incentives to farm regeneratively, or to calculate their carbon ‘credit’ and balance it against the carbon ‘cost’ of glass and distribution. It’s not just about carbon though. We are seeing increased rigour and momentum about recycling and waste disposal too (globally and locally) — not a moment too soon. This is also the year that will shine a spotlight on labour regulations and human rights as part of the broader ‘sustainability’ spectrum. We have seen awful abuses of migrant and seasonal worker populations and I’m hopeful that 2024 will bring tighter controls and greater transparency to ensure that these are removed from the wine industry.
Given the universality of climate change, we are seeing a clear benefit where people and businesses are working together for mutual benefit. The wine industry is underpinned by a global infrastructure and an international network of distributors and retailers, who are collaborating more than ever before. The Wine Society is a Founder Member of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable, working with other retailers to reduce bottle weights, learn from each other and fund research. Areas of focus for 2024 include labour standards, a mapping of wine certifications and an objective analysis of different packaging types. SWR is also working with other similar organisations across the globe, looking for consistent approaches that can improve sustainability for wine producers, customers and ultimately the planet on which we all depend.
The last few years have seen much more acceptance of non-glass wine packaging. The ‘bag in box’ has been around for decades, so you may be asking why it’s included in a trends piece for 2024. In 2024 we improve our understanding of the environmental impact of different packaging options, improve the carbon implications of glass, the recyclability of plastics, re-use of corks, reduction in packaging (such as foils), improved aluminium production and the innovation of new formats that haven’t yet made it to mainstream wine retail.
2024 is going to be a really exciting year for sustainability in wine - while the underlying environmental impacts may be troubling, the potential upsides and actions lead to great optimism for progress and sustainable development. This time next year I hope to look back at an exhilarating year where the pace of change has accelerated and led to impressive sustainable developments throughout the industry.