Responsible sourcing

Sustainability in fine wine

Pauline Vicard is the director of Areni Global, a think tank dedicated to the future of fine wine. She explores why fine wine won’t continue to exist without a sustainable approach, and what that means for wineries.

Sustainability in fine wine

Fine wines do not happen by mistake. They are the result of an intent, a vision of greatness, translated into every decision that a winemaker has to take to ensure the longevity of their terroir, style and brand. Today, there is simply no longevity without sustainability, and no fine wine without rethinking farming practices. 

Contrary to value-based wines, fine wines require a lot of human work, and mechanisation is often not an option. What will the iconic estates of Napa do when it’s too hot to ask anyone to work in the vineyards during the summer months?  

By choice or by obligation, fine wines come from delimited areas and grape varieties: simply sourcing grapes elsewhere is not an option. What do the iconic estates of Tuscany do to maintain style and balance through a change in climate? 

Fine wines usually come in smaller quantities, and their status is partially linked to scarcity. However, too much scarcity can be counter-productive, and markets are quick to replace producers should their wines no longer be available. When financial stakes are so high, what can Burgundy producers do when hail and frost threaten every other harvest? While there is no magic silver bullet, leading fine wineries are working on a combination of solutions. 

Breaking the code of soil microbiology 

For an ecosystem relying on the notion of terroir, wineries knew surprisingly very little about soil microbiology, and for years we’ve confused soil quality and soil health. As microbiologist Diana Wall explains: ‘we only know about 40% of the biodiversity that lives underground.’ Recent research has underlined the role that microbes, fungi and microorganisms can play in the adaptation to climate change, from carbon capture to water retention and soil temperature, and leading wineries are experimenting all over the world based on this new and growing knowledge. 

More diversity, more resilience

This is particularly visible in the way wineries are thinking about their vine selection. Over the past few decades, many fine wine wineries have favoured clonal selection: each vine composing the vineyard shares the same genetic material as their neighbouring plant. This allowed a high level of control of sanitary quality and of consistency, not only the insurance that your vines are free of viruses, but they also behave the same way. But as climatic conditions keep on changing, leading wineries are now favouring genetic diversity, trading efficiency and a certain level of control to increase resilience. 

Including communities in the notion of ‘sense of place’

There are many aspects of social sustainability, but most tend to converge towards one major stake: fine wine can’t exist without workers. Many wineries are faced with a shortage of workers, while realising at the same time their potential to impact, and be inspired by, their local communities. After all, if fine wine derives a certain value from coming from a very specific place, it is only logical that the people comprising that place are not only seen, but recognised. 

Pauline Vicard

Director of Areni Global

Pauline Vicard

Born and raised into a winemaking family in Burgundy, Pauline Vicard has a career which has included market research for Burgundy’s wine board (BIVB) and leading the wine education programme for France’s major hospitality trade union. She moved to London in 2015 to co-found and direct Areni Global, a think tank dedicated to the future of fine wine.

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