Sustainability and Wine: New Foundations or New Wallpaper?

I am, by nature, deeply cynical. At times it has served me well. At other times I have been seen as the grump in the corner. No matter. The idea behind being cynical is my (brave) attempt at rationalising and understanding by way of objective and independent analysis. Tell me a wine is white and I’ll raise my eyebrows! Bring me a new way of describing a wine and I’ll wonder what’s behind the new words, terminology, or the need for something new in the first instance.

I have no qualms with all the new terms in use on the labels of wines today: Vegan, Organic, Biodynamic, Skin contact, Green, Zero Dosage, Sulphur Free, Orange, Blue, Natural, Fairtrade, Fish Friendly Farming, Land Smart, Bio Secure, Carbon Reduce … to name just a few …..

What I have a big problem with are producers and distributors who use these, and many other desciptors, to green wash us into believing something real is happening For Our Benefit and that of the rest of the world.


Most of these terms come together under today’s blockbusting term – SUSTAINABILITY. So much so that we are told again and again, ‘Our company has adopted strict and measured sustainable practices’. By definition we are led to believe that the wines themselves are equally ‘sustainable’ which in turn is good for the environment and the world at large. More worrying is that we are led to believe that ‘from vine to glass’ the process of delivery to us is sustainable in its entirety. Before I believe this, I need to be convinced.

Our Podcast, Kevin Ecock’s WinePod, had a fabulous interview/ chat with the brilliant Elena Carretero, Sustainability Director with the Santa Rita Group. Listen back to it HERE. The code that Santa Rita has adopted is an international one. It follows these intersecting circles:

Follow this to its logical conclusion and everything from ‘vine to glass’ is measured, analysed and slotted into the detail behind the circles of sustainablity. Have a look at another version of this on the New Zealand Wine Growers website where we see that they were, ‘the first wine industry to establish a national sustainability programme.’ Part of the NZ story is to prove to us that Food Miles is only a ‘Small Part of the Sustainability Story for New Zealand Wines.’ Quite a feat for an industry so far from its principle markets. Read some great research HERE where their point is proven. It is interesting to see that 78% of emmisions associated witha bottle of NZ wine is produced by production and packaging with only 22% attributed to shipping. Indeed, they go further and prove to us that shipping by road across a continent will bring this 22% higher and higher depending on the road trip involved.

These are snapshots of what we now find on generic sites promoting countries of origin and on almost every major wine producer web site in the world. One worth believing in its entirety, by the way, is the extraordinary work conducted by the great Torres organisation in Spain. It’s green credentials need no burnishing! Have a read HERE on how revolutionary Torres has been.

Where does this bring us to? Well, we need to believe that all of this work is truly sustainable . After all it is certified.

If we work the same process of sustainability back up the pipeline, however, we see a very different picture. It is timely for this blog that this month Findlater & Co hosted a portfolio tasting titled, ‘Give Wine a Future‘. We were told that, ‘the focus will be on sustainability in wine’…that … ‘This will be the first portfolio tasting with sustainability as its theme, … and it is … ‘as a response to the climate emergency’. Laudable and worth supporting. Great idea. It is also, we are told, ‘facilitated by members of the press’.

Now, I MUST emphasise I’m not knocking Findlaters but as they were ‘on theme’ this month they are good to use as an example.

Everything we are told with regards to wine sustainability begins at the vineyard. Good for Chile, New Zealand and Spain and everyone else. Good for Ireland? Not so sure. Lets’ work it back up the pipeline.

Torres has heavily invested in renewable energy and host of other activities, Cono Sur shows us 12 important certifications and is truly organic and carbon neutral. Both are brilliant labels with countless styles, produced under them. Each are world leaders in Sustainable practices. Both are distributed by Findlater & Co. who in turn represents 76 other fabulous brands. How sustainable is Findlaters? Are we to believe that all of their brands are ‘sustainable’?

Now to leave Findlaters aside! Just substitute wine distributors, agents, retailers etc in. They are bringing us a Sustainable product. In fact it is now one of their principle selling points. BUT, are their warehouses/offices powered by solar panels, heat pumps or other renewable energy sources. Hope so. Do they use renewable energy to power their delivery vehicles. Hope so. Do they manage waste in a Sustainable fashion? Hope so! (are tasting books for wine tastings available digitally or are they paper only?). Do they have an assigned Sustainable Officer in their employ? Hope so. are they attempting to make their own business carbon neutral? Hope so. Does the sales force have access to EV transport? Hope so. Do they measure air miles for visiting winemakers, or when they visit vineyards themselves, as being detrimental to the planet and therefore need to be ameleriorated? Hope so. Do they tell us what they have done themselves or is it always what their principals are doing? Hope so. Do they also abide by the three circles of Sustainablity, which by the way, have very strong social economic elements to them? Hope so. Are their suppliers treated fairly and equitably – includes everyone contracted here in Ireland! Hope so.

Clearly I can keep this up all day. I won’t as it would be unfair to suggest that any wine distributor has engaged in all of the points raised. That said, are they engaging in any at all?! Well, if they tell us that they are responding to the climate emergency and are bringing us sustainable products to protect our future generations then, lets face it. WE HOPE SO.