Sustainability in Wine

Polly attended a panel discussion in London last week, looking at Sustainability in the Wine Industry. ‘Sustainable California; A Transatlantic Conversation’ looked at the efforts and progress being made in Napa Valley as the region moves towards a more ‘long-term’ view on winemaking. Elements such as water use, soil management, transportation, and the livelihoods of the vineyard workers are being prioritised as highly as the wine itself. That is, we learned, what ‘sustainability’ encompasses.

It’s a somewhat vague concept for the average consumer to get behind (and dig deeper in their pockets for) but this is something the industry must address going forward. By hosting discussions such as this, the aim is to find ways of helping the consumer to understand the value sustainable practice adds; why it worth is worth paying for, and the improvement in quality it brings in all associated sectors. Some consumers fear that wines made in this ‘organic’ and less ‘conventional’ way will be of lesser quality; a bit farmy, or rough around the edges. It’s simply not true, as a post-seminar wine tasting proved. In fact, the opposite seems apparent – these wines taste living, vibrant, and delicious. I, for one, am convinced.

If you’d like to know which wines at GrapeSmith currently adhere to these practices come in and have a chat with Polly. We intend to seek out more sustainable (and equally brilliant) wines going forward.

Re-learning ideas of what constitutes ‘value’ in wine (and any agricultural product, for that matter) is the biggest challenge, but begins with an understanding that investing in sustainability is investing is our own futures as much as any particular practice. The harsh reality is that ‘unsustainable’ is not really an option – there is literally no future in it. Or not one that ends well anyway. Agriculture, and the industries associated with it, underpin our whole existence. Whether fully realised by the consumer or not, the external costs of bringing any product to market (in terms of labour/environmental/animal welfare) are paid somewhere; it is the choice, or dare I say the obligation, of the consumer to make a conscientious purchasing decision – one that plays a part in burdening those costs too. Yes, it likely means paying more, in the short term, but as the old saying goes ‘better to pay the grocer than the doctor’.

Right now, our egos are writing cheques the planet can’t cash (to rephrase Top Gun), a direct result of decades of de-valuing our farmers and our agricultural systems. Just because something has, in our own experience, always been a certain way, doesn’t automatically make it ‘right’. In fact, many of the ideas and practices around agriculture that we take for granted have come into being over the last two generations; previous wisdom was very different. This is not to abandon science in favour of some intangible holistic ideals, but rather, to utilise both schools of thought in a progressive way that is better for all of us. ‘The way it is’ is not the way is has to be, but it does involve putting value on elements over and above a bottom line.

It is, admittedly, a minefield trying to navigate ‘sustainability’ as a consumer. Organic vs FairTrade vs Local vs Artisan vs … Despondency and apathy rule in a society overwhelmed by moral choices and price point becomes the easiest decision factor. Whilst ‘sustainability’ figures out how to effectively communicate itself to market, we can all be better, more conscious consumers by acting on the simple belief any of these attributes are steps in the right direction. Small changes are the building blocks for bigger changes.

To coin a subtitle from the seminar, ‘Think globally, act locally’, or if you prefer how Gandhi put it, ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world’.