The concept of sustainability is growing more important in the wine world, and with good reason: as the planet warms, cultivation of wine grapes is becoming difficult or even impossible in many of the world’s most famous regions. Even though a wine’s packaging has the major impact on its carbon footprint, there are many things that can be done in both the vineyard and the cellar to make a wine healthy and environmentally responsible.
Slow Food, the global organization committed to encouraging high-quality, clean, and fairly produced food, has launched the Slow Wine Coalition. They believe that “the role of wine can no longer be purely hedonistic, linked to the pleasure of taste, but must increasingly move towards a genuine environmental sustainability, protecting the landscape and enabling the cultural and social growth of winemaking areas.” Starting with the recognition that wine is an agricultural product, their mission statement embraces the following practices:
- Wineries must grow a minimum of 70% of the grapes used in the production of their wine.
- They may not use chemically synthesized fertilizers, herbicides or anti-botrytis fungicides.
- Dependence on irrigation systems must be limited and used only to avoid critical water-stress situations.
- Winery buildings must respect their environmental surroundings and take sustainability into account.
- They may not use techniques such as reverse osmosis, added sugar or oak chips.
- Wines must show terroir and reflect their place of origin.
- Wines must be free of any winemaking defects that would stamp out regional identity.
- Winemakers should encourage biodiversity by practices such as soil management and planting cover crops.
Taken together, these guidelines form a powerful foundation for moving wine production toward fairness, responsibility, and healthy production. Wineries in Italy have already begun to sign on to the manifesto, and there will be a Slow Wine Fair in Bologna from February 26-March 1, 2022, to showcase their products. Eventually, a Slow Wine Tour will bring those producers to cities in Europe, Asia and the U.S.A.
As a consumer, what can you do to promote sustainability in winemaking? The most obvious thing is to chose wines from small, boutique producers rather than mass-market giants. You can assume that most bottles on the supermarket shelf are heavily manipulated, made from purchased fruit, and have high levels of chemicals and sulfites. If you’re in a large chain store and a salesperson recommends a private label wine, beware—you have no way to verify where the wine came from or how it’s made. Be proactive and do some research before you go out shopping. If there isn’t time to do that, cultivate a relationship with your local shop: a conscientious and dedicated wine merchant will steer you in the right direction more often than not.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His latest release, Impeachment, is now available on Amazon.