From France to South Africa, the US to Australia, grape growers and winemakers are preoccupied with the impact of climate change.
The concern is understandable, given winemaking communities' dependence on the unique terroir and micro climates which allows vines to flourish in their particular region.
One recent example shows why. In September 2021, the French winemakers’ harvest produced a whopping 29% less wine
in 2021 than in 2020, according to a report in the Financial Times.
This was primarily due to climate change induced spring frosts and summer rains and followed by floods in Germany, a heatwave in southern Europe and drought in California.
Recognising that wine is a centuries-old natural treasure, Australia’s wineries are already taking positive steps towards rethinking practices to help preserve the environment for future generations, as the recent Sustainable Winemaking 2021 Impact Report makes clear. The report shows how its 568 member vineyards (now up to 767) have been dealing with six key areas of sustainability: water, energy, biodiversity, land & soil, waste and people & business.
In Australia, of course, we’re used to drought, fire and flood challenges. Now we can add climate change to that list of natural disasters. “Climate change is already impacting the grape and wine community,” says Wine Australia. “It’s evidenced by changes in grape phenology and harvest dates, which has led to compressed harvests and greater pressure on vineyard and winery infrastructure.”
Adapting to those challenges could include changing growing and harvesting methods, planting different grape varietals and perhaps even relocating to ‘cooler’ regions.
Winemaker Kate Hill has done precisely this by moving to Tasmania. She says, “People talk about harvest dates already being a couple of weeks ahead of where they were 10 to 15 years ago, and we’re seeing a lot of young winemakers moving to Tasmania for that reason.”
“For many wineries, energy is their single largest operating cost,” says the report. Being such a climate-dependent industry, moving to a more sustainable energy model makes sense in so many ways. In fact, it shows that members who generate on-site renewable energy offset their grid electricity by an average of 4X.
The report shows the encouraging stats that 72% of member vineyards and 82% of member wineries have acted to reduce energy consumption and are prioritising energy-efficient practices.
Duxton winery – a certified winery and vineyard – is another benefitting from energy efficiency practices, running its Wentworth two vineyard’s operations entirely off-grid using a solar and battery system.
While at the famed Wynns Coonawarra Estate, viticulturist Dr Catherine Kidman says the company has embraced sustainable practices, adding that “From 2024 we are going to have 100% renewable energy and then from 2030 we will have net zero emissions.”
As well as reducing energy costs, the drive towards sustainability also makes sense from another business perspective – customer demands. As Tony Battaglene, Sustainable Winegrowing Australia CEO, points out. “More than half of Australian wine consumers are driven by sustainability and this number continues to increase alongside the growing global demands for products that demonstrate sustainable practices.”
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