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Are you thinking about drinking more virtuously this year? Relax – I’m not talking about sobriety, but that other ‘s’-word, sustainability.
It used to be that if a winemaker wanted to impress, it was all about the weight and size of their glass bottle. Now you’re more likely to hear, ‘Come and have a look at my beehive,’ or ‘Can I talk to you about bats, zero waste to landfill and our organic viticulture programme?’
According to the UN, sustainable development should ‘meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ It’s a broad subject, and in winemaking, that can include considering water use, choosing natural predators instead of pesticides and paying close attention to workers’ health and safety.
As Valentina Lira, sustainability manager at Chilean wine producer Concha y Toro points out, different countries focus on different elements of sustainability. For instance, South Americans are apparently more sensitive to social issues, while Europeans tend to be concerned about environmental issues, such as carbon footprint.
My advice? Forget about trying to find the most virtuous wine, or you’ll end up bogged down in an almost impossible calculation about whether a locally produced wine with low travel miles trumps an organic Argentinian Fairtrade wine shipped in bulk and bottled in the UK.
Instead, make one positive choice from the following and trust that it is a step in the right direction.
1. Buy a wine that is sustainably certified
The South African and New Zealand wine industries are world leaders in sustainability, having introduced national certification schemes in the late 90s. In both countries, more than 95% of wine is sustainably certified. Other regions around the world have their own schemes – look for a logo on the bottle.
2. Choose organic or biodynamic
The world’s current cycle of extreme weather has been blamed on global warming and, ‘We cannot continue to say, “That’s not my fault, that’s the fault of others,”’ says Fabien Leperchois, vineyard manager at Domaine des Carabiniers. His family’s domaine converted first to organic, then to biodynamic production.
‘People say you can’t feed the world with organic production, but I believe if we change our consumption habits, maybe it’s possible,’ he says.
Organic growers turn away from industrially produced herbicides, pesticides or fungicides. Biodynamic growers do likewise, while also promoting biodiversity and balance.
3. Don’t buy trophy bottles
Wine industry players have long been ‘lightweighting’, or reducing the amount of glass in bottles, to cut their carbon footprint (as heavier bottles cost more to ship). But, a few egos still put their wines in the chunkiest bottles they can find.
Some companies work particularly hard at sustainability, but you have to make an effort to find them. Concha y Toro, for example, reduced its carbon footprint by 15% between 2014 and 2018, and is working towards becoming a zero waste to landfill company. There’s also The BIB Wine Co, which sells sustainable wines in boxes.
This week I’m reading…
How to Drink Without Drinking by Fiona Beckett (Kyle Books)
This almost persuaded me to go dry for January! It’s full of non-alcoholic drinks, plus recipes (I like the rhubarb cordial) and a review of 0.5% and below beers. There are also drinks to suit red and white wine drinkers. Available from Amazon (£11.19) and Waterstones (£15.99).
This week I’m eating…
Brancott Estate Flight 2019 Marlborough, New Zealand
Try this lower-alcohol sauvignon blanc with this Thai green salmon. Available from Sainsbury’s (£8.50).
Leewenkuil Bushvine Cinsault 2018 South Africa
This smooth red pairs well with Diana’s chicken, barley & cranberry salad. Available in-store from M&S (£10).
Read more articles by Victoria Moore
12 Essential Christmas drinks
How wine has changed in 30 years
Why you should be drinking verdejo this summer
Swap your bottle for wine in a can
Why you should be drinking French malbec
Why rosé wine is the perfect drink for summer
Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is the The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).
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