Sour Grapes: The Barriers To Sustainable Wine

sustainable wine

The global wine industry was worth around £235 billion in 2016, and it grows year on year. As consumers place more demands on the industry for sustainable practices, the pressure is on.

We want to know where our money is spent and where we can buy a product made by a company we support. Can we trust in ‘sustainable’ wine?

What is Certified Sustainable Wine?

The terms ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ are often used when describing sustainable wine. But deciphering what these mean can be tricky, and at the very least open to interpretation.

The wine industry is excellent at marketing. Shiny, glamorous adverts are the norm. Sometimes, this means the line between trusted certifications and self-interested hype is a thin one.

British organic wine producers are governed by EU regulations. Before 2012, organic wine simply needed to be made using organically grown grapes. Now, all additives, including fining agents are also required to be organic.

No genetically modified organisms are allowed. Plus, there are strict limits on the amount of sulphur added to each each batch. (Sulphur, and sulphites, are added to help make the wine last longer.)


Drinking Wine Is a Global Affair

But things get complicated as in the UK, we drink wine from all over the world. This means understanding many different rules surrounding certification.

For example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of the term ‘organic’. But there are two meanings in the context of wine. Wine made with organically grown grapes, means that the grapes have been grown without synthetic pesticides or additives. Certified organic wine, in contrast, must also be made without any added sulphites.

Biodynamic takes organic a step further. This farming practice, or philosophy as some call it, is a supercharged form of organic. The whole vineyard is considered an organism that gives back as much as it takes. But the use of the term ‘biodynamic’ is unregulated.

The term ‘sustainable’ is also unregulated and is sometimes used in vague terms. It might refer to the type of grape that is grown or to the impact upon the local ecosystem. It may also refer to the working conditions on the vineyard, or to nothing at all.

Like with all certifications, consumers may need to do a bit of detective work to understand what exactly is being certified and by whom. Which is again tricky when the wine comes from outside of the EU.

The California Sustainable Winegrowing certification uses a third-party audit system. This guarantees practices meet their standards for environmental impact. Sustainable Australia Winegrowing takes growers through a checklist to assess their environmental sustainability performance. It also helps them improve in areas where they are weak.

The challenge of sustainable wine is complex for producers as well. There are many factors to account for. From pesticides to water usage to labour practices to economics.

Sustainable Wine Packaging

Packaging materials are another aspect of sustainable wine. Along with production practices and ingredients. Fortunately, two key aspects of wine packaging are derived from renewable resources – cork and glass.

Cork is a versatile natural resource used in construction and furniture making. As well as sealing wine bottles. It grows abundantly and regenerates rapidly, making cork a sustainable material. Plus, harvesting cork can be carried out without cutting down the entire tree.

Glass is also a sustainable packaging material. On average, a glass bottle can be used more than two dozen times. This helps reduce landfill waste, lower energy costs and lower the carbon footprint.

But, as recyclability is a key part of glass’s potential benefit, consumers need to play their role. We should always recycle our bottles.

Bag in box wine also has benefits for the environment.


Consumer Preferences Are Shifting

The demand for sustainability has hit the food and beverage industry hard. Our choices are dictating the way much of the sector is going, and wine producers must keep up.

Consumers still largely care more about taste and price in regards to wine. But perhaps sustainable wine will be the next big thing?

It would be great to have more easy-to-find (and more trustworthy) options. Who doesn’t want to enjoy a tasty and guilt-free glass? Knowing with confidence where it came from and how it was produced? We know we do.