Safety and Sustainability
26 January 2020

Articles included in this series:

  • Douro wine producers, coping with COVID
  • Climate change and the future of wine
  • Labels of the future
  • Rob Symington shapes sustainability
  • Get ready for climate change
  • The Climate Change Leadership Conference, Porto

Douro wine producers, coping with COVID

Wine brands generally take years to establish, sometimes generations. When we uncork a favourite bottle, we can forget that this luxury product is equally an agricultural product

In recent years, vineyards have been vulnerable to ever more frequent erratic weather events brought on by climate change. This year not only wine production, but also wine consumption is being severely impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, I have spoken with a number of wine producers in the Douro Valley, a unique mountainous vineyard in Portugal, the historic home of Port wine, now recognized for its excellent non-fortified reds and whites, created by innovative winemakers such as Dirk Niepoort. At the best of times, the Douro’s extreme climate and low yields demand considerable resilience from the region’s winemakers. How are they coping with this new unprecedented challenge?

For many regions, wine tourism drives visibility and vineyard owners readily acknowledge that Douro Valley winery tour visitors can become highly effective brand ambassadors. This year the Douro was all set to continue building on its reputation as a wine tourism destination of exceptional beauty and distinctive wines. But on March 18th, the Portuguese government declared a State of Emergency, closing down wine tourism at a stroke. Sophia Berqqvist, owner of Quinta de la Rosa, said they had stopped offering winery visits and tastings as well as bookings for their excellent restaurant and boutique hotel, laying-off staff. João Alvares Ribeiro, CEO of Quinta do Vallado, which in 2016 celebrated three-hundred-years in the business, said Vallado has temporarily closed its two successful boutique hotels.

Wine producers are coming to grips with the new reality and adapting their work in the vineyard and winery. Most of the producers said viticultural teams were still tending the vines, vital work to ensure there are good quality grapes to pick for the next harvest. In April, Wine & Soul were grafting vines on their new terraces at Quinta da Manoella. Grape pickers are an increasingly precious resource in the Douro, so it is essential their safety be guaranteed come the harvest season.

In their wineries and Port lodges, Symington Family Estates are operating mirrored teams so that, in the event of a case of COVID-19, the company can have a second team on standby to continue production.

Although it is hard to find a wine industry stakeholder who is benefitting from COVID-19, there is one sector that’s doing extremely well: online. With hotels, restaurants and bars closed, consumers, social distancing at home, are often preferring to buy online, either from an online retailer or direct from their favourite wine producer, thereby avoiding the tribulations of supermarket shopping in the time of coronavirus. Fiona Lynch, owner of Edinburgh based Wineline, an importer of Douro wines, said they had been busy, although she was concerned by the possibility of haulage problems for wines which have to travel across Europe.

But what, in the safety of their home, is the consumer drinking? For some, the mood does not feel appropriate to uncork or invest in a premium bottle. Best to wait for more celebratory times… In all markets, however, there is always a top segment. This year Champagne will continue to be made, and no doubt drunk… Taylor’s Port has declared a historic ‘trifecta’, with three back-to-back Vintage years, 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Many of the vines supplying the grapes for these exceptional Vintages will have been planted two or three generations ago, and the maturation of premium Port is equally a gradual process. These three Vintages are something for the consumer to look forward to in years to come.

At entry and medium price point levels promotions are rife. Sophia Bergqvist predicted a drastic reduction in sales this spring at Quinta de la Rosa. It seems safe to bet, that when global shipping eventually gets moving again, there will be a rush by wine exporters to replenish their distributors’ stocks.

In the meantime, many wine brands are demonstrating creativity deploying a number of online marketing tools. Quinta do Tedo, a French-American family-owned property, are individually emailing customers to maintain brand loyalty; and daughter-of-the-house Odile Bouchard is holding a live stream with tasting every Saturday. The Symingtons are doing live digital tastings from their three visitor centres, and have launched School of Port, an educational initiative on Instagram which will teach wine lovers and professionals about their Port wine brands and Douro wines. The promising first session saw Rob Symington interviewing his father, charismatic wine trade legend Paul Symington.

Business survival in turbulent times can hinge on not losing key team members with precious skills which will be needed when the recovery arrives. Quinta do Tedo are retaining their workforce. David Guimaraens, Head Winemaker of The Fladgate Partnership, responsible for making Port for the Taylor’s, Croft’s and Fonseca Port wine brands, is concerned that many of the Douro’s twenty thousand smallholder grape farmers are especially fragile and may see a substantial drop in their incomes this year and experience serious economic hardship.

Some of the larger wine brands are providing support for the local community. Symington Family Estates have produced 10,000 liters of antiseptic gel for hospitals in Northern Portugal, and donated a ventilator to the Vila Real hospital in the Douro region. The company also ran #PortLoversUnite, a digital gathering of Port drinkers around the world, which raised €6,000 for the International Red Cross.

Looking to the future, João Alvares Ribeiro is feeling buoyant. Quinta do Vallado has been chosen as the subject for an MBA case study by the prestigious French business school INSEAD, an indicator of the region’s relevance and Vallado’s success in winemaking and tourism. Rob Symington predicts that the challenges facing the wine trade post-COVID will remain much the same: “capitalising on the opportunities provided by e-commerce, educating and engaging a new generation of drinkers, adapting to climate change and reducing our own contribution to environmental problems.”

Paul Symington, a history enthusiast, recalls that the Douro has lived through other difficult periods, referring to the slump in business endured by Port wine brands from the 1929 depression… through to the great 1963 Vintage.

Winemaking in the Douro dates back to the Romans, and today many wines are world class, with this spectacular region on the global wine map. Wine lovers might consider a Douro Valley wine tour for the top of their post-COVID bucket list.


Climate change and the future of wine

The wine industry takes the lead in mitigating climate change: James Mayor talks to Adrian Bridge, CEO of Taylor’s Port, about the Climate Change Leadership Conference.

James Mayor of Grape Discoveries talks to Adrian Bridge of Fladgate Partnership in a room with a red rug

The ancient city of Porto is home to an important new initiative to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Porto Protocol was launched in July 2018, at a summit with Barack Obama as keynote speaker, establishing an innovative platform for the wine industry to share environmental best practices.

In Porto, on a crisp January day, I met Adrian Bridge, CEO of Taylor’s Port and the man behind the Porto Protocol, to discuss a major follow-up event: the Climate Change Leadership Conference – Solutions for the Wine Industry, to be held in Porto from 5 to 7 March 2019.

We have been hearing a lot recently about how countries are getting off to a late start in implementing the requirements of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, or even in ratifying it, with negotiators bogged down in drawn-out climate diplomacy. I was, therefore, looking forward to meeting Adrian Bridge, a man with a reputation for new thinking and getting things done.

As Bridge bounds up the steps to the room in which our conversation is going to take place, his body language sets the tone for our discussion. “We have no time to waste,” he exclaims referring of course to the combat to mitigate climate change, the existential field in which he has recently become a vigorous activist.

Bridge is just back from New York and Washington to promote the Porto Protocol. We are meeting in the Partners House at Taylor’s, the venerable Port wine house he runs as part of an extensive Port wine and luxury hotel portfolio. Everything about our surroundings proclaims permanence and tradition: fine furniture and the reassuring sound of gardeners clipping hedges. A resplendent peacock walks past the French windows and gazes in, eyeing the two glasses of vintage Port that have been placed on a table between Bridge and myself.

“Climate change affects us all,” Bridge remarks, immediately dispelling this comfortable sense of security. I ask him to explain why he believes the wine industry is in a strong position to provide leadership and innovation to combat climate change. “We grow the same plant, the vine, all over the world. This is done under different climatic conditions and we can all learn from each other.” Since Bridge has been running the company, Taylor’s can already claim twenty years involvement in mitigating climate change, practicing sustainable viticulture and reducing water consumption in its vineyards and wineries.

The vine is a hardy plant and consequently a form of agriculture suited to remote regions. Wine production frequently supports the socio-economic fabric of these areas as well as making an important contribution to their cultural identity. “In the Douro, if there was no vine, there would be no economic activity,” Bridge observes.

Wine businesses are frequently family structures that span many generations and serve as memory-banks for climate information. When I talk to vineyard owners, they often tell me that they are only caretakers of the vineyard, which they will cherish and one day hand over to their successors. This long-term view not only goes against the short-term focus of our society, it opposes the imperatives of accelerating climate change.

It is Bridge’s view that the reality of climate change has now been sufficiently demonstrated and he lists a series of examples of extreme weather to prove his point, including last year’s wildfires in the Californian wine country. “Climate change is about much more than rising average temperatures. We’re looking at more and more frequent disruptions in weather patterns. These are affecting not only the wine industry, but the entire agricultural sector.” To illustrate this he cites 2018, an unusually hot year in the neighboring Douro, the region where the grapes for Port wine are grown. “At Pinhão, at the end of May, 12% of the annual rainfall fell within the space of a single hour, some of it in the form of hail, causing massive erosion and damage to vineyards, including one of ours.” As he speaks, I think of a Douro winemaker friend who lost a staggering 70% of his annual production on the same day in May.

Punctuating his remarks with emphatic hand gestures, Bridge affirms, “we need to stop talking, and start doing. We need to stop restating the problem and talk about solutions, and we need to share these solutions. We can also learn faster from people who’ve already implemented solutions. There’s no time to reinvent the wheel.” With the force of conviction of the successful innovator and businessman, Bridge states that sharing experience and best practices will make a significant difference.

A glance at some of the case studies on the Porto Protocol website shows that an increasing number of wine industry professionals are indeed already involved in proactive measures to ensure a sustainable future for wine production. I find these examples, which engage climate change with practical resource-saving actions, forward-thinking: the Amorim cork waste management and recycling project; the Symington Grape Variety Library, a tool for determining a grape variety’s suitability to a particular location.

Distinctive as one of the world’s only branded agricultural products, wine also has a strong connection to specific geographical sites. You cannot move Château Latour, so to speak. This allows wine producers to talk directly to their consumers, in a way that would be impossible for a cereal grower. “We create an emotional connection with the consumer that can often last a lifetime,” Bridge reminds me, adding that this “sense of place” inherent in wine production becomes a “strong differentiating factor which allows the wine industry to adopt a leadership position.”

For Bridge consumers are concerned by the carbon footprint of wine production: “if a consumer is looking at two different bottles of Chardonnay, say, one of which requires two liters of water to make, and the other ten liters, they’re going to make a choice based on this information. Consumers care.”

Recent research shows that younger generations are particularly aware of the problem of climate change and more open than their elders to reshaping lifestyle patterns to make better use of scarce resources. Bridge cites his own city-dwelling children as an example of this: “they don’t own cars. They get around using public transport or an app service. When I was in my early twenties, this would have been unthinkable!”

When I ask Bridge what advice he would give to a young wine enthusiast just embarking on their wine journey, he smiles and exclaims, “keep on exploring! There’s a wine for everyone and the great thing is, it’s a long journey of exploration.”

Not only concerned to preserve the planet on which they may be living for another fifty years or more, demographic research indicates that younger generations are also looking for experiences rather than material assets. I put it to Bridge that one of the experiences they are seeking is off-the-beaten-path wine tourism, and that when I lead a private group to the Douro, participants develop a closer connection with the region’s wines through experiencing the terroir and meeting local people. “Tourism is here to stay,” Bridge reflects, adding that tourism needs nevertheless to be more sensitive to the carbon footprint.

Adamant that there can be no magic solution to the challenges of climate change, Bridge echoes Barack Obama’s remarks at the Porto Protocol Summit, pointing out that we should not expect governments to do everything for us. The solutions will be multiple and come about through business and personal initiatives. For Bridge, “businesses are beginning to realize that doing the right thing for the climate does not always involve an additional cost. On the contrary, it can frequently lead to savings and increased profitability.”

Through providing a platform for sharing solutions, the Porto Protocol aims to encourage not only members of the wine industry, but equally other industries, to help individuals make the difference in mitigating climate change. Adrian Bridge expresses this as two straightforward objectives: first, do more tomorrow than today. Then, share experiences. The Porto Protocol’s strength lies in this practical approach. The principal idea is we can all do something to mitigate climate change, now.

The Climate Change Leadership Conference – Solutions for the Wine Industry, will provide an opportunity for industry members to do just that: share experiences. A diverse list of speakers is attending the Conference. Attendees will be able to hear, in addition to keynote speaker former US Vice President Al Gore, founder of the Climate Reality Project, interventions from wine scientists such as Jose Vouillamoz, wine producers such as Miguel Torres, or wine writers including Jamie Goode.

James Mayor is a writer and the Founder of Grape Discoveries: https://www.grapediscoveries.com/. Grape Discoveries is a Founding Member of the Porto Protocol.
The Climate Change Leadership Conference will be held in Porto, from 5 to 7 March, 2019: https://climatechange-porto.com/.


Labels of the future

What is happening to our wine labels?
Many areas of the wine industry are changing fast, reacting to new technologies, new forms of retailing and the effects of climate change.

Shelves filled with Douro wines

Consider the label on the wine bottle. An evolution is occurring within a more informed consumer environment where the global trend is to drink less, but better. This consumption is increasingly taking place in social or sharing environments rather than “solitary” ones. Enormous opportunities are emerging for wine brands to engage consumers through more imaginative forms of labeling. The industry is taking up the challenge to make an impact through labels that show innovation in both design and technology.

Wine is a serious industry. For entry or medium-level wines, some brands are confident to try a little humor. Niepoort Diálogo Douro, for example, has a witty cartoon story on a label which wraps around the bottle of red wine.

In Portugal, improvements began with better label design, and the use of simplified, more contemporary logos and fonts. Then came some linguistic pruning, with simpler brand names and a more discrete presentation of Portugal’s complex grape variety names, as marketers begin to target international markets. The most forward-thinking brands are now designing labels for the Instagram generation that will look good online.

Despite this embrace of modernity by an industry sometimes considered as conservative, the provenance of a wine remains as important as ever. This provenance must be transparent. Wine is about the terroir in which it is produced and the men and women who make it. Talented storytelling can provide good leverage here. A label which speaks volumes is the label on Três Bagos wines, part of the Lavradores de Feitoria range. This wine is made from three grape varieties with grapes grown at three different wine properties. The best Douro wines are often blends, and this label gets the idea across with an elegant and simple design.

Another area of concern to an increasing number of consumers – particularly younger ones – is sustainability. Not only must the label itself be sustainable, with no use of plastic, and the employment of eco-friendly paper, inks and glue, but equally the label of the future will now more often contain some kind of climate information: is the wine made using sustainable farming methods in the vineyard, at a ‘green’ winery with advanced water management, and bottled in lighter bottles with a lower carbon footprint, etc?

But perhaps one of the most exciting developments we can look forward to in bottle labelling, is the use of augmented reality actioned by apps on our smartphones.

Another silly invasion of our already tech-crammed lives? I don’t think so. Just imagine this scenario: you are walking down the aisle of your favorite wine store. You stop in front of a brand with a catching name and see the invitation “use your smartphone and augmented reality to find out more about this wine.” A moment later you are watching a video of the winemaker describing what makes his red wine so special; then, you move on to the next bottle on the shelf, a white from the same brand, and this time a virtual sommelier in a video explains the best pairings for your wine.

You get the idea: the possibilities are almost endless, switching back and forth between detailed information and entertainment, with one of the keys to success for the wine brand being the provision of different video interactions on different labels, to generate brand-empathy and encourage the consumer to sample the entire range.

With augmented reality technology, the small-scale, restricted format of a traditional wine bottle label becomes obsolete. The brand can now provide infinitely more information about the wine, in an entertaining and engaging manner.

This eye-catching technology has already been successfully tested in retail outlets by an Australian company, Treasury Wine Estates, with its 19 Crimes brand. Targeting a younger consumer, each of nineteen different bottles tells the story of nineteen villains who became colons. It is perhaps not necessary to go quite this far… but think of what could be done in the Douro, for example, with historic wine industry characters such as the Marquês de Pombal or Baron Joseph James Forrester, or even just a video of a famous wine property showing the terraced ‘socalcos’ vineyards.

The wine industry is today determined not to be left behind when it comes to advances in technology. Augmented reality technology is currently being tested by Symington Family Estates, for part of their Douro Valley still wine range. Expect some surprising bottles on your local shelves soon!


Rob Symington shapes sustainability

The first fifth-generation member to join the family company, Symington Family Estates, Rob Symington faced a culture shift when he decided to move from the digital company he had co-founded in a trendy area of London.

Rob Symington smiling at the camera

The first fifth-generation member to join the family company, Symington Family Estates, Rob Symington faced a culture shift when he decided to move from the digital company he had co-founded in a trendy area of London. Before arriving in Portugal, he thought, “oh no, I’m going to be stepping back into the 1980s”. However, Rob soon realized “the exciting thing about a company 137 years old is you don’t survive without constantly evolving and adapting to the challenges of your time”.

The location of our meeting could almost be a metaphor for the balancing act between tradition and innovation that benchmarks the Symingtons, owners of four historic Port brands and producers of a range of outstanding dry wines. We are in Vila Nova de Gaia and Rob leads me across the faultless front lawn at Barão James Forrester’s former ‘quinta’, now Symington’s head office. We head for the pristine white, totally cool Marketing Department.

Rob Symington is responsible for Sustainability. The Symington family recently announced they are the first wine producer in Portugal to achieve B Corporation certification, a rigorous process begun a year ago. B Corp companies are assessed for the highest standards of social and environmental performance and ethical business practices.

Rob Symington comments “sustainability values underpin a lot of what we do, but we did not have an overarching strategy.”

Asked by his cousins to review their sustainability actions, Rob encouraged the family to go for B Corp certification and develop a framework for the company’s environmental and social impact initiatives.

Rob leans into the table as he explains what this involves, his enthusiasm engaging. A sustainability strategy, Mission 2025, is being implemented, with ten flagship goals including renewable energy, water efficiency, low-impact packaging and local community initiatives.

The largest share of the company’s carbon emissions are present in their supply chain: 86%. And 55% of these emissions are accounted for by the production of glass bottles. Many bottle manufacturers have already begun their carbon reduction journey, sometimes encouraged by looming increases in carbon taxes. Consumer perceptions are changing, and just as we are seeing a reaction against plastic, there is also a backlash against excessive packaging. The Symington family have reduced the weight of some of the bottles in their core range and are studying further reductions.

In 2021, Symingtons will open the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) winery in Portugal, at their Quinta do Ataíde estate, the largest organic vineyard in northern Portugal. Rob is excited by this rare opportunity for the company to build a winery from scratch and hopes it will subsequently be possible to retrofit other company wineries. The Symingtons have been talking to Professor Roger Bolton of U.C. Davis, in California, a distinguished expert in the field. The Quinta do Ataíde low-impact winery will incorporate a ‘green’ roof to provide natural insulation and trap rainwater and, where possible, use gravity to avoid pumping; the winery will be powered by solar panels.

The Symingtons are deeply embedded in the Douro Valley, both physically through their vineyards and equally emotionally. It has long been part of company DNA to care for the local community, through numerous projects such as donating eleven ambulances to volunteer fire brigades. Mission 2025 will now permit employees to spend part of their working time in engaging with a volunteering scheme to provide support for local community initiatives, and particularly those which encourage young people to continue living and working in the Douro.

Family-run businesses could be particularly well-suited to addressing sustainability issues, as families tend to think in generations rather than quarterly results. For wine producers, a vineyard will only attain peak production after a decade, and this slowing down of processes no doubt has an impact on philosophies. “Family-run wine companies have their eyes open and a vested interest in protecting the environment,” says Rob.

The Symingtons are in discussions with Torres in Spain, and Jackson Family Wines in California who together recently founded ‘International Wineries for Climate Action’, a forum to exchange and implement industry best practices in the field of climate adaptation. Rob notes, “the wine industry is often seen as the canary in the cage of climate change. We are well-placed to bring adaptation messages to the media and consumers.” He hopes that Symingtons will contribute “to a broader picking up of the baton.”
Sustainability is not the only area where the Symingtons are innovating. Port wine producers are being challenged to find new generations of drinkers, the current consumer typically being “north of 50”. One solution is White Port, delicious as a long drink with tonic. The company this year launched Graham’s Blend Nº 5, now available in the UK and the Algarve.

The award-winning bottle has been designed by Antonio Soares, a Portuguese designer who has worked for Chanel and Lagerfeld. Out goes the Bishop of Norwich… in goes chilled Port?


Get ready for climate change

In July 2018, former US President Barack Obama came to Porto to address the Porto Protocol, a climate change mitigation initiative. He said, “we have to recognize there are trade-offs in how we live.”

Speaker at Climate Change Leadership Conference in Porto

 

I recently attended the Climate Change Leadership Conference – Solutions for the Wine Industry, a follow-up event organized by Taylor’s Port, in Porto. The participants from thirty different countries around the globe included wine producers, climatologists, sustainability experts, and industry commentators, such as myself. The event was a kind of giant tasting of up-to-date information on how climate change is affecting wine production and what solutions are available to us to mitigate this change.

We heard reports of erratic weather incidents in winemaking regions from the Napa Valley in the US, to the Douro in Portugal. Wine industry leaders attending the Conference indicated that five points would affect consumers as our climate continues to change

1. The changing world wine map

Have you noticed how the map of world winemaking is changing? Only a few years ago, you would probably have laughed if I had recommended a Champagne-style wine from England. Now you can take your pick from an increasing choice of excellent sparkling wines, some of which have been getting top rankings in blind tastings that include ‘real’ Champagne. Today wine is being produced in all fifty-two American states… not to mention Sweden! Chile, long considered a country of average quality wines, is now also beginning to produce some top quality wines, such as Montes Folly.

As a consequence of global warming, suitability for vineyard planting is shifting, with site selection becoming an increasingly critical issue. Sometimes the solution is to plant higher up the slope, where temperatures will be cooler.

2. Better informed wine consumers

Alongside changes in the climate, we are experiencing changes in wine consumption. Millenials are often better informed than previous generations, and they have a thirst for knowledge. They are equally more climate and health mindful, increasingly concerned to enjoy a sustainable diet. As many as 40% of Millenials are willing to spend 40% extra for a product of the same quality, and this generation of consumers also shows a refreshing willingness to adapt to change.

3. The inexorable rise of bio wines

World wine production is practically static, currently rising by a mere 0.5% annually. The production of bio or organically farmed wines is, however, surging ahead, growing by 15%. Retailers and critics are well-placed to exert pressure on producers to create more bio wines, and I hazard a guess that we will soon be seeing a wider selection from this segment on the shelves of our wine stores.

Gerard Bertrand, a leading producer of bio wines in Languedoc, France, talks about the need to resist the standardisation of taste, and the importance of education in developing our taste. Mike Veseth, editor of The Wine Economist reflects, “you buy products that reflect your values.”

4. Wine’s water footprint

Linda Johnson-Bell, CEO of the Wine and Climate Change Institute, in Oxford, England, says, “wine has to take off its mink coat, it’s an agricultural product.” She believes wine cannot hide behind its romantic mythological and cultural associations to claim a special status.

In the same way, we have become accustomed to assessing a business’s carbon footprint, we now need to also look closely at wine’s water footprint. An increasing number of sustainable wineries, such as Adega de Vargellas, owned by Taylor’s Port, are reusing the water consumed in making their wines, generating significant reductions in overall consumption. Water is not only used for irrigation, but equally for cooling, in manufacturing bottles and in other forms of packaging.

5. Decarbonizing wine’s packaging and transport

The calculation of wine’s carbon footprint should not of course end at the winery gate. As consumers we need to consider several things:

The weight of a bottle will affect its carbon footprint, lighter bottles accounting for reduced CO2 emissions.

Reusable bottles, of course, score even more positive points, particularly if their eventual end-of-cycle disposal is conducted in a responsible manner. Wine in plastic bottles is a definite NO!

Some wine is dispatched to its export markets by plane, generating the massive CO2 emissions of air transport. A comparatively small share travels by rail, the most carbon-friendly solution. The major share is shipped by sea, where variables such as engine speed can affect the carbon footprint. Bulk wine has a 40% lower footprint than wine shipped already bottled which takes up more space. This pleads for bottling closer to the point of consumption.

Better informed wine consumers will begin demanding, and welcoming, new information on their wine labels. We will soon see information about a wine`s water and carbon footprints, or even its social sustainability index… Aggregates of these types of information will affect our wine buying choices.


The Climate Change Leadership Conference, Porto

James Mayor reports on the 2019 Climate Change Leadership Conference, Porto

Climate Change Leadership Conference in Porto

The second edition of the Climate Change Leadership Conference attracted 850 people from 30 countries. The Conference focused on solutions to climate change for the wine industry, and its keynote speaker, Nobel Laureate for Peace and former US Vice-President, Al Gore, declared, “the leadership role taken on by Portugal is an example for the entire world.”

On the eve of the Conference, I talked to Adrian Bridge, CEO of Taylor’s Port, the Conference’s main organizer. Bridge is convinced that wine consumers care about sustainability. “We need to listen to consumers. There are lots of solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change, we just have to know which are the most effective.” Gregory Jones, Director of the Evenstad Center for Wine Education and the world’s foremost wine climatologist, believes the wine industry, as one of the only branded agricultural industries in the world, is well-placed to lead the agricultural sector in combatting climate change.

The Climate Change Leadership Conference focused on ‘Solutions for the Wine Industry‘. The Conference supports the Porto Protocol, a platform created in 2018 by Adrian Bridge to share wine industry solutions that push the envelope and offer new, often radical ideas that actively address climate change.

This initiative ambitions, however, to reach out beyond the wine industry, and provide inspiration and benchmarking for other sectors. My Douro Valley wine tourism company, Grape Discoveries, is a Founding Member of the Porto Protocol, and today the initiative is doing well with 130 businesses signed up.

Several speakers at the Conference cited increasingly frequent examples of erratic weather in vineyards throughout the world, from the Napa Valley to Champagne. 2018 was one of the hottest years ever recorded, resulting in later grape harvesting, faster ripening and increased sugar levels and loss of acidity, and freak rains and hail destroying vineyards. There are few climate change deniers in the wine industry, in this sector the evidence of climate change is irrefutable.

It does not minimize the undeniable threat to sustainable wine production to recall that the grapevine is not only a resilient plant but equally an adaptive one. Vines are often grown in remote and arid regions which have difficulty in supporting other forms of agriculture. There are a staggering 10,000 known grape varieties in the world, although as few as twelve of these account for 80% of the world’s total wine production, and probably about the same number benefit from consumer recognition.

This indicates that there is room for experimentation, and one of the Conference’s speakers, Miguel Torres the President of Bodegas Torres, has been doing this in Penedes in Spain, working with variables such as variety, vineyard altitude and sun exposure. Torres has also teamed up with the Jackson Family Winery, in California, for an initiative, International Wineries for Climate Action, which aims to dramatically reduce climate impact in vineyard and winery operations.

As the climate changes, some traditional wine-producing regions are experiencing shifts in the suitability for vineyard planting. New regions are emerging, often not previously considered wine-producing, such as the south of England, while countries such as Chile, are suddenly finding that they now have the ideal climatic conditions to produce fine wines. A European project, ADVICLIM, is conducting research that focuses on clonal adaptation rather than changing variety, often a key component of terroir and a wine region’s identity.

Many wine industry leaders are seeing climate change as an opportunity to adapt. Pau Roca, the Director-General of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, also believes the wine industry has an important leadership role to play. Roca told me, “climate change is an opportunity to review our conservative thinking, and the wine industry is the canary in the cage.” In his opinion, we are on the threshold of major changes in the economy, with sustainability as the next paradigm, in the way the Gold Standard once was.

“Leaving no one behind” is the theme for this year’s edition of World Water Day, on 22 March. Water scarcity is indeed going to be one of the most critical issues in the next decades, with agriculture using 70% of all freshwater. Vineyards in the Cape, South Africa, have now experienced three years of severe drought. The vine is a hardy plant, however, and many varieties possess roots that dig deep into the soil to reach water. Irrigation is often not a necessity, and the practice of dry farming is on the increase. UC Davis, in the US, has been awarded a LEED Platinum for its teaching and research sustainable winery which practices the multiple use of water. Krug Champagne, in France, has achieved a 50% reduction in its water use, through using only what is strictly necessary. Just as we think about wine’s carbon footprint, we will now also need to consider wine’s water footprint.

Many vineyards are owned by families, who take a multi-generational view of their businesses. They often consider they are long-term caretakers rather than owners. In the opinion of Cristina Mariani-May, CEO of the US wine importer Banfi Vintners, and the owners of extensive sustainably-farmed vineyards at Castello Banfi in Tuscany, it is essential “as the climate changes to share our research.” So that the new generation of winemakers are educated to adapt, Banfi has endowed the Cornell University Wine Professorship.

It is interesting to reflect that our English words “economics” and “ecology” both have the same Greek root ‘oikos’. This Greek word in fact has three meanings: household, house and family. The 2018 Nobel Laureate for Economics, William Nordhaus, has worked on the interdependence of economics and ecology and how they are affected by climate change. Antonio Amorim, CEO of Corticeira Amorim, the world’s leading cork producer, commented at the Conference, “sustainability is not the end of profitability.” Incidentally, a cork forest retains CO2 for two hundred years!

The Wine Anorak blogger and Sunday Express columnist, Jamie Goode, remarked to me, “the wine industry can achieve a carbon negative footprint,” observing, however, that the wider combat to mitigate the effects of climate change will only be won if the financial interest versus truth battle is won first.

The Porto Protocol Summit followed the Climate Change Leadership Conference. Afroz Shah, an Indian lawyer and United Nations Champion of the Earth for the world’s largest beach clean-up project in Mumbai was one of the most moving speakers. Shah believes we need to “move from confusion to hope.”

One cause for hope is undoubtedly a 16-year-old Swede, Greta, whose name seemed to be on many participants’ lips. Greta has challenged the European Union to double its objective for 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 40%. She has also set in motion a global movement of school children who are taking a day out of school each week to pressure their governments to engage more vigorously in measures to combat climate change.

The Summit keynote speaker, Al Gore, has been a climate change activist since 1976, before many of the people attending the Conference were born. An immense force for generating international awareness about climate change, Gore has lost none of his passion for this fight and thundered up and down the stage with the energy of a hurricane. He compared the exponential rise of renewable energies in many countries to that of the mobile phone a generation ago: more cause for hope!

With the world’s population today approaching eight billion individuals of differing socio-economic conditions, we share this planet and its resources with a dwindling number of other species. One of the key messages of the Climate Change Leadership Conference was that we need to manage change that we cannot avoid. The mood was one of restrained optimism, with several participants saying that we are currently experiencing an accelerating cultural shift, embodied by greater awareness of climate change and a growing desire to enact mitigation strategies. Younger generations, such as Millenials, are increasingly concerned by the provenance of the products they consume. Mike Veseth, editor of The Wine Economist, said, “you buy products that reflect your values.” The production of organic wines is increasing by 15% annually, compared with a 0.5% increase for wine production overall.

We will need to be practical in the way we implement solutions to climate change, and wine can be granted no special status. As Linda Johnson-Bell, CEO of the Wine & Climate Change Institute in Oxford, England, put it, “wine has to take off its mink coat, it’s an agricultural product.”

The Porto Protocol and its annual Climate Change Leadership Conferences are powerful vehicles for disseminating these practical solutions as we engage in our existential combat to mitigate climate change. Closing this stimulating Conference, Adrian Bridge declared, “we have pushed the snowball off the top of the mountain… and it is now rolling.”