How wine producers are protecting the industry’s longevity

Concerns about the impact of climate change on wine production are growing. Consumers are increasingly interested in the sustainability credentials of wine producers around the world as producers work to protect the wine industry’s longevity through sustainability.

The impact of climate change varies from region to region, prompting wine producers to come up with ever more innovative ways to combat the challenges ahead.

Challenges facing wine producers

Major Italian winery Zonin 1821 have long been working on various initiatives to promote a green production culture. Its estates in Tuscany, Rocca di Montemassi and Castello di Albola, were two of the first wave of wineries in Italy to gain the Equalitas Certification. This focuses on the economic, social and environmental longevity and sustainability of wine producers in Italy and is supported by the Union of Italian Wine Companies (UIV).

In order to achieve the certification, Italian wineries must prove the impact of their production activities. These include pest management, footprint of water use, carbon footprint, community interaction, biodiversity and the social impact of the business. Chief winemaker at Zonin1821, Stefano Ferrante, says: “With water saving, our estates use the drip irrigation method managed by the Vintel digital programme, which allows rationalised irrigation based on forecast weather. Special pressure chambers allow the level of hydration of individual vines to be measured, guaranteeing irrigation only when necessary.”

Sustainability in supporting industries

While making the wine itself is a massive part of the industry, there are also many other parts to a bottle of wine. Portuguese-based Amorim & Irmaos create cork and stoppage solutions for bottles. Naturally, sustainability is also a major factor in this sector’s work too.

Director of marketing Carlos de Jesus says: “Sustainability is at the heart of our entire operation, starting with the fact that cork oaks are a natural and native species to the areas where we source our raw material.”

The company makes the most environmentally friendly, natural bottle closure products possible, and prides itself on its sustainable production methods. He says: “We provide the best solutions for any winery seeking to improve their sustainability credentials. After all, if they are working hard to offer sustainability produced wines for eco-conscious retailers and consumers, then the closure must be real cork. Ease of recycling is becoming a key issue.”

Key methods for sustainability

Many wineries are increasingly focusing on actively working with the characteristics of the region they work in. A holistic approach to the surrounding environment has been underway for Bodega Ijalb winery, based in Rioja, since 1998 when it became the very first officially organic winery in the region.

Chief winemaker Pedro Salguero says: “The water used in the winery has been purified and gathered to hydrate the vineyards and refrigerate the tanks during fermentation. The stems from pruning are used to fertilise our vineyards. We’re lowering our carbon footprint by reducing the weight of our glass bottles and the thickness of our packaging.”

The needs of each winery depend on where they are based, and how climate change is affecting their regions. Waverley Hills winery in South Africa is located in the Western Cape. This area receives about 550mm of rain, compared with 770mm in Burgundy, France. Conserving irrigation water is therefore a priority, which the estate has been tackling for the past seven years. In 2013, Waverley began laying shade cloth directly on the vineyard soil, which blocks out the sun and stops weeds growing. As the cloth is permeable, water can get through to the roots of the vines, and it also stop evaporation helping to maintain cool, soft soil. All of this preserves the amount of water needed to irrigate the vines.

These are just some of the measures being taken by wine makers around the world, in a bid to maintain an industry threatened by changes in global weather patterns.

Wine prices likely to rise further in 2019

Buying wine will become more expensive for UK consumers as we move into 2019. The effects of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, along with tax increases could mean that your favourite bottle will rise substantially.

While taxes on spirits, beer and cider will remain frozen, they will rise for wine in February. It was announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the October 2018 Autumn Budget that wine taxes will increase with inflation in Q1 next year.

Buying wine always popular

While the UK will always remain a nation of wine lovers, when the country leaves the EU prices could also be affected. If the country leaves the European Union without a deal, a situation that looks like a possibility since the Prime Minister delayed the MP’s vote on her deal before Christmas, then wine importers could have problems at the borders.

Even though the UK wine industry is on an upward curve, we still import the majority of the wine sold over here. And the wine industry is warning that importers could well face delays at the borders if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit. This is following rising inflation and additional import costs over the last couple of years.

Possible import delays
Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, Miles Beale, says: “If we come crashing out of the EU with a ‘no deal’ scenario, this would cause delays at borders hugely affecting the supply chain and inevitably pushing up prices for consumers.

“The industry’s ties with the EU run deep – 55 per cent of wine consumed in the UK is imported from the EU, while 45 per cent of spirits exported from these shores is sent to the EU making a “no deal” Brexit an extremely alarming prospect.”

The average bottle of wine has risen in price by approximately 30p since June 2016, when the vote to leave the EU took place. Around 99% of the wine bought in the UK is imported, which could cause issues for major distributors, but it’s not all about Brexit.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the Autumn 2018 budget that taxes will change in 2019. From February, wine taxes will go up from 7p per bottle of still wine and 9p on a bottle of sparkling. The wine industry is undergoing taxes that aren’t being levied on the beer, cider and spirt industry. Adam Lechmere from the International Wine & Spirit Competition says: “It’s not as though beers and spirits have escaped in the past – the impact has been quite large over recent years. However, when considering this particular Budget, 9p and 7p is quite a hike when looking at the average price rise.”

Report shows 2018 broke fine wine investment records

Reports show that investing in fine wine is a more stable bet than buying gold, making it one of the most sought-after asset classes. The Liv-ex summary of the 2018 fine wine investment market says it is “a record-breaking year.”

The research shows that most of the top 100 investment wines revolve around Bordeaux, which has been “steady, consolidating after two years of strong gains”. Burgundy comes out the most impressive performer.

Fine wine investment index

The Fine Wine 1000 index by Liv-ex is described as “the broadest measure of the fine wine market”. Over the year, the index increased by 10.2% and Burgundy is responsible for a lot of the growth, rising by 35.5%.

The ten most impressive price rises were all Burgundy. This shows that demand for the highest end wines in this region is high and is likely to continue to increase prices over the next year.

Record-breaking wines in 2018 include two bottles of Romanee Conti 1945 that sold for just over £443,000 and £394,000 respectively. And while these grabbed media headlines, the wider market for Burgundy has been quietly growing. Collectors are buying more into estates including Roumier, Leflaive, Leroy and Rousseau.

Widening interest from investors

As well as the strong interest in Burgundy, the research also shows a clear trend for investors to widen their interest. Many are now looking past Burgundy and Bordeaux to other regions including the Rhone, California and Champagne. Wines from these regions are making impressive gains, but from smaller base levels than Burgundy.

Leaving aside the Live-ex 1000, the more exclusive index (Liv-ex 100) concentrates on only the most expensive wines. This increased in value by 0.22% within a narrow range of 2%, making it “more stable than gold” over the course of this year. This Is partly because the index is in Sterling, and there has been a somewhat stable pound against the Euro over the year.

For 2019, the index says that the fine wine market is “in good health, offering steady returns and low volatility compared with other mainstream assets”. The summary also mentions the doubts cast over the industry due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, saying: “The outcome of Brexit negotiations will likely affect the price of fine wine because currency volatility influences the levels of interest from non-Sterling buyers. However, this might be less of an issue for regions with high demand and relative scarcity such as Burgundy and Piedmont.”

Which trends will dominate the wine industry in 2019?

Wine may be considered a luxury for many people, but the way the wine industry reacts to challenges often shapes the way consumers make their choices.

There are lots of reasons why people buy wine. For example, it’s the most gifted product at Christmas. But according to a 2018 study on the habits of wine consumes, 79% of wine buyers just like the taste, indicating they are not swayed by origin or ingredients. The survey also showed that 80% of people say that the cost is the main factor to consider when choosing wine.

Wine industry reacting to consumer tastes

Getting value for money will remain top of the list for the average consumer in 2019. As many countries are going through a period of political and economic changes, this inevitably affects the way people choose to spend their money. Often, this means more people spending less.

In the US, the relative strength of the dollar means certain German wines are more affordable. German Rieslings are likely to be popular, as buying trends pick up after a slow few years. Other great value options for UK and US buyers include rosé from French regions outside of Provence. For example, rosé from Loire, the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux and Gascony will be popular next year.

Environmental impact on wine-making

This year has been phenomenal for UK wine makers, with the biggest and best grape harvests likely to lead to a bumper vintage. And while this is a positive side-effect of rising temperatures, it also shows how much the wine industry must adapt to the new normal. Weather patterns are far more unpredictable, and this will continue. Winemakers are taking note of the changes in climate and their effects on the industry all over the world.

In California, winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz says that increases in temperature and the corresponding stress on water supply are among the environmental concerns for 2019: “Cooler regions are not cooler regions anymore.” She suggests that the industry will adapt by planting in new regions and changing varieties of grapes to match the climate changes.

Owner of Garden Creek Ranch Vineyards & Winery in California, Karin Warnelius-Miller agrees. She says: “In California, we are now living in a different reality than years past. Fires, smoke taint and drought – these are our dominant concerns for 2019 and into the future.”

Health and well-being

As well as the effect on wine-making from climate change and a drive towards value by consumers, 2019 will likely see a continuation of people balancing alcohol intake. Wine is being enjoyed more as part of a meal than as a standalone drink, and there is a corresponding interest in lower alcohol options. Journalist and expert on trends in the wine industry, Deborah Parker Wong says: “The wine industry’s commitment to education is exemplary and the emphasis on consuming wine with food is ever present.”

These are just some of the industry and consumer trends that will affect how people choose their wine as we move into 2019.

Could Chardonnay be a good choice for a Christmas wine?

When it comes to shopping for Christmas wine, most people stick to the tried and tested favourites. For some, it’s all about the fizz, whether Champagne, Cava or Prosecco, for others it’s about a nice red to go with dinner.

If you’re looking to simplify the Christmas wine options, then you could look at resurrecting an old favourite with a nice Chardonnay. There are plenty of options for this wine, particularly when it comes to looking for something that will be a good all-rounder.

What is Chardonnay?

Having been very popular a couple of decades ago, Chardonnay somewhat went out of style over recent years. However, it’s long been due a comeback, so why not at Christmas time?

Chardonnay is a very neutral grape. It’s known as a ‘winemaker’s grape’ as it’s relatively easy to grow. It’s also very adaptable and can be made into different styles of wine, ranging from crisp and fresh to buttery oak. When fermented, Chardonnay grapes have notes of green apple, and sometimes tropical flavours such as pineapple.

If a second fermentation is processed, then the tart green apple notes transform to buttery oaky creaminess. Some winemakers alter the style even further by ageing it in oak barrels. This adds further flavours such as vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and toast.

Choosing a Chardonnay

For those who like their wine light, then a Chablis is a good choice. For a very fresh taste, choose a recent vintage. Both 2016 and 2017 were good years, according to experts. It goes with anything light and is perfect for the fish course.

For a creamier, fuller style of white, you could go for the pricier option of a Chassagne-montrachet. To keep the budget down, try Vire-Clesse or Macon-Vergisson from the Maconnais region in central France.

Elegant varieties of Chardonnay can also be found from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. Any are good with turkey, if you don’t want another red wine, and go spectacularly with the traditional leftovers.

If you’re not sure Chardonnay is for you – perhaps you find the deep, oaky flavour a bit much – then try one from the Jura, on the Swiss/French border. These have an almost savoury, nutty flavour that means they go well with cheese.