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Lack of global sustainability standard impeding consumer buy-in

Published:  18 May, 2020

The absence of a coherent, joined-up global standard to measure producers’ progress on sustainability risks undermining communication on the good progress being made by the wine industry.

This was a challenge posed to a panel by its host, Fladgate Partnership’s group winemaker David Guimaraens, at the latest Porto Protocol webinar, on Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Viticulture A Carbon Footprint Approach.

“I think if you're going to use the word ‘sustainable’ then marketing and sales and promoting digital should be a standard international standard,” said Guimaraens, adding that unlike organic or even biodynamic, which have much more clear and consumer-friendly parameters, “there aren’t rules that guide people in every country”.

This, in turn, is not only “frustrating”, but makes it “hard to explain to the consumer” how to spend when they are seeking to make sustainable purchasing choices.

Guimaraens threw a further word of caution in, questioning whether some certification was “not all that rigourous”, adding a further frustrating hurdle for consumers looking to do the right thing.

The problem, then explored by the panel, is that there are many parallel and often competing local and regional certifications and schemes, with many setting targets and goals, then allowing wine businesses to advance along various sustainable pathways, improving what they can as they develop their sustainable approach.

Stan Zervas of Silverado Farming Company in California said that there is still a “certain amount of creative spirit”, with people making choices that work for them, suggesting that this allows for a freedom that encourages more to advance sustainability according to their own abilities and capabilities at this time.

However, with some choosing not to be certified, for advancing sustainable practices and also for organic and biodynamic advances, others argued that this means the consumer “doesn’t really know what is in the bottle”, so the whole concept of sustainably produced wine would be undermined

Fred Loimer, of Loimer estate in the Kamptal and founding member of Austrian biodynamic certification body Respekt, expressed concern over those that are lackadaisical over or unwilling to spend on the paperwork required to become certified, suggesting this undermined the wider movement to a greener and more ethical industry.

“Yes, you need certification,” he said, “especially because you need fair conditions on the market”.

“Too many people are saying, ‘I am almost organic or I'm very much in biodynamic but I'm not interested in certification that because that's too much paper work’. Of course it is, but we need guidelines, not for the work, but as a consumers’ right, that when a consumer buys something he gets something, [it] should be safe, that that's really in the bottle.”

This transparency and reassurance, in turn, would help consumers as they increasingly seek out more sustainably produced products, including wine, with the possibility of charging a necessary premium to cover additional producer investments only realistic if the environmental and ethical status of the viticultural and production practices are clear.

Enologist Diana Snowden Seysses, who splits her time between Domaine Dujac in Burgundy and Snowden Vineyards and Ashes & Diamonds in California, was clear on this subject.

“Frequently all choices ecological come down to financial choices,” she said, adding: “You know you can't be perfect everywhere and you have to start picking and choosing… you certainly learn a lot from what each big part of the world is doing.”

Further Porto Protocol-backed Digital Conversations Climate Talks are due to take place on 21 and 28 May, with more planned. For more information click here.