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Friday read: Pancho Campo on the wine world and climate change

Published:  06 May, 2022

Ahead of the virtual Green Wine Future 2022 conference this May, Andrew Catchpole invited organiser Pancho Campo to explain how he became a driving force for climate action and why the globe’s environmental problems are also very much those of the wine trade.

Tell us a little more about your Foundation?

My family has created a foundation called Planet Future Foundation with two goals. Number one is to show the rest of the world how important it is to protect the most sensitive parts of the planet, even if they have nothing to do with your own business. We have divided this into four categories: the Arctic glaciers and Greenland; the marine environment and coral reefs; the Amazons and other great forests and jungles; and places in danger of flooding or extreme drought.

I go to these places to record 45-minute documentaries about the impacts that the climate crisis is having in those areas, the solutions that are being implemented, strategies that can be adopted by institutions, organisations, corporations, to adapt and mitigate the climate crisis.

The second goal [is] we're going to bring all the educational programmes under the umbrella of the foundation.

When did you decide to make a change?

It goes back to when I was a kid because when I was really young, eight years old, I used to tell my father the most powerful superhero in the world would be the one that controls the weather and the climate. And he used to laugh, but I always had an interest in the climate because it's something that's so difficult to control. But it was between the years 2002 and 2003. I'm a very keen skier, so we used to go skiing in Spain, and we would see that the season was changing - sometimes lots of snow, but lots of episodes of very drastic changes in the climate, then a very short skiing season.

At the same time, I was getting into the world of wine, studying to become a Master of Wine. So one day, I put two and two together and said, ‘hold on, you know, if we need quality grapes to produce quality wine and grapes are under the influence of sunlight, ultraviolet radiation, rainfall, humidity – those are the parameters that the climate crisis is changing – there must be a direct relationship between the wine industry and the climate crisis. And that's when I decided to organise the first World Conference on Climate Change and Wine in 2006.

How receptive has the wine industry been?

I think the wine industry showed tremendous leadership in the early days. Because in 2006, although it was a very small event, it attracted the attention of the mainstream media (apart from the wine media), such BBC 4, Discovery Channel, National Geographic – they all went to Barcelona for an event that was actually a failure because we had 200 seats and we only managed to fill 80. But it got attention and made an impact.

Apparently, we were the first industry to acknowledge climate change in a scientific manner. It also attracted the attention of Vice President Al Gore and his group, the Climate Reality Project. So his office, about two weeks after the event, they reached out to me to say, ‘you know, the Vice President has shown a lot of interest in your conference; you are the first industry that is tackling climate change in an event of this category’.

I convinced him to participate as my keynote speaker in the second edition. Now, I was very lucky because the second edition was 18 months down the road. And during those 18 months, he released the movie [An Inconvenient Truth], he won the Oscar, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. So when he went to Barcelona, he was probably the most famous human being on Earth, and I'm sure that that turned our conference into a massive event. We went from 80 participants in the first edition in 2006 to more than 600 from 70 different nationalities, so that kept growing, and then we did the events with Kofi Anan and with Barack Obama.

What are the biggest challenges?

I think there's a lot of greenwashing in the wine industry; there are a lot of companies that claim they're sustainable and that they're doing everything to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis. But if you scratch the surface, there's not much below it. That's number one.

Number two is a big fragmentation around the [wine] world, instead of a unified group of people or strategy. You've got the guys from International Wineries for Climate Action; you have the Porto Protocol, you have guys in California… I think the industry needs to get together, and that was the first goal of Green Wine Future, to try to unify the wine industry around the most pressing issue that we have, not only as a wine industry but also as a society or as human beings. That mission has now been around 80% accomplished.

Is the wine world going to get there in time to meet necessary global targets on climate change?

I think it’s not only the wine industry; all of us are already very late. The more I travel, the more I realise that those glaciers that have melted in Iceland or Greenland, we will not be able to get them back. The species that have disappeared, there’s no way back, the amount of coral reefs that are dying because of an increase in temperature and change in [ocean] pH, it's going to be very difficult to almost impossible to recuperate.

In the wine industry, many initiatives are being implemented when it comes to adaptation, but not much is being done in the mitigation field. People must understand that adaptation will solve your problem at the vineyard or winery, but it will not stop the climate crisis. So if you practice different canopy management or biodynamic viticulture, or regenerative viticulture, that will help you and the industry, but it's not going to help the climate crisis.

At the same time that adaptation is put in place, you’ve got to work on things like reducing your carbon footprint, making better use of your water resources, investing in renewable energy at the vineyard level and the winery level – that is what is going to affect the climate crisis. Unfortunately, the wine industry has been very short-sighted when it comes to ‘adaptation, adaptation, adaptation’ – what can I do to preserve my vineyard, and what kind of management can I use to protect it from the sun? What measures can I use in the winery to reduce the level of alcohol and prevent the drop in the acidity? That's fine for wine, but it's not fine for the planet.

What of the issues around glass and shipping to far-flung markets?

It is extremely difficult. The largest producers in [terms of] numbers of bottles are bubbly producers. I’ve mentioned this to Cava producers, to people in Champagne, and they say ‘if we use thinner bottles, they will explode’. My answer is, ‘are you going to tell me that in the 21st century, you cannot develop a technology to make those bottles lighter or to have some kind of stronger glass without increasing the weight?’.

And the other thing is, the wine industry relies on a lot of travelling, plus wine critics travel every year to visit the same wineries, and I think that's nonsense. We have to accept that sacrifices have to be made, less travelling around the world, less attending in-person events. The beauty of the pandemic is that it has made us all so savvy in the use of Zoom and Hopin and all these technologies. We should take advantage of that. That's one of the reasons why we insisted on maintaining Green Wine Future as a 100% virtual event, not because of the pandemic, which is almost gone in Spain.

The problem is, how can I talk about sustainability and bring Barack Obama in his private jet from Washington DC to [or event in] Oporto, plus another 60 speakers coming from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, from California. Our carbon footprint for the Climate Change Leadership in Porto was obscene.

Why is there an equal focus on speakers outside the wine world at Green Wine Futures 2022?

We have some of the most influential names of the wine industry in the environment, such as Miguel Torres, Katie Jackson, Gerard Bertrand, and you should have that upfront. But we also have the minister of agriculture from New Zealand, the minister of tourism from Panama talking about the importance of sustainable tourism; Trudie Styler, the CEO of Patagonia, the clothing company, and the oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the female version of Jacque Cousteau.

You don't have to be narrow-minded. Let's learn from what [others are] doing, apply it to wine and wine tourism, and explain why it's so important to protect the oceans, coral reefs, and forests. And maybe we can extrapolate lessons that other industries are implementing – we can say, ‘maybe with a little tweak here and there, we can apply it in our vineyards’.

Green Wine Future 2022 will take place from 23-26 May, featuring over 150 speakers, including wine professionals, scientists, journalists and world leaders. 

Harpers readers can use the following discount code to purchase tickets with a 55% discount: MPARTNER55

For more information and to register, click here.