Beyond the Bottle

Berry Bros. & Rudd, Partner of Creating the Future 2019




This week we are featuring an article contributed by Berry Bros. & Rudd, a valued partner supporting our Creating the Future Conference

BEYOND THE BOTTLE: SUSTAINABILITY IN WINE

Berry Bros. & Rudd

Sustainability is the topic of the moment. As climate change becomes an ever more significant threat, we are changing the way we behave – from driving electric cars to avoiding single-use plastic. But what can we do when it comes to what we drink? Berry Bros. & Rudd – Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant – explains how the wine industry is taking on the challenge.

"We don't need to sacrifice quality in the name of being environmentally responsible"

Natural, organic, biodynamic: until relatively recently, these would not be terms you’d find littering our tasting notes. But the way we talk about wine – and indeed food – has changed, transformed by the larger issues facing our world.

It’s no surprise that wine producers are examining the way they work. From drought to wildfires and dramatic hailstorms, climate change is forcing farmers of every crop to reconsider their relationship to the land. Organics and biodynamics (where farming is done according to the lunar cycle) are the mainstays of the sustainable movement, with several different bodies offering certification for producers.

The good news for wine-lovers is that we don’t need to sacrifice quality in the name of being environmentally responsible. Spending the time – and money – involved in following either of these philosophies, or any low-intervention approach, is almost always tied with a focus on quality. It’s no surprise therefore that quality has been as much of a driver as the environment when it comes to sustainable winemaking. Inadvertently, therefore, our range has long been full of environmentally aware producers, as we seek out the best wines from all over the world.

But it’s all too easy to focus just on farming; true sustainability stretches far beyond the vineyard. It includes how you work in the winery, how you bottle, store and ship your wine. It includes your power and water sources. It includes your workforce. And it’s an ongoing battle – achieving certification according to one official body is not the end of the matter, as producers strive to work in rhythm with nature.

At Berry Bros. & Rudd, we do not believe that only “organic” or “biodynamic” is the true path to sustainability. In fact, we work with many producers who do not work by either of these philosophies, but by their own unique approach. What they all have in common, however, is that they make excellent wine.

The Language of Sustainability: the Five Terms You Need to Know

Organic: the focus here is mainly in the vineyard, improving soil health and avoiding man-made/industrial elements – using compost rather than fertilizer, and not spraying vines with fungicides or herbicides. Producers can use sulphur and copper – as these are naturally occurring elements – to protect vines from disease. Various bodies offer certification.

Biodynamic: this is the school of Rudolf Steiner (who also is behind the eponymous education system). The key principal is that a vineyard should be its own self-regulating ecosystem. Producers have to treat vineyards with biodynamic “preparations” at certain points in the year, and farming is done in accordance with the biodynamic calendar, which reflects the lunar cycle. Various bodies offer certification.

Sustainable: not strictly regulated, sustainable practices look beyond the winery and vineyard, aiming to reduce the impact of today’s actions on the farmers of tomorrow – by, for example, having a responsible approach to water and electricity usage, protecting biodiversity, as well as having a long-term view when it comes to vineyard and soil health.

Natural: very fashionable, “natural” is a diaphanous term that isn’t legally defined, and can be bandied around at will. Those using the term are often – but not always – producers operating on the fringe of what’s possible, making wine with minimal intervention – think minimal technology in the vineyard and winery, native yeasts for ferments, neutral oak and little-to-no added sulphur.

Low intervention: this is not dissimilar to “natural”, in that it is not legally defined, however many producers favour “low” or “minimal intervention” over “natural” feeling that it is a more accurate reflection of how they work – reducing the influence of man in the winemaking process, but not removing it entirely.

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