Thursday, June 2, 2011

The greening of the wine business - good news or bad news?

It was bound to happen given the growing interest in natural wine but there’s been a lot of hype lately about wine companies going green. Often it’s pretty hard to see just what this amounts to.

The other day I tasted two wines under the ‘Nature du Luberon’ label (above) which comes with a leafy logo that suggests at least an organic wine. One admittedly is in conversion but the other just says “Nestled in the natural park of the Luberon the vineyards benefit from the surrounding ecosystems.” What on earth does that mean?

Asda was showing a wine called ‘Greener Planet’ at its tasting made with recyclable PET bottles that are supposed to cut the cost of transporting wine by 61%.

And Chile’s Vina Ventisquero recently took out full page advertisements for Yali, a wine brand ‘inspired by Chile’s Yali Wetlands 'which invites 'consumers to reaffirm their awareness of nature by showing a fundamental respect for the environment.'

Even Bordeaux first growths have to trumpet their ecological credentials these days.

And the hugely influential UC Davis has just opened a multi-million dollar green winery.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for conserving the environment and making better use of the earth’s scarce resources but I do wonder how deep this greening of the wine business goes. I may have missed it but none of the producers appears to minimise their use of chemicals in the vineyards or winemaking process.

Hopefully it will lead to more wines being made without chemical intervention at a more affordable price. But I do worry that customers may be given the impression these wines are more wholesome and, dare I say, natural than they are.

What do you think? Do you welcome this emphasis on sustainability or is it a marketing gimmick?


  1. Here in South Africa we have had a programme in place since 1998 to reduce pesticides, introduce natural predators, manage waste water etc. as well as consider the health and safety of our workers in the vineyard and cellars. These measures now include protection of biodiversity and are independently audited. Producers who score sufficiently well can carry the new Wine and Spirit board sustainability seal see There is far to much greenwashing going on in the wine business but we are really doing our best to protect our natural heritage

  2. I know South Africa has been one of the pioneers in this field, Sue - and of course of Fairtrade. The biodiversity message at least has a logic and authenticity to it which is more than you can say for a lot of the 'greenwashing' (good word!). I think more could be done though to improve the quality of South Africa's Fairtrade wines, many of which taste pretty confected. I may be wrong but I'd say it lags behind Chile and Argentina in this respect.

  3. As you say, 'it was bound to happen'. It's evidence that the natural/organic/sustainable thing really has reached a critical mass and has become significant both for consumers and for large industrial 'big player' wineries. I think there will be all shades of grey there as far as the wineries are concerned: some will just greenwash themselves, ie change their labels by adding pretty pictures and wishy-washy eco-friendly words while some will actually take real steps to reduce their use of chemicals. But how to know which are which?

    In general, I think the emphasis on sustainability is a good thing, but we have to watch out for the greenwashing bandwaggon-jumpers.

  4. You make an essential point, Fiona : « wines being made without chemical intervention at a more affordable price ...”. Unfortunately, by and large, chemicals allow lower cost in grape-growing and wine-making. This is the major problem we have to tackle.
    Thierry Allemand – clearly an example to follow if you ask me – with just over 7 ha in the Cornas appellation told me he usually has 27 people out there in the vineyard (including himself) in the month of July !

  5. Good points, Fabio and Luc. I've just spotted that the Greener Planet wines, currently on sale in Asda at £8.97 are going to be on promotion later this summer at £5.50 a bottle. You certainly can't do that with 27 people in the vineyard . . .