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Wine sector shown as a pace-setter for climate mitigation at Porto Conference

RD&E News | June 2019
Photo: Adobe Stock
07 Jun 2019
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Earlier this year, hundreds of wine sector representatives from around the globe gathered to discuss how to tackle the immediate impact of climate change and how to plan for the future at the second Climate Change Leadership conference in Porto, Portugal.

The meeting consisted of one-and-a-half days of wine sector discussion, followed by a half-day Climate Change Leadership Summit. The wine sector was selected as the focus because:

  • the Mediterranean climate, in which winegrapes are grown worldwide, is noticeably affected by climate change
  • winegrapes, likened to the ‘canary in the coalmine of climate change’ are particularly sensitive to variation in climate, and
  • the global sector is seen as a leader in the adaptation of agriculture, and businesses in general, to climate change.

Wine Australia’s R&D Program Manager Dr Sharon Harvey attended the conference and said the wine sector’s whole production chain was represented, with speakers including wine producers, viticulturists, scientists, R&D managers, communicators, wine climatologists, economists and government.

‘These speakers covered a variety of topics including winery and vineyard responses, consumer expectations, wineries of the future, water management, energy, packaging and transportation, and efficiency and economics’, Dr Harvey said.

Image: Andre Castelluci / Wine Australia

Dr Harvey’s top ‘take-home’ messages for Australia’s wine sector are below.

Climate change is happening. We caused it. We can fix it.

There was a lot of compelling evidence presented for climate change and the link to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

‘We can take that as a given. The point is that we can do something about it if we change the way we do things. It’s that simple’, she said.

Sharing is vital

A number of speakers referred to the importance of sharing research outcomes, whether from privately or publicly-funded research. For example, Cristina Mariana-May (Castello Banfi, Italy) described research undertaken on 2830-hectares in Tuscany, where 850-hectares are planted to vines and the rest is native forest.

‘In collaboration with local universities, they researched 650 clones of Sangiovese to choose 3, which are now planted across the estate in 29 types of soil and many different microclimates. All information about the clones’ performance is shared with other growers in the region’, Dr Harvey said.

The grapevine is our best ally

A number of presenters, including Francisco Lopez (Uvadoce, Spain), Alejandro Fuentes (OIV) and Gerard Casaubon (Conch y Toro, Chile), discussed the importance of research and innovation in variety selection.

‘Grapevines have been around for 50 million years, but globally more than 80 per cent of vineyard plantings use less than 1 per cent of the available diversity. There is a lot of untapped potential.’  

Sustainability should be part of the business plan

There were many examples of sustainability programs being led from the top. Miguel Torres (Familia Torres, Chile) has invested 10 per cent of his company’s profits in sustainability since 2007. He described measures such as storing rainwater, restoring native areas, vineyard adaptations to delay ripening, recovering ancestral varieties, looking for new scenarios (higher altitude), reducing electricity consumption, minimising management emissions, minimising pesticide application, assessing their CO2 footprint and collaborating with their growers, other wineries and packaging suppliers. They’ve also recently formed a group ‘International Wineries for Climate Action’ with Jackson Family Wines in the United States of America (USA).

Image: Wine Australia

Katie Jackson (Jackson Family Wines, USA) described her company’s progress towards a set of formal sustainability goals that they set in 2008 around greenhouse gas emissions, water use, electricity offset, sustainable growing and zero waste wineries.

Further sustainability measures were described by conference organiser Adrian Bridge (Taylor’s Port), Gilles Descotes (Bollinger), Margareth Henriquez (Krug), Jaume Gramona (Gramona) and, in other areas of the production chain, by Paul Willgoss (Marks and Spencer: retail) and Antonio Amorim (Corticeira Amorim: corks).

Soil is not boring

Excellent presentations were delivered by Heinrich Schloss (VinPro) and Andre Roux, both from South Africa, which is experiencing a three-year drought.

‘They spoke about how to maximise root development before, during and after planting. Simple but effective measures which could make all the difference in a drier climate’, she said.

Image: Ewen Bell / Wine Australia

The second day was the Climate Change Leadership Summit, which provided a more global perspective. with presentations from individuals and companies making a difference, including  former Vice President of the United States of America and thought leader Al Gore.

‘The take-home for me from the afternoon is that it’s not all gloomy’, said Dr Harvey.

The key points included:

  • globally, we’re ahead of our goals for wind-and solar-generated power
  • global investment in renewables is exceeding investment in fossil fuels
  • electric cars and buses are increasing
  • commitments like the Porto Protocol are galvanising action
  • companies are committing to 100 per cent renewable energy, and
  • countries are committing to 100 per cent renewable energy.

‘Portugal is a leader amongst countries committing to renewable energy; it is aiming for a circular economy where it maximises the use and reuse of resources by 2050. For the whole of March last year, the country ran entirely on electricity from renewable resources including hydro, wind and solar’, said Dr Harvey. 

Notably, on the second day Australia was mentioned for the lithium battery farm in South Australia and for the installation of solar panels by our wineries, which is occurring at twice the rate of other industries.

‘The wine sector was held up as a pace-setter for climate mitigation, being viewed as both a pioneer and as resilient’, said Dr Harvey.

General information and all presentations from the conference can be found at climatechange-porto.com.

Image: Wine Australia
Dr Sharon Harvey at the Climate Change Leadership conference in Porto


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