What does it exactly mean to say a wine is ‘sustainable’? Is it about what happens at the vineyard and the winery? Is it more than that? Sustainable is a word that is used a lot. Companies use it (both big and small), politicians, individuals and of course the media. It’s a word that sometimes feels like it has been exploited, or diluted, for financial gain.
Given the many variations on the term sustainable, maybe it would be more helpful to describe how we at Wine Fiend define the word, and what it means to our little independent wine merchant. When we started the business, it was always a word that we wanted to put at the heart of what we do, not just in terms of the wine we sell, but how we act within our community and to anyone that we may employ. We want to add to our local community and help sustain the strong independent culture that has taken hold in Cardiff.
In the context of wine, it means we look for wines that are produced in the most sustainable ways. Organic, biodynamic, natural of course, but it’s looking at each winery with more than just a tick list of certifications. Some winemakers chose not to become certified but still practice organic or biodynamic farming techniques so it’s too simplistic to look at a winery and dismiss them for not having a particular certificate. How big is the winery?, how do they support their local community?, are they striving to keep native grape varieties alive? These are all valid questions and each answer will give you a sense of what that winery is trying to accomplish and if you can deem it ‘sustainable’.
A key factor in this quest to source and sell sustainable wines is the distance it has travelled. What is the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine? This may be one of the most important questions that needs to be asked. For instance, Wine Fiend will be stocking some Welsh and English wines shortly. Some of those wines are not certified organic or biodynamic and they do not practice low intervention winery practices…but they are small wineries who are invested in their land and understand that soil health etc is pivotal to the quality of their wine. They minimise chemical use wherever possible and strive to keep the vineyards healthy. To us that means a great deal. They are open about their practices and welcome questions about how they manage the land. The biggest plus point for us, however, is that these wines haven’t travelled over an ocean, they have travelled from up the road. The carbon footprint of that bottle compared to a wine from say Chile is tiny. The Chilean wine may be certified organic, biodynamic and practice low intervention wine making, and it may power the winery with solar or wind and ensure that the glass used is lightweight and recycled…but it still must get to us somehow and that impact is significant. This doesn’t mean we won’t stock new world wines (we already sell a couple of NZ and SA wines as well as a Riesling from Oregon). It just means we need to be careful as a business to pick wineries from faraway places that are at the top of their sustainable game and that can in some way balance out the environmental cost of getting those wines to the UK. The last thing we should be doing is discouraging good wineries from going down the sustainable root by refusing to sell their products because of their geographical location. On the contrary, these wineries need to be praised and supported.
Many of our wines are shipped conventionally and this is something that we will look at as we grow. There are ways to offset the impact of shipping to some degree, and as our little company grows, we’ll be looking to work towards carbon neutrality ourselves. We do stock a number of wines from Portugal that are sailed from Porto to the UK in the hold of a 100+ year old Sailing clipper. These wines are as close to fossil fuel free transport as you will ever get and we are proud to have these in our store.
So, in conclusion, what does sustainability mean to Wine Fiend? To be honest, we are still learning what it means. What we do know, however, is that there are so many ways sustainability can be a part of a business on a local and global level and that learning how to implement it will be a continuous and fascinating journey.