Now there is a grey topic if ever there was one. It has been prompted by the very lively debate created around our supply chain roundtable recently.
Cyrus Todiwala led the discussion with the inspiring story of his young existence. Water was so scarce that he learnt to hang onto the water-bowser, so that as it went up a hill or tilted, he angled underneath the exit pipe to catch a little water. When one bucket of water has to last 3 days, then you realise what value on a few drips really has.
Cyrus’ point was that waste is part of western society. It seems that we accept it as part of consumerism. Whereas basic economics says that resources are always finite and we should therefore treat them all with respect restricting our useage to as close as possible exactly what we need.
Our survey results released at the roundtable highlighted the importance of sustainability to the respondents. This leads us straight to the question what is sustainability? In Cyrus’ recounting of his story, it simply means ‘a better world’ which can be enjoyed for generations’. However this is a possibly too loose a definition because there are many pliable judgements within.
According to the 1987 UN World Commission sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
The CBI Market Intelligence (a Dutch body that promotes Imports to EU from developing countries) takes about Wine sustainability as primarily about Organic Wine, which is a statement of current fact. However it does point out that a wider view of sustainability may refer to many aspects of the supply chain – the container that it is served in, how it is transported there, reduced energy and water use in its production.
Wine in UK hospitality businesses often is relegated to either the unimportant or elevated to the fiefdom of the elite. In the former case it not a significant enough part of our business to take notice of or in the latter a cover up for the decision makers in an organisation to take control of an area they regard as their personal right to make judgement on.
Wine is just as important a part of our industry if not more important than many others.
According to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) it is worth £10.9bn in UK sales of which £4.2bn to the Hospitality trade.
It employs 170,000 people, 100,000 in supply chain. In some quality restaurants wine can make up to 20% of the takings. Wine has been produced for around 8,000 years and is a part of our diet at least in Europe and increasingly so in other parts of the world. Further recent studies show that a small amount of wine per day reduces dementia and that wine stimulates the brain more than maths!
And just so as we are clear – wine belongs to the majority not the minority. The WSTA report that 71% of consumers enjoy wine. So let’s acknowledge immediately that wine is important from the sustainability of life and its enjoyment standpoints, if not longer-term health.
As to the sustainability, it is a complex subject. Whereas the above reporting body focuses on Organic as the sustainable practice, there are wineries across the worlds that have sustainable water practices. Wineries use a lot of water, often in climates that are often water poor, so ensuring that water is used sparingly is important. There are wineries in Australia, which have over 10 years of sustainable water practice.
An organic, biodynamic, natural or Fairtrade wine does not necessarily mean a sustainable wine. Reducing the environmental impact of the whole supply chain and improving working conditions is the aim. So that includes, but is not limited to, packaging, distance to market, chemicals used in production, energy use, water use, recycling amongst others.
The different terminology and many symbols don’t help clarify matters for consumers. Organic Wine is legally defined as wines produced from Organically Grown Grapes and is produced with limited amounts of sulphur additions. Most consumers and even some trade don’t understand that Sulphur is not counted as a ‘chemical’ per se. As Sulphur is naturally occurring then it becomes allowable as a natural preservative in winemaking. It has been used since Roman times as such. Organic wine sells around 360M bottles in Europe and the UK is one of the bigger markets. Planted vineyard area is also increasing significantly in the EU since 2010.
Biodynamic wine is aligned to Organic Wine but sees itself as part of the Earth system using Lunar and spiritual guidance. There are 150-200 registered Biodynamic producers in Europe, so it is not big.
Natural wine has no legal definition but is widely used as a term. It generally means that the producer seeks to use minimal chemical and technological intervention in vineyard and wine development.
Fairtrade wine, which has been widely used in South Africa to demarcate itself from the previous Apartheid regime, delivers less than 10% of the Organic wine market.
However therein lies a problem – four terms, four different meanings, added to which sustainability has no fully agreed understanding. Wine is just one part of life and being able to engage consumers across all of these is a tough if not impossible challenge.
Furthermore the technology exists to deliver wine in much more satisfactory containers. The problem is we just don’t like them as much as the familiar glass bottle. Bag-in-Box 2 & 3 litre, Tetra Pak, Pouches, cans are all very acceptable and more sustainable for wine packaging, but somehow just don’t cut it in quality recognition or size and opportunity occasion.
There are one or two awards for Sustainability, which exist, but many are sponsored and have a distinct bias.
In the new business world two things stick out. One is that wine is as much a part of business and the world as any other hedonistic product – beer, spirits, coffee, tea, show business, restaurant food. The industry needs to contribute on that level.
Secondly that Business today is not just about shareholders and profit. It is about the wider context and the wider world. Corporate Social Responsibility is for all businesses, not just big ones to create and ignore nor small ones to avoid on the basis that they are too small and all people who take part.
Sustainability has to take its place led by industry and government to make a difference. Sustainability has to be measured and create ‘a better world’ and keep providing Cyrus’ and our next generations with reasonable measures of wine.
Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor