Bringing together like-minded stakeholders for its second global conference addressing sustainability, Sustainable Wine UK will host the Future of Wine Americas Conference, 1 – 3 June. This no-cost, online conference will connect peers for information sharing, debate and best practices aimed at tackling pressing topics such as water conservation, the benefits of organic versus low-intervention wine, sustainable management of pest and disease outbreaks, and the role of social fairness in the green movement.
Sustainability is a vast and complex topic that many winegrowers and winemakers need help navigating. “That cannot be done in isolation, as we must confront myriad issues to reach sustainability objectives,” said Toby Webb, co-founder of Sustainable Wine. “With the COP26 negotiations coming up in November and the USA coming back in to the Paris Agreement, it’s clear policymakers, consumers and the wine industry itself want to tackle climate change,” he noted.
With its comprehensive approach to the three components of sustainability (people, planet, profit) and insightful looks at real issues affecting the wine industry, the Future of Wine Americas Conference mirrors the priorities of the growing Slow Wine USA movement. And indeed, a significant contingent of Slow Wine guide participating wineries are among the 60 speakers Webb has brought together for the one-day workshop and two-day conference.
Matthiasson Wines plans to have two staff speak at the virtual conference. “Our winery was founded on the same principles as Slow Food and Slow Wine, including getting back to the basics of growing great food sustainably,” said Owner and Winemaker Steve Matthiasson. The vineyard is certified organic and uses regenerative practices, including no-till agriculture, cover crops and compost to build soil health, and raising several crops to increase biodiversity.
In a session on polyculture, Vineyard Manager Caleb Mosley plans to discuss how the vineyard’s fruit trees attract beneficial animals and insects and supply the raw material for jams that are made available to wine club members, farmers market shoppers and local restaurants.
Matthiasson will touch on the hot topic of labor and how the company is able to keep its 15 employees year-round. He sees such tremendous benefit from this that he can’t imagine running his business any other way. “We have a reciprocal relationship—we take good care of them and they take good care of the vines,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes our work really fun, is that we’re finding that we can take good care of our people and take care of the land and make really good wine.”
Sustainability is a complex topic, and there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. At the Future of Wine Americas Conference, Laura Diaz Munoz with Ehlers Estate will participate on a panel to discuss where organic practices are the most impactful: in the vineyard or in the cellar. “It depends on the size of the winery and how impactful the winemaking practices in the cellar are,” she emphasized. Her winery is relatively small, and she’s found that her biggest impact comes from activities such as minimizing water usage in the cellar and making packaging more lightweight so that shippers don’t need to use as much fuel to deliver it.
Some of this is also place-based; since she lives in drought-stricken California, limiting water use is essential, both from an ecological and cost perspective. And that other aspect of sustainability—the need for economic sustainability—isn’t lost on her. “At the end of the day, our business needs to be sustainable in that regard,” she said. The greenest business can’t have any impact on the planet if it ceases to exist.
Peter Work with Ampelos Cellars will speak on the leadership panel and share his many years of experience with sustainable farming practices. He has worked to develop a comprehensive set of best practices that looks at all aspects of farming. “It’s not just soil and plant focused, but it also including other key areas like energy, employees, water, social equity and financial sustainability,” he said. “It is an all-encompassing way to approach farming where the grape grower can use these best-practices in an ongoing way to improve the operation.”
Work will emphasize that while winegrowers need to implement and improve their own sustainable practices, they also have an important role in educating everyone in the supply chain about the importance of sustainable farming. “We need to make sure that this is understood by the winemakers, distributers, sommeliers and wine buyers, media and especially the end consumers,” he said. “We need to not just create awareness around our practices but to create a demand from the consumer and trade side.”
Beth Novak Milliken, president and CEO of Spottswoode Vineyard and a long-time leader in the sustainability movement, will also speak during the leadership panel. She hopes the winery’s many sustainable practices will serve as an inspiration for others. In addition to being certified organic and biodynamic, the brand is pursing zero waste certification. It is powered by solar energy and contributes generously to nonprofits such as 1% for the Planet, the CarbonFree Fund and the Lane Trust of Napa County.
“Not only are we deep environmentalists, but the reality is that our ability to continue to grow grapes of the very highest quality (and) produce exceptional wines relies upon a relatively stable climate—which we do not now have,” she said. “And so we must act now. We must all care and work collectively as people, as a nation and as a global community.”
Slow Wine USA’s Senior Editor Pamela Strayer will lend her expertise to a panel titled “How can retailers turn sustainability into an opportunity for the wine industry in the Americas?” while National Editor Deborah Parker Wong will moderate panels addressing social fairness and migrant labor issues. Also participating are Diana Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Snowden Vineyards, David Gates of Ridge Vineyards, Neil Collins from Tablas Creek and John Williams from Frog’s Leap Winery all of which are listed in the 2021 Slow Wine Guide USA.
Registration for the Future of Wine Americas Conference is free and open to all at https://sustainablewine.co.uk/sw-events/the-future-of-wine-americas/.