Family wineries and the issue of Climate Change

Last week I was invited to a friendly, relaxed lunch in Barcelona, albeit one that was focused on the serious topic of Climate Change and how it relates to winemaking. The unfortunate joke behind the “Save Water, Drink Wine” t-shirts is that wine is actually quite resource intensive to make and is, let’s be honest, completely unnecessary to the survival of the human race.

The Torres and Jackson families aren’t numb to this fact and that’s why, for the past 10+ years, their respective companies, Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines have taken a great many steps to reduce their overall carbon footprint. They had until now been doing it independently until meeting one another and realizing they’d be much better off doing it jointly, learning from each other in the process, and moving forward together and stronger.

At the start of this lunch in Torres’s “Vinoteca” they announced the formation of “International Wineries for Climate Action”. This forms an expansion of the “Wineries for Climate Protection” that Miguel Torres Sr. started just for Spain a few years back. Currently having only about 19 of the hundreds of wineries that exist in Spain, he wanted to make it broader and create international standards by which a winery could work to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2045.

The discussions had during this Q&A working lunch were quite interesting overall. I raised the topic of bottle weight reduction which both admitted needed more work as it seems people are fixated on the concept of “big bottle, great wine”, “light or no bottle, hobo wine”. Katie Jackson said her family winery had made some progress and been able to shave 23g off each bottle in their Kendall Jackson and La Crema lines with no negligible impact in consumer perception. Admittedly, this is one front that will be ongoing as there seems to be little solution to it outside of ditching the bottle altogether and drinking wine from cans.

I was surprised to find out that both wineries regard oak barrels as the least of their problems. Admittedly Torres have a number of wines (such as Sangre de Toro) that see no oak and are less of a problem. But I’d always found barrels to be something horribly wasteful given that they’re shipped around the world and tossed after short use with no real chance for recycling. Julien Gervreau, Jackson’s VP of Sustainability (imagine that title existing 20 years ago!) said that they actually import their oak staves from French flat and then assemble the barrels in the US taking an Ikea approach which has reduced both costs for them as well as shipping container space. Overall, everyone said that barrels were a small part to the overall size of their carbons footprints, especially as the French exercise a strict replanting policy on the oaks.

It was Torres Sr. statement, “family wineries take Climate Change the most seriously” that stuck with me as the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it’s true. If for no other reason it’s a purely selfish one in that they want their wineries to continue and they’re seeing that the state of wines business to date can’t continue in its current fashion. There’s also the monetary question as well.

I don’t know about Torres (who had to fight the Spanish government for years to use new solar panels due to a de facto ban by the corrupt Partido Popular) in terms of how their efforts to “decarbonize” work in terms of bottom line. But, Gervreau of Jackson told me that changing practices has saved them a great deal of money in addition to being better for the planet. So beyond planet and beyond family, there’s simply the issue of well, money.

I certainly won’t make out Familia Torres and Jackson Family to be saints as they’re very large, multi-national organizations who make and ship wines everywhere in the world. In a follow-up, they clarified that their efforts with this initiative will be focused only on the Catalan and Californian wineries to start. But the fact that they seem willing to set a baseline and path when few else have shows there’s a most basic, yet most pressing intent to be better.