Almost 50 companies and institutions from all over the world have joined forces to form the new Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR). Together, the players who come from the most diverse areas of the wine industry, want to "promote appropriate measures in the face of ever-growing challenges in the field of sustainability", as it says in a press release. The SWR is conceived as a non-profit organisation. Behind it is the London-based company Sustainable Wine Ltd, also a non-profit operation, which wants to advance sustainability in the wine sector, according to the company's website.
In concrete terms, this means, first of all, that the initiative wants to develop worldwide standards for sustainable business in the wine industry. This should help producers to work more sustainably, while also helping traders who have had to differentiate between the numerous national and regional sustainability certificates.
In addition, the worldwide exchange within the industry is to be promoted and "public awareness" is to be raised, presumably through advertising or other forms of communication.
Richard Bampfield, MW, who advises companies such as Lidl and Albert Bichot, is the chair of the SWR. "There are many innovative programmes and projects to make vineyards and wineries more environmentally friendly and socially just. Our aim is to bring them together, generating the clarity, cohesion and collaboration necessary for the wine sector to establish itself as a leader on the world sustainability stage", he comments.
Among the founding members are producers like Concha y Toro, Dr. Loosen, Treasury Wine Estates or Famille Perrin, and trading companies like the Schenk Group, Lidl UK or Whole Foods Market, as well as research institutes and national wine organisations like Wines of South Africa. General membership is to be possible from 2022.
Certificates wherever the eye looks
The project seems ambitious, considering the multitude of different national solutions. Almost every wine country has at least one sustainability label, and the certification mechanisms differ enormously in some cases. While most countries rely on external private companies to monitor the member companies, South Africa, for example, expressly leaves this in the hands of the state because it expects more transparency.
Some countries only certify wineries, others also include grapegrowers, merchants and distributors of various sizes. Some focus on CO2 reduction, water use and waste disposal, while others are more interested in vineyard biodiversity, while elsewhere the focus is on fair treatment of employees.
It must also be considered that there are already supranational efforts, like those of the EU, that set binding standards for sustainable management. How such political guidelines can be harmonised with a global standard will certainly require intensive consideration and negotiation.
And last but not least, such a project must always face the question of credibility: Not a week goes by without a press release from a corporation referring to its latest commitment to saving the planet. In order to avoid accusations of greenwashing or green marketing, the new Sustainability Roundtable will have to work with maximum transparency and must not avoid strict requirements that may not be to the liking of every company.
This being said, every effort towards more sustainable management, not only in the wine sector - and also international exchange - is of course to be welcomed and, in the best case, a step in the right direction.