To the beverage professionals you teach or encounter, how important is sustainability certification?
It’s a little like professional education. I can claim I know a lot about wine, but if I’ve gotten these credentials it’s a validation. When wineries, or their representatives, tell me they follow certain practices rather than saying they’re certified, as an incredibly jaded wine buyer I’ve had to say, “Are you certified?” But in the end, certification matters less to me than that they’re doing something.
What do beverage professionals not understand about sustainable practices in winemaking and grape growing? Any pervasive myths?
They don’t realize that there are cases where using a low-toxicity chemical might be the better environmental choice than a natural product. For example, if you’re using Stylet-Oil as a fungicide on 10 acres, and you’re walking the vineyard and hand-spraying it, fantastic. But if you’ve got 500 acres, you’re going to have to use a tractor, which uses gasoline and compacts the soil. And you might have to go through the vineyard six times during the growing season instead of once or twice.
Any comments about sustainable packaging? Some wineries worry about consumer response if they move to a lighter-weight bottle or eliminate a tissue wrap. Are wineries right to be concerned?
It is time to take a risk, absolutely. I recently received a mid-priced wine in a standard cardboard case, and every bottle was in a plastic bag. I have to throw those bags out. I also recently got a case of wine that was like Russian nesting dolls: tissue-wrapped bottles inside bags, inside a crate, inside a cardboard box. It was insane. The days of “this bottle’s really heavy, the wine must be good” are over. Those 750-milliliter bottles that are 30 percent heavier than everyone else’s—those should be going away. I know collectors love wooden crates, but can we then skip the tissue? Wineries really need to be looking at ways to streamline packaging.
Copyright 2018 Wine Institute