Elin McCoy

‘If we want wine to sur­vive, we need to put our money where our val­ues lie’

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Elin McCoy is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and au­thor who writes for Bloomberg News

My favourite bev­er­age is, I think, an im­por­tant part of con­tem­po­rary cul­ture, but what does that mean? As the third decade of the 21st cen­tury be­gins, I find my­self re­flect­ing upon the cul­tural val­ues that lurk be­hind the la­bel, not just the qual­ity of the liq­uid in my glass.

No wine ex­ists in a vac­uum. Each one is a mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety: peo­ple, com­mu­ni­ties, agri­cul­ture, ideas, pol­i­tics. Things we take for granted – wine’s fu­ture, its con­nec­tion to a par­tic­u­lar place, its di­ver­sity, avail­abil­ity and more – seem to be un­der threat in 2020. If we want wine to sur­vive and make the world a bet­ter place, we need to ask hard ques­tions and put our money where our val­ues lie.

That con­cept is cen­tral to the re­cent rise of eth­i­cal con­sumerism. A 2019 Ac­cen­ture poll of 6,000 con­sumers in 11 coun­tries, for ex­am­ple, re­ported that half of re­spon­dents were will­ing to pay more for prod­ucts able to be reused or re­cy­cled. Just think how many peo­ple now carry re­fill­able wa­ter bot­tles.

Con­sider what fol­lows as my man­i­festo of wine val­ues for the 21st cen­tury.

Let’s start with a con­cern that touches us all: cli­mate change. Shouldn’t we be ask­ing our favourite fine wine pro­duc­ers what eco-friendly steps they’re tak­ing to re­duce car­bon emis­sions? And en­cour­ag­ing them to be more trans­par­ent about what they’re do­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment – or not do­ing?

Be­fore most gov­ern­ments were ac­knowl­edg­ing the hu­man causes of cli­mate change (some still don’t, sadly), a hand­ful of wine­mak­ers such as Spain’s Miguel Tor­res were plead­ing for ac­tion. Tor­res has in­vested heav­ily in re­search, in­clud­ing tech­nol­ogy to re­cy­cle car­bon diox­ide dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion. Last year he co-founded In­ter­na­tional Winer­ies for Cli­mate Ac­tion with Cal­i­for­nia’s Jack­son Fam­ily Wines, aim­ing for a re­duc­tion of 80% in win­ery car­bon emis­sions by 2045.

Among the world’s first cer­ti­fied car­bonneu­tral winer­ies are Fet­zer in the US and South Africa’s Backs­berg. Plant­ing cover crops in the vine­yard, build­ing sus­tain­able cel­lars that rely on so­lar pan­els, har­ness­ing the power of wind and geo­ther­mal en­ergy to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity, and re­cy­cling wa­ter are ac­tions we should ap­plaud. I con­sciously avoid wines in pretentiou­s, su­per-heavy glass bot­tles be­cause the car­bon cost of ship­ping them is so high.

Do­ing away with harm­ful pes­ti­cides, her­bi­cides and fungi­cides that con­tam­i­nate soils and af­fect the health of vine­yard work­ers seems a no-brainer. I still hear too many wine­mak­ers ar­gue that it’s im­pos­si­ble to grow grapes or­gan­i­cally in their re­gion, while oth­ers in the same re­gion (think Louis Roed­erer in Cham­pagne) man­age to do so.

What about so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity? How can we take plea­sure in drink­ing a fine wine if the win­ery that makes it doesn’t take care of its work­ers? Por­tu­gal-based Syming­ton Fam­ily Es­tates achieved B Cor­po­ra­tion sta­tus last year, which com­mits them to en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and eth­i­cal prac­tices. I’m a fan of the Frescobald­i Gorg­ona pro­ject on an is­land off the coast of Tus­cany, not just be­cause the red and white are su­perb, but also be­cause it trains prison in­mates in wine­mak­ing skills.

Lastly, wine should pro­mote peo­ple-to-peo­ple diplo­macy, some­thing the world needs more of. Part of wine’s ap­peal for me is the way it unites strangers at a ta­ble and fos­ters un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ance. That idea was be­hind peace tast­ings held at a wine shop in Haifa dur­ing the 2006 Is­raeli/Le­banese con­flict. Wines from Le­banon (like Chateau Musar) and Is­rael (Tzora) stood side by side.

The term ‘bor­der­less wine’, from US som­me­lier turned wine im­porter Peter Welt­man, is apt. He cre­ated his Bor­der­less Wine Al­liance to bring in wines from wartorn places and help ad­vance peace. Bravo.

There are those who say wine should stand apart from pol­i­tics, but I’m not one of them. The bot­tom line is ba­sic: we should buy wines from com­pa­nies that do good and avoid those from com­pa­nies that don’t.

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