Grapes of wrath: confronting climate change in the wine industry

July 5, 20239 Minutes

Climate change presents an existential threat unlike anything we’ve encountered before and it’s no surprise that the wine industry is feeling the heat. While it’s shown to have a relatively small carbon footprint compared to more conventional big-name polluters, it stands to lose far more in a shorter time span if climate change isn’t addressed quickly.

In this article, we look at the state of play when it comes to climate change and the wine industry. We also get a little help from our friend Mark Stead, CFO & COO of Moët Hennessy and recent guest on the Show.

The impact of climate change on the wine industry

Weather and winemaking are irrevocably intertwined. Weather conditions determine when the grapes ripen, how much the vineyards yield, and what the wine tastes like.

Lately, however, the environment in many parts of the world has not been kind. The recurrence of wildfires during the Californian Summer is, by now, a well-documented global phenomenon affecting wine-making hotspots across the region, from Santa Barbara to Nappa Valley in particular. The 2020 fire season famously damaged— in some cases, decimated— over a dozen of the region’s most prominent wineries. In France, too, record periods of cold in the winter of 2021 saw some wineries record an over 80% loss of crops due to lingering frost.

Conversely, climate change appears to be having a positive effect on the UK wine industry. The UK Government and wine industry have pledged to increase land allocation for vineyards and increase production volumes in the wake of “improved agro-climatic conditions” that sees the country now closer to becoming an “intermediate climate.”

The problems and their potential for progress

The areas in which the wine industry can improve its carbon footprint are vast and varied. Soil degradation, shipping, fossil fuels, and single-use materials are all contributing to the greater issue, something that many wineries have acknowledged and are tackling head-on.

Save our soils

The soft flesh and thin skins of grapes are ideal prey for insects and at risk of over-ripening and mould. Most mass-production wineries, therefore, use pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to maintain ideal conditions and help preserve grape integrity.

Monocultures, where just one crop is grown in a given area, also contribute to soil degradation because they lead to plunging biodiversity. Farmers need to use chemical agents to replicate the protections that biodiversity would provide, further harming the soil. As the health of soil is directly linked to carbon emissions, this is a pressing issue for climate conscious industries like the wine industry.

Therefore, one popular solution to tackling the climate crisis is to create a biodiverse environment that manages itself, all in the absence of soil-destroying chemical aides.

Mark Stead observes that while much of the champagne region “is a monoculture, [of] grapes,” they have “noticed an increase in birds on our farms” after after planting trees and shrubs on Moët’s locations. Mark added that “biodiversity is a big focus” for LVMH now, and we can understand why.

We need to talk about glass

Glass bottles are a problem for the wine industry. According to carbon footprint audits conducted by California’s Wine Institute and the Australian Wine Research Institute, the production and transport of glass bottles is the biggest culprit when it comes to wine’s carbon footprint.

We appear hesitant to change, however, especially in the fine wine market, where little to no changes have been made to shift their remit to a more sustainable alternative. Mark Stead at Moët Hennessy says despite this, it’s high on their agenda.

“We’re looking at life after glass,” says Mark. “It’s not easy, and we haven’t got the solution yet, but we’re actively working on it with a number of outside organisations.”


I am excited about the way winemakers are adapting to the issues of climate change and drive for creating wine in an environmentally friendly way. And I am most excited about my own part in it.

Libby Brodie, Wine expert


Green power to the people

What’s become clear is that proving to be mother-nature first, and shouting about it, is now a competitive advantage.

Consumers are letting their wallets and typing fingers do the talking when it comes to brand activism, and certain trends are catching simply because they’re more eco-friendly.

As a consumer, here are just a few of the ways you can become more eco-friendly when it comes to vino:

Yes, you can

Canned wine. Hear us out.

The trend picked up in earnest in 2018 and has had its peaks and troughs. What is undeniable, though, is that it is much better for the environment.

The US seems to have more readily embraced the shift than the UK and Europe, although UK retailers like M&S and Waitrose have thrown their weight behind cans and sacks to show support for not only more sustainable but cheaper practices across wine storage and transport.

2021 surveying shows that the retail muscle is working, with 52% of those surveyed saying they either already do or plan to start drinking wine from a can.

Clean and certified green

Mass produced wine is wonderful and familiar. You know what you’re getting and that’s great, because you LIKE THIS WINE.

If sustainability has any sway in your buying decisions, however, might we tempt you to the lesser-known independent wine section?

Small-batch wineries are far less likely to use pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides because, well, they don’t need to as much. Smaller vineyards are easier to manage, easier to maintain, and offer far less threat of a monoculture than large-scale wine production.

Additionally, they tend not to add anything into the wine to homogenise the flavour of their variations. No powdered tannins or added sugars to compensate for underripe grapes or compromised harvests, it’s all natural and that means more variety.

The last drop

It may have taken a few scares and scars, but the wine industry appears to be embracing the changing face of its own industry.

There is a notable and measurable sense of progress, with studies being conducted to show the effectiveness of differing methodologies along with multiple organisations and retailers slapping their names and reputations onto sustainable wine initiatives.

With consumers’ increasing environmental awareness already proving to sway sales in the way of the eco-friendly, the wine industry has shown an encouraging trend in the direction of a sustainable future. All that’s left to wonder is what innovations may be coming our way next.

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