What is Sustainable Wine?

The concept of sustainable wine gained ground in the1960s as a result of the irrational industrialization of the farmscape and of the irresponsible consumption of natural resources. What took shape was the idea that it was possible to create a new agriculture, one that could satisfy human needs but be more repectful of the environment and of human health. Decades of research and devlopment have made it possible to build a solid conceptual base that promises enormous potential even into the future.

Making sustainable wine means working in a way whose purpose is the preservation of our natural resources for future generations. That implies a reasoned selection of the currently most suitable, experientially-tested practices that will make it possible to obtain excellent-quality products with, at the same time, the lowest-possible negative impact on the environment. It is also called “integrated managenment” since it brings together the best practices from a variety of areas: organic and alternative practices, agronomic systems, ecology of the vineyard… Thus, it is a constantly-evolving approach that selects from tradition and from the most appropriate innovations.

Our own set of sustainable practices had its origin with the establishment of our winery. From there, it grew and organisationally improved, thanks to our participation in one of the first and most comprehensive projects in Italy, Magis, founded in 2009, which connected together numerous research centres, universities, and wineries in order to put together a detailed protocol for practices and monitoring. From that project, in 2012, emerged the Sustainable Wine certification.

Integrated viticulture
It is called integrated because it attempts to solve viticultural problems by bringing together diverse approaches and selecting the most appropriate for effective functionality and the least-negative impact on the environment. It privileges organic treatments and agronomic systems, and in cases where these lack effectiveness, the focused, minimal use of sustances that biodegrade rapidly in the environment. One important element is precision viticulture, development of methods, that is, that are increasingly precise--without useless dispersion of substances--and differentiated—it is useless, for example, to fertilise the entire vineyard in the same manner; rather, it is more desirable to calibrate amounts on a zone by zone basis, based on the specific requirements of each. This means, obviously, that it is not a permanently-fixed system but one in continuous evolution and improvement, taking advantage of scientific knowledge and experimentation.
Ecology of the vineyard
Ecology is the study of all of the forms of life present on the surface and in the soils of the vineyard—plants, animals, micro-organisms—and the interconnections that they establish among themselves. Decades of studies have increasingly underscored the importance of a correct management of the vineyard as a complex ecosystem, one that encourages the achievement of a stable equilibrium over time. In an integrated ecological system, the various “actors,” or active factors, intervene in a substantial fashion in the nutrient cycle, in ensuring soil quality, and in containment of damaging parasites and diseases.
Protection of biodiversity
Biodiversity is important not only ecologically but agronomically; the richness of flora in the vineyard and its surroundings encourages the presence in the vineyard of micro-fauna that can contain vine-damaging parasites. Micro-organisms in the soil—bacteria, mycorrhizae—break down organic substances and supply mineral elements to the vine roots. Worms, though their digestion, modify bacteria and protozoa populations, quality-select fungi, improve water and oxygen supply in the soil, and encourage flora growth and development of micro-organisms that can combat agents harmful to vine root systems.
Protection of the life of the soil
Beyond the fact that various soil types determine certain characteristics in wine, soil quality is fundamental to the vitality and health of the vines. Intensive working of vineyard soils has been shown to be counterproductive in the long run, because it increasingly degrades soil characteristics and therefore requires ever greater soil inputs. Viceversa, a well-managed ground cover and a high degree of biodiversity improve vineyard balance over time. Further, we thus avoid any buildup of pollutants in the soil and in the water acquifers, thanks to low-impact, constantly-monitored interventions. In fact, we regularly check the status of the soil, evaluating the degree of compaction, absence of residues, and biodiversity index.
Defense of natural habitat and of the landscape
Sustainable management ensures that the vineyard is not an element totally extraneous to its surrounding environment, through reduced impact on the landscape. Ecologically-sensitive management of our vineyards makes them “green corridors” that small animals can pass through, as they move about the growing area and in the surrounding woods. This does not mean that we do not need to protect the vineyards from potentially-damaging animals, in our case wild boar, which is possible only by fencing. We use low mesh fences, however, which has openings that allow non-threatening fauna to pass through. In addition, we have protected the countryside by constructing our cellar underground, by the modest size of each vineyard, and by alternating them with woods, hedgerows, and other crops. Finally, the low impact of our viticultural treatments is not a source of pollutants for the surrounding countryside.
Water quality and consumption
Optimal water resources management is one of the key factors that ensure that a particular activity is sustainable. Vineyards do not require large amounts of water, as long as they are sited appropriately in the environment (as ours is). In Italy, in any case, over-use of water is prohibited, and the Bolgheri denomination allows only emergency irrigation. Even with respect to our garden spaces and to our green roof we chose to use species with low water requirements: olive trees and species native to the Mediterranean scrub ecosystem. Winemaking operations, on the other hand, require a high consumption of water, particularly for washing equipment and general cleanliness. We therefore designed a rainwater capture and recycling system that allowed us to reduce our consumption. The quality of our local water tables, on the other hand, is preserved by the practice of integrated viticulture, which involves constant monitoring and analysis of the status of environmental water resource. Finally, we also have in the cellar a wastewater purifier.
Energy efficiency
Another cardinal principle of sustainability is energy conservation, which will reduce CO2 emissions. We combat such emissions on many fronts, from an ecologically-sensitive cellar that redues consumption, to reducing interventions in the vineyard, to reduced use of technology in winemaking, and to utilising low energy-use machinery and lighting systems.
The principle of bio-architecture, which inspired our winecellar, brings together various cardinal tenets of sustainability. Since it is underground, the cellar is totally respectful of the landscape. Being underground means not having to rely on energy inputs for conditioning thermally a large part of our internal spaces; in fact, it enjoys an appropriate temperature and humidity all year round. Natural lighting of work-intensive spaces is achieved through carefully-designed light wells. Next to the cellar is a rainwater capture and recycling system that conserves water resources. Finally, wastewater is purified by a biodigestion system.
Economic and social sustainability
An activity too is sustainable, if it can be self-sufficient, guaranteeing an income, that is, to those involved in it, without excessive production costs. Sustainable agriculture does not abstract from the social aspects of an activity, which are, for example, its relationship with the growing area, with those who live and work there, with the cultural assets that are handed down and disseminated. It places great importance on respect for workers’ rights and health—safety on the job, personal respect, and professional training.