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Sustaining Spain

Published:  09 November, 2021

As world leaders in sustainable and organic practices, Spanish winemakers are also discovering the benefits in the bottle, as Andrew Catchpole reports.

Sustainability and organic farming run deep through Spanish winemaking, with the number of estates and growers moving down such paths increasing all the time. With low disease pressure across many of the warmer and drier parts of this country, it’s perhaps no surprise that Spain has risen to become the biggest organic wine producer in the world. Figures from Wines from Spain reveal that comfortably over a quarter of the wines are organically grown (27%), ahead of France, Italy and the US, with over 100,000ha of vines now certified.

Such prominence in organic production, though, is only part of the sustainability story. An equally impressive number of Spanish winemakers are embracing wider-reaching environmental and socially sound practices, aiming for long-term ecological and economic sustainability.

The myriad facets of sustainable production are well known, if more difficult than ‘organic’ to simply quantify and label – not least as sustainability is a more holistic concept. It presents many paths along which producers can move, often at differing speeds, encompassing the vineyards and surrounding ecosystems, the bigger, global environmental picture, and social responsibility too. And the enticement for all of this is the future health of the land and vines, plus the payoff of economic sustainability down the line.

Sustainability has been moving up the agenda for some while, with consumers increasingly looking for products – including wine – that reflect more eco-conscious lifestyles. And signs are that the pandemic has accelerated that trend. As that crisis begins to recede, it leaves climate change back at the top of concerns.

The IWSR predicts that organic and sustainably-made wines will be instrumental in driving growth globally as wine sales recover from the Covid era, with drinks retailers advised to strengthen and flag up those parts of their portfolio. And this is where Spain is keen to take the lead.

Lighting the way

Spain’s collective dedication to sustainable and organic viticulture and winemaking is becoming better known, with collective activities helping support smaller wineries in promoting their eco-credentials, such Spanish Organic Wines (SOW), which provides umbrella support for wineries attending events such as Prowein.

However, what lends real strength to Spain’s sustainable and organic credentials is how many of the bigger players have embraced and driven such practices, while having the clout to spread those messages on the wider wine world’s stage.

Familia Torres has arguably led the way, with a long record of R&D when it comes to innovation in and around sustainable viticulture and the reduction of carbon footprints, while also being heavily involved in calls to action on the climate crisis. A founding member of the now 20-strong International Wineries for Climate Action grouping, this Catalan producer has looked at the sustainability of every aspect of its operation, from carbon capture to electric delivery vehicles.

Others, such as Ramón Bilbao, are in the midst of conversion to organic and sustainable viticulture and production methods, with this producer ahead of its own sustainability targets across its vineyards in Rioja and Rueda. The producer is also the Spanish founding member of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable initiative.

González Byass (see right) has delivered a major statement of intent with the opening of its architecturally striking new Beronia winery in Rioja, which it says has taken an holistic approach, again covering myriad aspects of sustainability. Various organic and sustainable practices run through its many estates, too, sending out the message that such practices reach across the very diverse wine regions of the country.

The list could run and run, from Cava-anchored producers such as Codorníu to the likes of Álvaro Palacios

in Priorat and Rioja. But another interesting upshot of all this emphasis on sustainable and organic vine-growing and winemaking is being reflected in a subtle change in the styles of wine coming out of Spain.

Many winemakers say that they are finding a fresher focus in their wines, with clearer expression of terroir, as healthier soils and lower intervention winemaking combine to good effect. In a very real sense, this represents a return to the more traditional and less intrusive viticulture and winemaking of yesteryear. This plays a part, too, in the rediscovery and renaissance of old and overlooked regions and vineyards – also an aspect of sustainability in terms of protecting diversity and viticultural heritage.

Add to this mix the wealth of indigenous varieties, spread across a peninsula that stretches from Atlantic-influenced Galicia to the warm Mediterranean, and the foothills of the Pyrenees down to Andalucia, and Spain’s spread of vinous gems has never looked more enticing. Going green, it seems, can also taste better, while helping to right the world. And it’s a message that has clearly taken hold across Spain as it advances ever more down the sustainable route, taking a lead in an increasingly eco-conscious era.

Headline Hero: Breaking New Ground

In association with González Byass

We shine the spotlight on the many sustainable and organic initiatives across this leading Spanish producer’s estates.

Sustainability is very high on everybody’s agenda and this is being picked up across Spain,” says Alison Easton, marketing director at González Byass (GB) with responsibility for premium Sherry and many of this Jerez-based producer’s smaller, premium estates. “We have many sustainable and organic initiatives across our vineyards, and we know many of our customers are keen to learn more about what we are doing.”

Leading the charge is the company’s stunning new Beronia eco winery in Rioja, which is at the forefront of what it describes as a “holistic sustainable approach”. Dedicated to premium wine production, its architecture, engineering and technology all advance the cause, from geothermal systems to energy-efficient building design, by way of water-saving and the use of renewable energy and other efficiencies.

With most of the building beneath ground, it sends out a clear message of intent, offering visitors a glimpse of a sustainable winemaking future. Equally impressive are the advances made at GB’s Vilarnau cellars, which anchors the company’s cava production between the Monserrat mountains and Mediterranean.

The fully organic ethos here is down to “making the best cava with as little impact on our planet environment as possible”. The first producer to join Spain’s Wineries for Climate Protection certification scheme, practices include measuring and reducing carbon output at every step, use of a biomass boiler, an ongoing reduction in energy consumption (down 40% since 2016), reduced water usage and fully vegan winemaking, to name but a few.

Along with similar initiatives shaping Tio Pepe’s Sherry production, the sustainable approach at these flagship GB wineries is also much in evidence across its diverse portfolio. Vinas del Vero in Somontano has taken the lead in promoting biodiversity in and around the vineyards, while Finca Constancia, near Toledo, is also leading on sustainability in all its forms.

The protection of vinous diversity and heritage, of regional winemaking culture, is also an important aspect of sustainability. And this is where GB highlights its portfolio of smaller, diverse estates, the nurturing of which helps to sustain styles that may otherwise be overlooked.

Two such examples are Txakolí winery Txomin Etxaniz, bringing a modern interpretation to this highly individual Basque wine style, and the Andalucian gems from Finca Moncloa, which celebrates the tradition of reds from an area best known historically for producing Sherry.

Like much of GB’s portfolio, these wines are a testimony to how the company backs and advances a sustainable approach to the best from Spain.