Tasting Climate Change conference 2024: Key takeaways


Host Michelle Bouffard of Tasting Climate Change.
Host Michelle Bouffard of Tasting Climate Change.

Founded by Montreal-based Michelle Bouffard, DipWSET, Tasting Climate Change is international in scope. Held 22-23 January 2024, the 4th edition of this trade-oriented, biennial symposium brought in 30 experts from around the world to lead seminars and panel discussions for an audience of almost 400.

Bouffard led with a reminder that 2023 was the world’s warmest year ever recorded. She referenced the record forest fires across Canada, widespread loss to fungal disease in Europe and dire drought in Catalonia. ‘Even though we need to acknowledge the challenges, these aren’t the reasons I am here,’ she said.

Turning swiftly to the conference’s objective to explore solutions, she shared a report by France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), suggesting that agriculture, which includes viticulture, has the potential to sequester 41% of its carbon emissions through proper soil management.

The role of soil

Taking the relay, keynote speaker Marc-André Selosse, professor at Paris’ Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, gave a dense presentation of the composition and choreography of dirt. ‘Low water isn’t necessarily the problem,’ he stated, pointing instead to the ability of soil to retain water. Modern practices like ploughing, tilling and using pesticides and mineral fertilisers have diminished this and crucially reduced soil’s capacity to store carbon.

Carbon sequestration is one of the main goals of regenerative agriculture, a trending topic in the world of wine. Michel Gassier from Famille Gassier described the approach as pragmatic rather than dogmatic. It takes all the good ideas from ancestral to modern practices such as organic and permaculture to improve soil, increase biodiversity and restore ecosystems. ‘It is the only system we found that isn’t necessarily more expensive than conventional farming,’ he said.

Joining Gassier was Joseph Brinkley from Bonterra Organic Estates. With 344ha, Bonterra is the largest Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) winery in the US and fewer than 20 worldwide. ‘The strength of ROC is the social aspect,’ Brinkley explained. Besides farming practices, it includes a strict audit of how employees are treated, including receiving an essential living wage.

The importance of certifications

Beyond ROC, the numerous certifications were evaluated, with Bouffard noting that organic alone isn’t a guarantee of sustainability. Anne Bousquet from the multi-certified Domaine Bousquet in Argentina shared that B Corp, which assesses environmental, social and economic sustainability, was the most difficult to attain. ‘Certification is like a marriage rather than an engagement,’ she said. ‘It assures clients and retailers that what we say we do, we do.’

Regional certifications were recognised as having the most significant potential to accelerate change. Admired by industry peers as the ‘gold standard’, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) – established in 1995 – was one of the first sustainability initiatives launched in the global wine industry.

The country has achieved SWNZ certification for over 96% of its vineyard land through a collective effort. Speaking on behalf of SWNZ, Meagan Littlejohn considered the entire lifecycle of a winery’s carbon footprint, asserting that ‘25% of emissions come from exporting and 75% from production’. She argued that New Zealand wines still represent an environmentally sound choice despite the distance they typically must travel, as low production emissions more than compensate for those from transportation.

The panel on regenerative agriculture. Credit: Tasting Climate Change

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Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/tasting-climate-change-conference-2024-key-takeaways-522442/