It’s official—2023 was the warmest year on record.
Like much of the world, Mediterranean countries experienced extreme summer heat stress and elevated heat-related deaths. In July, the surface temperature of the Mediterranean Sea reached 83.7F (28.7C), the highest median recording in a single day since 1982.
Each year climate change perturbations, such as excessive heat and prolonged drought, continue to wreak havoc on the wine industry. With no relief in sight, some Mediterranean wineries are employing dynamic sustainability solutions in addressing climate change and lowering emissions.
Perelada Winery is located in Spain’s tiny, remote Empordà DO, where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean Sea. Bought by the Mateu family in 1923, they have spent millions over the past decade equipping their operations for climate change.
In 2022, they opened Europe’s first LEED® Gold certified winery, a benchmark in sustainability. With a barely visible vegetated roof creating fifty-seven percent renewable energy from solar and 323 geothermal wells, the majority of the winery is an underground labyrinth connecting the winemaking to the regional terroir.
In addition to the winery, Perelada is transforming their viticulture techniques. Within the Empordà DO, their five fincas, covering 150 hectares, represent the denominations diverse terroir. Two of the five fincas are certified organic, with the other three on pace for certification next year.
Delfí Sanahuja, Chief Oenologist at Perelada Winery, explains focusing on regenerative agriculture, sustainable pruning techniques and utilizing proper cover crops to feed the soil microbiology is key to the high-quality wine production. Furthermore, investing in deeply planted drip irrigation lines and satellite imagery allows precision vineyard watering without waste or runoff.
“If wines need additives or correction, it’s because of an issue in the vineyard. We try to correct in the vineyard. Putting make-up on wine is not authentic,” says Sanahuja. Adding, “the question is: Are we going to be in harmony with nature or are we going to struggle,” he says.
Transversing the Pyrenees into the heart of Minervois resides La Livinière, the first cru recognized in Languedoc AOC. Château Maris, acknowledged by Wine Spectator as “one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world,” covers forty-five acres of land just above the La Livinière commune.
How did the winery receive this designation? It has been sustainably certified through EuroCert since 2002, Biodyvin certified organic since 2004, Demeter biodynamic certified since 2008, and a Certified B Corporation since 2016.
“When I purchased the property in 1997, the soil was dead and the grapes were disgusting,” says Robert Eden, co-owner and winemaker of Château Maris. Eden set about to revitalize the soil in order to make world class wine. “Biodynamics is the best form of regenerative agriculture in the world because life is enhancing life.”
Eden believes vineyard design often lacks fauna habitat corridors, so he created pathways in through the Château Maris vineyards to encourage diverse wildlife. He also embraced the B Corp. certification to expand his wineries impact beyond the vineyard. “We want to reconnect with the human side and the community. Without that it’s almost senseless. How can you talk about terroir without caring for the community?”
Believing climate change is a decisive factor in the wine industry, his latest efforts test minimal energy consumption while limiting carbon dioxide emissions. He spent eight years building a 100% plant-based, fully biodegradable, energy self-sufficient, carbon negative wine production facility using a wood-hemp material known as hempcrete.
Furthermore, recognizing transportation is one of the industry’s largest carbon dioxide emitters, Eden exports his wines to the United States in a temperature-controlled cellar on an eighty-foot steel hulled schooner from France to New York. Once the wine is delivered, the boat sails to the Dominican Republic for loads of coffee and cocoa to carry back to France. A typical three-month voyage uses 150 liters of diesel fuel, compared to traditional cargo ships, which burn up to 200 tons a day. Once viewed by his peers as outlandish, wineries in regions Loire Valley, Rhône Valley, and Champagne are following suit.
Château de Berne
Continuing east across southern France, in the heart of Côtes de Provence AOC resides Château de Berne. Despite the winery’s one-thousand-foot elevation in the Haut-Var, surrounded by 350 hectares of forest, and cool night temperatures, the 143 hectares is not immune to climate change perturbations.
The winery achieved organic certification in 2021. Oenologist and winemaker since 2016, Alexis Cornu feels this certification is an important step. “I spend one-third of my time in the vineyard. We want to respect the environment and our colleagues working in the vineyards. Furthermore, I feel organic farming helps me reach the terroir better in the wine.”
Cornu explains historically cover crops have not been utilized in the region, but this is changing. With the climate changing we have more heat and less rain, “we are learning to use cover crops to aid in soil moisture retention.”
Additionally, he shared more dynamic changes, such as planting an experimental vineyard with native and ancient regional grapes as well as other Mediterranean varieties from Sicily, Tuscany, Greece, and more, organic animal feces to feed soil microbiome, and utilizing sheep in the winter for cover crop management to avoid tractors.
“Sometimes old habits and practices are worth re-evaluating. They are good to reintroduce,” he says.
Traveling south, to the highest hills of Montalcino, thirty-one miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, sits Poggio Antico winery. However, as Pier Giuseppe D’Alessandro, general manager for Poggio Antico, explains, having vineyards near two-thousand feet above sea level has not protected them from climate change.
“Yes, global warming has indeed arrived even on the highest hills of Montalcino. The altitude certainly helps us to slow down the effects of this change, but we are also facing this climatic evolution,” he says.
The winery is in the midst of making adjustments to combat perturbations now and in the future. They converted to organic farming practices in 2020, and continue to experiment with cover crops aimed at plant nutrition and limiting erosion. Although unable to experiment with varieties, they are testing various canopy management techniques in order to diminish mechanization while achieving premium quality.
“Changes in agriculture are very slow especially those related to the agronomic sphere,” says D’Alessandro. “Plants take years to adapt to new inputs or new management systems, and in those years, it is not so immediate to know whether the decisions we are making are the right ones for the result.”
Poggio Antico is designing a new winery that will be built mostly underground to reduce energy flow and incorporate more natural thermal and solar energy. As they seek environmental certification the new facility design is eco-friendly to meet the new certification standards and lower carbon emissions.
“We trust our awareness and attention to environmental issues and try to educate all our workers and suppliers in this direction,” he says.