A few years ago now, René and I decided to get into this world in order to leave an emotional not material footprint behind us. In this sense, we decided that we only needed to use the bare essentials, materials which had lower energy costs during their lifetime.
This has led to constant research for the traceability of everything we buy and a daily challenge of the needs of its use.
The trail of waste and energy burden associated with a bottle of wine can be very big or very small depending on how we work. This trail starts right at the time of planting and continues right the way through to distribution of a bottle of wine to the final consumer.
In general, we have analyzed the inputs and outputs of our agricultural system transformation processes. We realized that if we recycle our outputs and transform them into inputs, we are in effect closing the circle and helping other neighbouring livestock systems to do the same, thus creating a stable social and economic network.
So what have we done over the last few years to make our project sustainable? This can be seen in the vineyard, in the winery and in logistics.
In the vineyard, by using organic farming methods, we drastically decreased our waste products and the energy costs associated to the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. The organic matter we use as fertilizer is a recycled waste product, cow and horse manure, which is used together with vine trimmings and pomace from our grapes. As “pesticides” we use goat’s milk whey, thus recycling another polluting by product as well as using plant extracts in order to totally eliminate the use of sulphur powder (permitted by organic farming regulations, but derived from petroleum).
Our fossil fuel consumption has gone down and we have replaced the use of a heavy tractor for that of a lighter quad bike (less fuel consumption). With the quad, we do not compact the soil as much, keeping the structure of the soil in better conditions.
Grapes are our only final product made in our agricultural system. The leaves from the vines fall onto the soil and decompose completely if we leave plant cover (on bare earth, these leaves are blown away by the wind).
At the winery, we have chosen to work with wild yeasts, the ones already on the grapes, with lactic bacteria which are present in large quantities in the wind and acids which are naturally occurring in the grapes. The only inputs we have are sulphites and year after year, we are carrying out experiments to reduce the addition of these until we get down to zero additions.
We improved our water management systems by cleaning with a steamer (reducing by 89% the quantity of water used in the winery). We are still dependent on the mains electric supply for our energy consumption, but this will be the next step: investing in solar energy.
Logistics. This starts from the choice of bottle to the final distribution of our wine and where we use most energy. Step by step, we are analyzing our energy contributions for the different elements: capsules, bottles, corks and transport...
In the case of Dido, the spotlight were on capsules: be them of tin, aluminium or complex, the associated industry is highly polluting and with high hidden costs. It seems that organic waxes have lower associated energy costs, so we decided to change our capsules for wax.
Glass bottle weight is also another important point to take into account (linked to fuel costs during transport). In the case of Dido, there are some models with acceptable weights, but in the case of Venus, this is a difficult subject as the shape and colour of the bottle are important elements in the aesthetics of this wine (at least right now). It has proved difficult for us to find a bottle which is less than 550 g.
In terms of cardboard boxes we have moved to recycled paper boxes. The texture is not as smooth, but in this way, we are not responsible for cutting down more trees to make our wines.
Our corks are an important element in our wines and for the wines’ ageing process. However, the use of natural cork means we continue to work the cork tree forests and promote the survival of the associated ecosystem. By buying natural corks we are helping to sustain good forestry techniques as well as supporting companies which are working towards maintaining a positive carbon footprint or who are socially implicated in the area.
And finally, the key point is transport. Maritime and rail transport methods mean costs are 5 times lower than by road. This has made us reconsider our exports and seek out the train as a distribution media for Europe and other nearby cities.
This is still in its early stages though, since this form of transport is not well developed for small, fragile loads like wine. But we will get there!