Amid the coronavirus pandemic, climate change still demands global attention, which is why a green movement is sweeping the wine and spirits world.

Did you know that synthetic bioluminescence from bacteria could make lighting in wineries more sustainable? Or that distillers can use solar power to create vodka out of thin air and water? These are among the surprising things I learned at a forum on wine and climate change at Vinexpo Paris in February, before social distancing became a way of life and air travel a memory.

At the three-day Living Soils Forum sponsored by industry giant Moët Hennessy, we sat on benches crafted from used barrel staves in a huge space enclosed by recyclable cork walls, sipping wine and listening to international climate scientists, winemakers, and environmental consultants discuss the multibillion-dollar wine industry’s future. (Full disclosure: I spoke on a panel about organic certification).

Naturally, it was also a way for the luxury drinks company to show off its eco-conscious credentials, which were more extensive than I realized. Chief Executive Officer Philippe Schaus announced that all the vineyards Moët Hennessy owns in Champagne will be free of herbicides by the end of 2020. This is a big deal, given that its brands produce millions of bottles of bubbly (even if other Champagne houses, such as grande marque Roederer, which makes Cristal, are ahead in embracing organic and biodynamic viticulture). Moët Hennessy is also investing €20 million ($21.8 million) in a new sustainability research center in the region, meant to explore everything from recycling water to lowering carbon emissions.

Here are the highlights from the forum’s 15 panels.

Biodiversity matters
At the center of the new agriculture is “living soil” that’s high in organic matter to hold nutrients and water and with the microbial diversity to protect vines against pests and diseases, rather than relying on chemical pesticides and herbicides. Increasing organic matter by 1% can also more than double the water capacity of the soil.

Fostering biodiversity is key to achieving this. Nicolas Blain of Reforest’Action in France insisted, “The forest is the future,” because forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Which is why Château Anthonic in Bordeaux is investing in agro-forestry, planting trees among the vines, as was done in the past.

Rethinking packaging
The next time you contemplate buying a super heavy bottle of wine, think again. Glass packaging and transportation of bottles account for about two-thirds of the wine industry’s carbon footprint.

Systembolaget, Sweden’s government-owned chain of liquor stores, has been encouraging wineries to use sustainable packaging, according to the chain’s purchasing manager Johan Lund. More than 50% of its sales are for box wines, much better for the environment from the perspectives of weight and carbon used in shipping—although the impact of introducing more plastic liners in place of recyclable glass raises other questions.

Even luxury brands are becoming eco-conscious. While many Champagne brands come in heavy cardboard or wooden gift boxes, Ruinart will debut new eco-packaging later this year. Nine times lighter than a fancy box, it’s made of recyclable, textured, molded paper and fits tightly around a Ruinart bottle as if it were a stylish, elegant coat.

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