Sustainability in wine has long been an issue that the industry as a whole has skirted around, leaving it mostly to individual producers or generic bodies to take the lead. Well with Tobias Webb the sector might finally have the central figure, the driving force to bring so many of the world’s efforts to tackle sustainability together. It is also something he does in other sectors and believes he has the experience to know how to do that through his Sustainable Wine company, a new cross sector Sustainable Wine Roundtable and a conference next month – the Future of Wine Americas. He explains how he hopes he can drive the sustainability agenda forward.
To make big changes you need big ideas and that is what the Sustainable Wine Roundtable and June’s Future of Wine Americas hopes to achieve, says Tobias Webb.
You are also formally launching the Sustainable Wine Roundtable initiative at the event – what is that and how has it come about?
The Sustainable Wine Roundtable is a group of companies, academics, NGOs and others, who are joining to help define sustainability in wine, create principles and criteria for a global standard, and create a collaboration platform for change, dialogue and advocacy. Many other industries have one of these, and it’s time that the wine industry joined together on sustainability. We will not be re-inventing any wheels but building on and celebrating the work of others. It’s going to be a lot of work but it is much needed.
We’re closing our founding member round on July 3, but membership for non-founding members will be open after that. The SWR is housed within Sustainable Wine for now, but will become an independent non profit during 2022 or perhaps even later in 2021.
What are its short and long term objectives?
Short term objectives include providing an in-depth analysis of all the standards and certification schemes out there, world-wide, and a gap analysis. This will form the base research for the work on the global standard. The SWR will also take over the conferences from Sustainable Wine, hosting perhaps two per year and build an online networking, collaboration and information sharing facility during 2021.
The Americas event follows on from the online conference you held in November with Sustainable Wine – what were the key messages from that?
Too many to mention all. The big ones were around the need for more joined up thinking and collaboration, that whilst should be based on global principles, allow local innovations and issues to be recognised.
You also work in other industry sectors hosting events and conferences on sustainability, what are some of the key messages from there that the wine industry would do well to understand and take a lead from?
Many of them are well understood by the wine industry. The question is now, how do we join forces where we can, and drive efficiencies and innovations. Key messages are that demands for information on sustainability are growing, but there are still a lot of misunderstandings out there on the consumer side, and on the producer side. Examples would be labels such as organic, or use of chemicals in vineyards.
What do you see as being the big step changes that need to happen in the wine industry if it is really to make a difference to sustainability?
We need to grasp it’s about end to end performance of the industry. If 30% of the CO2 footprint is in the bottle, then we all need work out our role in reducing that, just as one example.
What mark out of 10 would you give the wine industry for tackling sustainability vs other sectors?
Six out of 10. Only partly because sevent feels like it might make us feel complacent. You can argue grape growing is the canary in the coal mine for climate change, and that is true in many ways. Few farmers have such connection to their lands as grape growers. But there are big disconnects as the product moves from fermented juice to final use. That’s where the opportunity is.
The big question I wrestle with all the time is: How can the wine industry “punch above its weight” on sustainability? By that I mean climate leadership, linking progress to sustainable economic development and tourism, protecting and enhancing land, AND engaging consumers on what sustainability means, and their role in it. There’s much to do, but it’s an industry I love working in, with such lovely people, passion, energy and a desire to do good in the world.
You are running the Future of Wine Americas event – that sounds an ambitious title can you explain the thinking about the event and what you are hoping to achieve?
The title is an increasingly common one, lots of us, it seems want to talk about the future of wine, and clearly sustainability is a key part of that. We’re hoping that several hundred wine professionals will join us, learn, debate and work out how to better collaborate on driving sustainability in wine. That’s our mission and objective really: to help drive that collaboration by creating platforms like this.
What are the key topic areas you are going to cover?
There are quite a few. From defining leadership in these difficult times, to figuring out climate strategy, to defining a global standard for sustainability in wine, these are all on the agenda. We’re also covering chemicals, risks, and the evolution of science when it comes to climate and environmental impacts. One session we’re working up also looks a what a fossil free vineyard might look like soon, but we are also covering social issues too, like migrant labour dignity and cultural change and diversity in wine businesses.
How is the event going to work over the three days?
Sign up and get a zoom link and the agenda – click here for all the information.
We have practical pre conference workshops on June 1 on vineyard GHG protocols and packaging, sponsored by IWCA (International Wineries for Climate Action) and BSI respectively. These are also free, just sign up here.
Who do you see as being the ideal delegate and companies you are looking to target to attend?
We can have up to 1000, maybe more, on our Zoom, so anyone who is interested is welcome. Our target audience is wine professionals, from vineyards, to wineries, to the supply and distribution chains, to retail and on-trade.