Aiming to be fully-sustainable as a business is all well and good but how do you do it in the wine business exactly? Alliance Wine drew its line in the sand in September 2021 and since then has aligned its business practices with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals from work in the vineyard through to how finished wines are delivered – even picking a ‘no waste’ restaurant in which to hold its ‘In Our Nature’ tasting. Robert Mason was suitably impressed with what he saw at the tasting and picks 10 wines that all have their art in the right place.
Mason talks to Marta Juega, Alliance’s specialist ‘winemaker & sustainability manager’ about how sustainability works at the centre of the business and then picks 10 wines that really cut it at the In Our Nature tasting.
Sustainability has now permeated the social consciousness as more than just an aspiration; it is positioned as the only viable future model for our planet and its agriculture. And it seems that those bringing the grapes from the vines to consumers are taking note.
In 1984, Alliance Wine set out its mandate of “creating a better world of wine”. From a viticultural, winemaking, educational and route-to-market perspective, sustainability is holistic. Since the company’s conception Alliance has remained steadfast to this principle by creating a dynamic and organic portfolio wherever possible. Whether it be from the many agency-led wineries or by working vicariously with other producers, the vision of sustainability is core.
“In Our Nature” is a focused look at the portfolio through the lens of cultural and environmental richness. Each producer on show binds to the holistic approach, caring for their employees as well as the grapes and the land – creating sustainable, honest and individual wines.
Part of Alliance’s sustainability strategy is to align itself with like-minded businesses. Apricity in London’s Duke Street, where the In Our Nature tasting is held, is one such operation. This is a sustainable restaurant making conscious decisions to cut waste in all its forms. From suppliers providing lightweight recyclable packaging for produce, such as Crate to Plate, to each ingredient being used to its fullest, all the way through to how the pots are washed.
A sympatico tasting ensued with 45 wines on show from across the Alliance portfolio… new wines, old wines, different price points and styles to suit everyone. Guided by Marta Juega, Alliance’s specialist ‘winemaker & sustainability manager’, it was evident how Alliance’s modus operandi is rooted in a sustainability ethos, across the whole business.
Leading by example
“At Alliance we have established our impact strategy based on three imperatives: Environmental, Social and Product & Service.” explains Juega. Working sustainably in the vineyard is just the beginning, whether it be organic, biodynamic, low intervention or just best practice. “By 2050 we will need a planet that is 30% bigger in order to support the human race (if we continue growing at our present rate), which means that by 2100 we will need two planets!” Alliance states in its tasting booklet.
Juega accepts that Alliance Wine is currently on a journey, looking forward to a fully viable green business and needing to educate consumers, clients and partners in sustainable ethics along the way.
The ‘line in the sand’ came in September 2021, when Alliance made its intentions clear as founding members of the Sustainable Wine Roundtable. In the days since, electric vehicle roll-out for distribution, mindful use of water and agro-chemicals in the vineyard, waste management practices and the alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were just some of the first steps in achieving a genuine circular economy.
“We have started the process to become ISO certified [by] creating a carbon reduction plan… we are creating a circular economy methodology to help wineries and to establish reductions towards zero waste in our facilities,” Juega explains. But it is not just the big statements of intent which will make a difference, the little things have their own part to play in the developing domino effect. Taking inspiration from similar wine operations, Alliance is looking to move towards more screw-capped wines and to reduce the superficial use of foil capsules, and then to explore the possibility of reusing glass by bottling-at-market, alternative packaging and to solve the conundrum of how to recycle spitton waste!
It is difficult to choose highlights from such a stand-out portfolio tasting but I have whittled it down to a top ten…
Top of the Crops at In Our Nature tasting
Roebuck Estates, Classic Cuvée, Sussex, England 2016
Locally sourced and packaged with a low-emissions transportation footprint. An excellent vintage English sparkler from the three classic Champagne varietals, bringing bright autolytic notes of hazelnut and cream followed by ripe orchard fruits and an elegant richness.
Abel Mendoza, “Jarrante” Blanco, Rioja DOCa 2021
A white Rioja made in the purist modern style, showcasing fruit and shunning oak. This new blend of Viura, Malvasia, Tempranillo Blanco, Garnacha Blanco and Torrontés (yes, that’s right!) produces a light wine of fresh minerality, delicate stone fruit and a wisp of floral perfume.
Iona, Chardonnay, Elgin 2020
The iconic presence of Iona as a flagship in the portfolio stuns once again with a buttery and opulent cool climate Chardonnay. A rich toasty nose gives way to well integrated gunflint and nutty oak with fresh grapefruit and lime balance.
Thistledown, ‘The Great Escape’, Chardonnay, Eden Valley 2021
Aside from an exceptionally designed label, the juice is more than equalled in its quality. A combination of spontaneous barrel and concrete egg fermentation creates a creamy, hazelnut and toast-layered complexity within a ripe stone fruit and lemon purity.
Bodegas Altolandon, ‘Doña Leo’, Manchuelo, Spain 2019
For a wine made from 100% Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains, it is very surprising to see a restrained aromatic profile. Not overtly grapey, subtle tones of honeysuckle and lychee. The Doña Leo is smooth, succulent and fruity.
Olivier Cazenave et Château, Aux Plantes, Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France 2019
This biodynamic and organic 100% Merlot from St. Emilion Grand Cru vineyards is an instant classic. Lifted floral and hedgerow aromas, structured and elegant with very fine tannins and fresh acidity. This is both “a keeper” and one which is very approachable now.
Produttori Di Manduria, ‘Elegia’, Primitivo di Manduria Riserva, Puglia, Italy 2019
Manduria Riserva always packs a punch and the Elegia is no exception: powerful, earthy, meaty and spicy wrapped up within a smooth satin robe.
Perelada, 5 Finques Reserva, Empordà, Spain 2016
The enigma of the tasting. A rustic, rancio aroma profile hints at oxidative winemaking, almost sherry vinegar. The wine is old but not tired on the palate: complex dried fruit, tomato leaf, spice and tobacco, smooth and pleasingly mature. A great alternative to vintage Rioja or Bordeaux.
Bodegas Amaren, ‘Angeles de Amaren’, Rioja DOCa 2017
It is clear to see how the Amaren achieved Gold at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards. Dense, brooding and dark. A big, bold wine with lashings of dark chocolate, spice, clove and anise.
Thistledown, ‘Thorny Devil’ old vine Grenache, McLaren Vale, Australia 2021
The second Thistledown to make the cut. Old bush-trained vines yield exceptional balance and complexity in a wine so young. Bright red fruit, dusty plum. Open and attractive with very smooth fine tannins, delicate spice and liquorice on a finish seeming to last forever.
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