We interview Fernando Chivite-Winemaker

“The main challenges facing the sector are the commitment to sustainability and the implementation of strategies to deal with climate change”

What are the main challenges facing the sector, regarding sustainability?

In general, those applicable to all agricultural production.  To reduce environmental impacts, work in a fair and sustainable economic system, while improving their own social conditions and the environment, within the framework of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO (SDG).

The characteristics of the vineyard in our geographical and historical space – culture integrated in the Mediterranean landscape for several millennia – make, from the outset, the traditional forms of exploitation are in themselves sustainable to a high degree. The challenges are more important in intensive farms, much more demanding in natural resources and inputs; more specifically, irrigation water management is the biggest problem in most southern wine-growing locations.

Is facing the Climate Change the great challenge of agriculture and in particular of wine for the immediate future?

Reacting, adapting production to the changing climatic conditions of each year, is something that the sector has always done and knows; The grape is one of the best and most accurate climatic markers, not by chance we use the vintages to differentiate the impact of the annual climate on production.

Therefore, there is a certain adaptation (annual resilience, if you can say so) known always in the production of wines.

I would say that the adaptation to climate change contemplates these three levels: 1 the traditional one mentioned of adaptation to the “smaller” annual scale, to the grape conditions of each harvest; 2 the local drift adaptation that is taking place in the regional climate and that demands the adequacy of the productions to maintain the regional, individual character and “style” (grade, acidity, aromas…) and 3 the one that applies to the mitigation of the problem on a global scale; that is, the one that refers to adapting technologies and actions in production to improve environmental emissions and impacts, helping to planetary improve the problem. Under this point of view – although, any action, however small, counts – and if you want to have a real influence on the problem, you must consider, in a country with the surface and production of Spain, general actions that involve all operators involved, all regions, including different administrations. This sustainable “update” would also help to improve the image, competitiveness and value of production.

Is Spain ready to face it?

The sensitivity to CC varies depending on the direct exposure to it; Even so, I do not see a great awareness in the sector, nor in the organizations involved in the CC itself. Even less, in the concern for sustainability in a broader sense. Undoubtedly, the Law on CC and energy transition will mark the guidelines and help to raise awareness and clarity on these issues. In any case, if we compare with the most advanced producing countries, we have ample room for improvement ahead. Apart from the environmental responsibility of the State and each operator, this can also mean – in a very short time – a serious competitive disadvantage for our productions.

If it is recognized that the main challenges facing the sector are the commitment to sustainability and the implementation of strategies to deal with climate change, European projects can be a useful tool to test or test these strategies. What will be the priority lines for the wine sector from the point of view of sustainability?

The different models of European financing, support and development assistance, sustainability implementation and R&D projects represent a very useful tool to advance and apply the criteria of sustainable exploitation and fight against CC.

The holistic nature of sustainability makes it necessary – effectively – to prioritize actions if we want to move forward. But, it should not be forgotten that it is rather a change in the general way of dealing with all aspects of activity of a production and its environment, it is more a change of mentality than a more or less exhaustive application of specific measures.

Reasonably, we have to prioritize the elements in which the improvements are more important with the same effort (greater efficiency) or in aspects that are critical due to their impact. The fact of placing ourselves within the European legal environment means that the strategies must focus primarily on technical aspects, without forgetting to improve the social and economic aspects, although due to the fact that we are in the European environment they are already at a high level.

The life cycle analysis (LCA), measures of the water, carbon, energy and chemical footprints would undoubtedly be the highest priorities to start a sustainable management of vineyards and wineries. From there, any improvement development through new applications, R&D that helps to improve any environmental impact is an advance.

As a reference for the application of sustainability criteria in the sector, we have the OIV resolutions and some general legislative initiative, both Spanish and European, on best practices in agro-food, although these are quite generic. The ad-hoc ISO and European EMAS (SGMA) standards represent good references; although, a clear, simple and specific text is missing that facilitates the implementation of sustainable criteria in the generality of the wine sector, regardless of the potential and size of each operator. An easy-to-interpret official text would help the sector, not so much as a deterrent, but as a guide or action reference.

There is a multiplicity of messages and interpretations about sustainability, a harmonization and communication effort is needed for the best approach and coordination of all the actions taken towards greater sustainability of the productions; Today the sector suffers from the dispersion and profusion of messages, there is little clarity and enough confusion. This hinders both the implementation of measures and their communication to the market.

Similarly, a comparative analysis of the initiatives implemented in more advanced producing countries, would give us a real vision of our position in the world from an environmental perspective and facilitates the progress in the application of sustainable criteria by the evidence of the facts.

How should they be requested (consortia, individual initiatives, etc.) and what actors should be involved?

Depending on the objectives of each initiative, participants must be defined, as has been said, the different European, Spanish and regional support and financing systems accommodate a multitude of projects; In general, all stakeholders must be the ones involved, since everyone is “obliged” to apply sustainable criteria and fight the CC.

It must be taken into account that Spain has an excellent tool to channel R&D initiatives and implementation of sustainability criteria and fight against CC: the Wine Technology Platform, which has directed, coordinated and managed the largest projects of Environmental research in Spain and also intervenes in sustainability application projects such as LIFE PRIORAT+MONTSANT and, in the case of Navarra, the emerging Smart Wine project that aims to serve as an example in the real application – on the ground – of sustainable criteria, demonstrating that the path to a sustainable sector is feasible and that, in more than one aspect, it can represent an opportunity.

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