Ladybirds in our wine
Wednesday 8 February
Is that rancid peanut butter in my wine?
No, it’s ladybird taint.
But ladybirds are so cute. How can they taste so bad?
These cheeky things love a damaged grape to feed upon and with cool climates getting warmer, these pests are moving into regions previously too cool for them. Kevin Ker of Brock University told the International Cool Climate Symposium, “It’s a hitch hiker that we really don’t like but it will find a way to spread.”
It has been found in the US, Argentina, the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and Denmark, and it is thought it is more widespread but no-one’s owning up.
When the ladybirds inadvertently get harvested along with the grapes they emit a methoxypyrazine that smells of rancid peanut butter or bell pepper. Not something you’d want in your glass.
What’s worse, it’s pretty potent – as little as 1200 beetles per tonne can taint the batch. The sensory threshold is just 1 part per trillion.
“One the wine has been made, cleaning up the wine is virtually impossible,” said Ker.
So what to do about these pesky ladybirds?
Brock University researchers have discovered that potassium metabisulphite, which is used as an antioxidant in the winery has been found to be relatively successful.
Ker added, “If used pre-harvest, the wines made from vines treated with potassium metabisulphite seemed to be fairly successful. It can be used pre harvest to reduce the number of lady beetles below the sensory threshhold levels.”
However, anything that’s added to the grapes so close to harvest could be an issue.
New Zealand wine lightens up
Sunday 4 December
Back in May, I complained that while the New Zealand wine industry prided itself on its green credentials, it had thus far failed miserably on environmentally friendly packaging (making me somewhat unpopular with various members of the NZ trade!)
While the rest of the wine world has turned to lightweight bottles, plastic (a.k.a PET) bottles, and tetrapaks, Kiwis had been stuck in the twentieth with heavy bottles. The lightest bottle available in New Zealand was 450g yet the Aussies were already down at 330g, reducing energy use by 20% and water by 12%.
At the time, Mike Needham, national sales manager for glass bottle manufacturer O-I, admitted it was expensive technology to install, and New Zealand was a relatively small producer of wine. “I don’t think people will go down to 350g or 300g. We have found very few people that are interested. The industry has not been as demanding here as in Australia,” he said.
Yet there was interest from producers. And this week, Nelson organic producer Richmond Plains has bottled its first wine in a 325 gram bottle.
Lars Jensen, owner of Richmond Plains, says, “It has been a big challenge to find suitable lightweight bottles in New Zealand. The lightest bottles we have been able to use previously were 40% heavier. So these really do make a big difference to the environment and across our business.”
The bottles are 20 mm shorter which means it is possible to stack more cases onto a pallet and fit more into a container. Taking fewer resources to produce and transport, reducing fossil fuels consumption significantly. They are also much lighter for trade and customers to handle with a case weighing 1.5 kg less at just 13kg.
Jensen adds, “Maximising the use of our resources and minimising our impact on the environment is a global issue so we’re very excited to be leading the way by using such lightweight bottles.”
I hope that others will follow their lead.
Unfortunately, consumers often feel they are getting better value for money and a better wine if it is packaged in a heavy bottle.
However, a WRAP study found bottle weight differences of up to 40% (for an empty container) and 20% (for a full container) were not noticed among a significant number of those surveyed, so perhaps if the proportions of the bottle mimic those of a heavier equivalent there will be little impact in perceived values.
Australia stunned by another bumper crop
Thursday 16 June
The size of the Australian 2011 has given the industry an unwelcome surprise.
Disease ravaged the country’s vineyards with rains encouraging botrytis, and powdery and downy mildew, yet the crop still surpassed the 2010 harvest, coming in at 1.63 million tonnes.
Stephen Strachan, the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia chief executive, admitted: ‘The vintage is too big. It may seem harsh, given the year many people have had, to focus on the longer term rather than the demands of the present, but a harvest in excess of 1.6 million tonnes (despite the rejections) is out of step with the realities of sustainable production and the market opportunity for premium Australian wine.’
Producers are equally surprised by the figures. Peter Gambetta, senior winemaker for Yalumba told rebeccagibb.com: ‘We thought it would be up to 1.5 but not 1.63m tonnes. Some people may have made wine that they shouldn’t have.’
‘We have made some really good wines; we have created some surprising wines that we thought may not come out well but we also left a fair bit of fruit out. We pride ourselves in Merlot but we may not release a Merlot this year,’ he added.
Malcolm Stopp, PR manager for Peter Lehmann, admitted: ‘It will go down as tough year but we are trying to focus on what we harvested . Our yields will be down 30% we have crushed around 10,500 tonnes as opposed to 20,000 in 2004.’
Biodynamic producer Henschke has some theories about the 2010/11 vintage. Stephen Henschke, said: ‘It rained non stop this year. The last time it did that was 1974. It comes in lunar cycles 1974 and 1992 were wet years and 2010/11.’ To find out more about this lunar idea, read Plimer’s Heaven on Earth, advises Henschke.
He was clearly surprised by the size of the vintage: ‘I was seriously thinking it was going to be about 1.3million tonnes.’
‘I’m amazed it’s that big but there was potentially a big crop at flowering so if we had not had those rains it could have been an even bigger crop, so perhaps those rains were a blessing in disguise,’ added Henschke.
Retail gets ethical
Friday 18 February
Corporate social responsibility is becoming one of the buzzwords that we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the wine industry.
Producers and retailers are now feeling the pressure to improve their environmental and ethical credentials, and thus help customers be greener and healthier.
With the major multiples selling eight out of every 10 bottles of wine in the UK, the grocery sector is thus expected to lead the wine industry’s adoption of corporate social responsibility.
Today, the Co-operative Group launched a three-year Ethical Operating Plan, which sets a new benchmark for other retailers. It has reduced its own operational carbon emissions by 20% since 2006, the target will now increase to 35% by 2017. In addition to a 15% weight reduction achieved in packaging, it will reduce this by a further 10% by 2012 and increase its carrier bag reduction target to 75% by 2013.
It also aims to increase its Fairtrade range as well as make its healthier option range the same price as its ‘normal’ range.
Challenges to corporate social responsibility
What difference will you make if you buy a Fairtrade wine or a lightweight bottle? Isn’t it a drop in the ocean when you consider BP’s Gulf of Mexico leak and China’s profusion of coal-fired power stations?
Producers and retailers have to make consumers think that they can make a difference buying ethically and/or environmentally. That choice must not be more expensive than a less ethical option. And customers who shop on price or promotional offer need to be given an incentive to shop ethically or environmentally, through reward points, which we have seen when reusing carrier bags.
Without consumer support, corporate social responsbility will fail before it even gets going.
A green week in the wine industry
Thursday 13 January
Has biodynamics and organics become mainstream? The holistic approaches to grape growing are becoming more popular. They still represent a minority of vineyards but even the most traditional producers are starting to experiment.
In the news this week: Champagne producer Lanson starts dabbling in biodynamics and New Zealand aims for 20% of vineyard to be organic by 2020. If you’d predicted this 10 years ago, you would have been called a loon.
Yes, Lanson has purchased 14ha of biodynamic vineyards in the Marne Valley and Louis Roederer has bought 2ha of biodynamic vineyards in the same region. Conveniently, both sites are already certified so they don’t have to go through the drawn-out conversion process but it will represent a challenge for companies that are better known for buying the grapes to make wine rather than tending the vines.
In the same week, a group of New Zealand producers has announced that it hopes 20% of the country’s vineyard will be certified organic by 2020. It’s an admirable aim but it’s a big ask considering only 4.5% of NZ’s vineyards are certified organic at the moment.
I wonder what the herbicide, pesticide and fungicide manufacturers are thinking? I don’t think they’ll be quaking in their boots quite yet. And, even if producers do look to go organic or biodynamic, they’ll still be using sulphur and copper sulphate for powdery and downy mildew respectively.
Chemical companies would be smart to adapt to the changing attitudes toward chemical intervention by producing biodynamic preparations on a commercial scale. Or, will we see what’s happening in the on-trade with the drinks major companies offering no-interest loans and cash incentives to stock their products?