For many years, sustainability has been a key concept in agriculture – and increasingly so in viticulture.
Acknowledging this, in a project spanning the course of several years, the Weinbauverband Österreich (Austrian Winegrowers’ Association) has developed an online tool for measuring the degree of sustainability in work practices in the domestic wine-growing sector.
With this, Austrian winegrowers can evaluate their own establishment in terms of its sustainability and, as of spring 2015, can also apply for a certificate of sustainability. If they wish to do so, certified wine producers may then print the “Sustainable Austria” seal along with their estate registration number on their wine labels.
The need for sustainability in Austrian viticulture
Viticulture is an extremely intensive form of agriculture since it involves the application of substances designed for crop protection and growth stimulation – not to mention high consumption levels in terms of energy, water and transport. Moreover, viticulture is extremely sensitive to changes in the weather, such as long periods of drought and heavy rainfall, which are set to be amplified by the ongoing effects of climate change. This raises certain questions. Firstly, how can viticulture adapt to changing climate conditions? Secondly, what does sustainable viticulture look like in terms of ecological, social and economic factors if it is to produce high-quality wines? And, lastly, what measures need to be introduced?
An online tool for self-assessment of sustainability
In response to previous climate-related projects, the Austrian Winegrowers’ Association initiated the development of a certification system for wines produced by sustainable methods – one that growers could use for self-assessment. Aided by industry specialists, they defined quality standards for different stages of various processes (grape production, wine production, the vineyards themselves, and social and economic factors), as well as actions defined to ensure the sustainable implementation of these standards. The results of this project, which were the outcome of many years of work, were presented for the first time on Austria’s National Viticulture Day on 24 June 2014.
Certification based on accountability
This online programme enables any winegrower to enter key figures relating to the operations of their estate. These figures are then evaluated and the degree of sustainability of the estate is portrayed graphically (see example below). The figures entered in the various fields (grape production, wine production, vineyards) are automatically evaluated according to a predefined, weighted formula.
This means that measures that only play a minor role in sustainability are weighted less than other more significant measures, such as switching to lightweight glass for bottling wine.
When all information has been entered, the result is displayed in the form of a spider diagram. The dot marks the current value in each field. The greater the distance of the dot from the centre, the more sustainable the wine producer is in this particular area. A dot in the red field indicates the greatest potential for improvement, while a dot in the green field indicates an above-average sustainability score in that field. This tool does not present any concrete figures, but rather provides a comparative reference. This enables winegrowers to learn how far their winery is from being optimally sustainable, and learn which improvements could be achieved by employing various different measures. To allow these measures to be evaluated with respect to their sustainability, they are considered in terms of the following criteria: carbon neutrality, water consumption, use of energy, use of raw materials, soil fertility, biodiversity, high quality standards, social factors and economic viability.
Key Factors of Sustainability
More information is available at the Austrian Winegrowers’ Association through Josef Glatt, managing director, by email at email@example.com or via telephone: +43-1-53441.