It’s Sustainable, it’s Australian and it’s Wine

Let’s talk about eye-openers, those you look forward to with great excitement before the drop and the palate have said hello. Here in Helsinki, we’re rubbing our palms together, salivating at the thought, allowing our minds to run wild with what they’ve come up with this time. It’s the Australian Wine Tasting Event with a Master Class lead by Mark Davidson and the subject is Sustainability.

Vine of the Riesling

Call it trendy, call it hip but don’t you ever call it a passing fad because we all know where we’re heading as far as this planet is concerned. The numbers are too scary for words: species die out between 1000 and 10 000 times higher than their natural rate; CO2 levels are rising consistently; the planet’s average surface temperature has increased by 1.1° C turning 2016 into the warmest year ever recorded.

What happens to wine in this bad-case scenario and how do winemakers get those labels with that magic word ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ printed on them? Strange as it may sound, hard-earned capital leads the way: money is what it takes to use methods that are minimal and money is what is required to get official authorisation. And not just a one-off payment but a year-by-year commitment to stick to your principles no matter what. The maze of organisations out there with recognised authenticity to declare a winery sustainable is in itself a hard task to sift through. But when you’ve got it, you make the best of it even when the odds are stacked against you.

Organically grown and treated Rieslings from Australia

Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Eden Valley Riesling 2011 is one such wine. Louisa Rose and her crew went biodynamic in 2011 and even through it was a wet, cold, challenging period they pushed on, risked failure and came up with this superb example of Riesling. It tingles on the tongue, mingles toasty brioche with citrus fruit and leaves you with a long, lemongrass flavour for pure savouring or cutting the grease in a leg of roast duck.

Grenache in a blend, Grenache on its own – organic and purely delightful

Drought makes us all sit up and place bricks in our toilet cisterns. Australia reminds its citizens every day of conservation and recycling of this valuable asset, a commodity the wine industry cannot do without. When aquifers are used, they are kept at replenishable levels. Mulching is common practice on organic farms and grey water is pumped for irrigation. Grenache is the most widely planted red wine grape in the world. It’s hardy, it’s not too thirsty and it outperforms its siblings on yields. Australians have recognised these facts and made good use of this versatile varietal. John Duval’s Annexus 2015 is a new venture with a delightful floral character and savoury spice. Tannins caress your tongue in the finish with long brush strokes of velvet.

New innovations

Where do they go from here? The thing is, Australian winemakers are already pushing the envelope with the varietals that we all expect from them so why not fool around with a Touriga Nacional for instance, or a Graciano, so popular in Spanish blends? The latter used on its own is the edgy path Paxton McLaren Vale Graciano 2016 follows. It presents you with a plate of nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices with a touch of oak to keep those flavours lingering.

Organic or biodynamic, irrigated or dry, Australian winemakers who chase the elusive star of purity without sacrificing taste, are on a trail-blazing track to that point of excellence.

Tourism – Treat or Threat?

The travel industry is growing at an unprecedented pace with numbers increasing from 1,2 billion to 1,8 billion in the very near future. It also accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP, provides 1/10 jobs and is responsible for a massive carbon footprint due to airline travel. To encourage people to travel less is hardly an alternative since it is a valuable resource in developing countries some of which would be deprived of much-needed income if it were radically reduced. Besides, we expand our knowledge of the world, become more tolerant of other cultures, enrich our lives by experiencing new destinations first hand and escape the ignorance bubble of thinking that all we need to know about the world is on our doorstep. But this industry is in dire need of decoupling from abusing resources.

Drinking from a stream in Croatia

Choosing to sail by ship to our country of choice, is simply not an option due to time restrictions. The suggestion is not that we should all start travelling by boat but what if this is so, holidays could be extended to become ‘staycations’ in stead of just ‘vacations’. Here’s how:

  • Companies should get involved in work programmes whereby they transfer their employees to foreign places together with their families, to work and live there for periods of 6 months or more. The enrichment such an experience would bring to the table is immeasurable.
  • Visas should be lengthened beyond the current 3 month maximum.
  • Sabbaticals should be a requirement

And while we’re thinking of how we could gain from all this, what about the residence in these highly sought after spots that we so eagerly invade? Some villages, cities and countries, some with tiny populations, get overrun with tourists during high season. Resources are overwhelmed with all the demands made on them and it becomes all too easy for the traveller to complain causing angry rebuttals from locals who are then branded as ‘unfriendly’.

If you’re a visitor in a foreign country, that is exactly what you are, no more. We may dream of ‘staycations’ but if our holiday extends for a short week or maybe two, we should all be painstakingly aware of how we conduct ourselves.

Request:

No change of towels during your one week stay

No change of sheets

Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and make your own bed, or not!

Where the bottle deposit is

Added to this:

Take your own trash home with you especially in places where recycling is minimal

Use containers for toiletries and cosmetics that can be reused over and over again

Eat and drink locally produced products

Eat less meat

Travel by land if possible using bicycles and public transport rather than renting a car

Travel light and carry your own water bottles

Treat your hosts with respect even in the face of frustration

Look into the projects that Future Camp is involved with and join their community of believers by checking out their Living Lab Hotel and their Zero Waste Hotel to reduce your carbon footprint and expand your mind in stead.

Links: Future Camp 

Living Lab Hotel

Zero Waste Hotel

The Frightful Prospect of 2050

“We’ve come a long way….” The wry words of Kitty van der Heijden, Director of Europe and Africa, World Resources Institute, at the World Circular Economy 2017, held at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki from 5 to 7 June 2017.

Followed by a string of evidence on how little we have evolved, Kitty was quick to point out that the future is bleak. With a population explosion of 9 billion by 2050, we need to produce 70% more food in order to sustain mankind.

In today’s world, one out of every nine people goes hungry every day while 32% of food gets thrown away.

Credit: World Resources Institute

“We are at a tipping point,” she says. “We need a reduction in consumption and the issues of food waste and loss need to be addressed urgently.”

Beef cattle alone use 25% of the earth’s mass, consume 33% of its water, produce 1/3 of emissions while the industry has grown by 95% due to increased prosperity. Western societies have set the tone and are still leading the overall consumption chart. No less than nine developing countries, some with the world’s largest populations, are following suit with the dangerous ‘middle class effect’ when the average per capita income reaches $6000 per year and household expenditure increases contributing to further growth of a middle class.* With more spending, more resources are needed and this is where the picture starts looking dismal. Business growth will grind to a halt and unless new models are embraced, the glimmer at the end of the tunnel will be eradicated.

A not-so-quick fix is suggested by Kitty van der Heijden. For a truly circular economy to exist on the planet, the following issues need to be addressed:

No poverty

Zero hunger

Clean water

Decent work and economic growth

Responsible consumption and production

Climate action

Life below water

Life on land*

However, take a look at our daily existence in a first world country. Most of us cannot live without:

Shelter

Water

Food from supermarkets usually packaged in unrecyclable plastic

Electricity

Transport in the form of cars, buses, trams and trains

Holidays involving airline flights

Mobile phones and computers that have a short lifespan and cannot be fixed

Clothing travelling the globe before it reaches the shelves of a store

Waste removal

We hide behind the argument that we are as green as we can possibly be ‘under the circumstances’ but how many of us are willing to give up that long-haul flight, that Harley Davidson we’ve wanted since childhood, the status of living in a dwelling far larger than we need?

If we are heading for an increase of 70% to feed the 9 billion human beings that will be inhabiting our planet by 2050, closing the food gap is the challenge that awaits us. Businesses and politicians have to face the elephant in the room. Increasing production is unsustainable. Decreasing consumption however, is reachable by a shift to diets that are kinder to our planet, not an impossibility considering the huge range that is at our disposal. Less meat and dairy products, eating local, demanding better packaging and recycling will contribute. Lessening food waste is vital. From our own private kitchens to those of restaurants and supermarket shelves, we need to be aware and ask if we’re not, making sure that we keep everyone in the industry accountable. Become a custodian not a fanatic and spread your green story with tolerance.

And just when you think that the difference you are making is but a drop in the ocean, bring to mind the Ethiopian proverb, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, go to sleep in a room with a mosquito,” Kitty van der Heijden advises.

*World Resources Institute