Drink wine responsibly, not sustainably
We think to talk about low impact wines correctly, it is important to establish a vocabulary. That may sound too simplistic, but ask two friends what they mean when they say “sustainable” and you will get to different answers. So we’ll start with sustainability.
Sustainability is all the rage now, but things officially started more than 20 years ago. In 1987, the United Nation’s World Commission on the Environment and Development offered up a definition of sustainable development as activities that meet “the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The current definition on Wikipedia defines sustainability as a “characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely.”
The underlying idea is that a sustainable process is one that can be continued over time, for all time. Hmm… that’s a pretty tall order. As a species, we have only been knocking around on the planet for 130,000 years or so, and we do not have many sustainable processes to show for it. In fact, it is not clear we would recognize a sustainable process if we saw one. Can you name one? (If so, we’d love to hear your take on it in the comments.)
You’re thinking we’re sounding lawyerly? Well, the point we are trying to make is that sustainability is a conceptual goal, like inner peace or world peace. We should always work toward these goals, but we may not reach them or even completely understand them. Trying to frame our efforts to be kinder to the planet in terms of sustainability makes the problem too broad for most individuals to properly address. You could ask, “Why not develop a practical definition for sustainability?” We agree, in principal, but we do not want to wait for the political process to work through all of the issues that would arise from such an undertaking. We want the rest of the wine community to follow the example of responsible vintners and winemakers and start now!
We propose that the wine community focus on individual and corporate responsibility, rather than sustainability. This small change emphasizes that all of us are included in the lifecycle of a bottle of wine and that all of our actions count, not just those producing wine and grapes. Unlike sustainable, most of us know when we are not acting responsibly. Responsibility is personal, attainable (a large fraction of the time), and easier to understand. We do not expect the wine industry to drop the march to capture the “sustainable” market, but like most marketing campaigns, it is not about substance, it is about the buzz.
Update: A further example to stress the importance of common vocabulary: In his post about a recent event on wine and climate change, Dr. Vino calls four wines he just had “natural”. Now, without any further explanation, I (Michael) would assume that “natural” just meant organic, but he actually used it as a catch-all word to mean organic, biodynamic, and carbon-efficient. So I guess he uses the adjective “natural” like we use the adjective “low-impact”.
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