There are few producers as dedicated to sustainable wine production as Chile’s Viñedos Emiliana.
Sebastián Tramón, Emiliana’s sustainability manager
Founded in 1986, the winery holds 908 hectares of vineyards throughout Casablanca and the Maipo and Rapel (Cachapoal and Colchagua) Valleys, of which 722 are certified organic and 674 biodynamic, making Emiliana the world’s biggest organic wine producer.
Not only was it the first winery in Chile to release an organic premium wine – Coyam 2001 in 2003 – it was also the first to go fully biodynamic, releasing the resulting Gê 2003 in 2005.
Last year it launched Emiliana 2014 Organic Brut, Chile’s first certified organic sparkling wine, a 60/40 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made using the Charmat method.
Most recently, Emiliana revealed it was now working to produce the country’s first large-volume, no added-sulphur wine for a European supermarket. Emiliana’s wine s, produced under eight labels, are made by winemaker Cesar Morales, with assistance from consultant winemaker Alvaro Espinoza – Chile’s biodynamic wine guru and a firm believer in the benefits of its methods.
Here, Sebastián Tramón, Emiliana’s sustainability manager, outlines the company’s motivations for going green, how consumer perceptions of organic and biodynamic wines are changing and what’s next for this pioneering winery.
Viñedos Emiliana is the world’s biggest biodynamic and organic wine producer. What drives the company’s commitment to sustainable wine production?
Our commitment started with people. Workers in conventional vineyards are constantly exposed to health risks related to the use of synthetic agricultural supplies, and, on the other hand, we have consumers looking for safe and good-quality products. This is what triggered our shift toward becoming organic and then to go even further by becoming biodynamic. We quickly had very good results in terms of the quality of our grapes and wines. That was a great incentive for working toward becoming world leaders in organic and biodynamic production.
How much money has Emiliana invested in sustainable winemaking practices and have the benefits outweighed the cost?
Emiliana’s change has been progressive over 18 years, so there is no specific investment. In the beginning we struggled with costs and decreasing production, but then the system started balancing out as we reduced the use of inputs, and production and quality increased. We also had problems selling our wines when we first went organic because there wasn’t the same demand for such products as there is today. Then awareness and markets changed and the demand grew. Now we can say that it was totally worth the effort. The change from a 1,000-hectare conventional vineyard to one that is 100% organic and biodynamic has proven over the mid-term to be good business—it wasn’t fast or easy, but it’s definitely more sustainable.
How have perceptions of organic and biodynamic wines changed?
Knowledge about organic and biodynamic agriculture has changed a lot in recent years. People are more informed and they want to know where the products they consume come from. Today, organic and biodynamic production is more important and makes more sense because it appeals to a healthier method of production. In our case, we always aim for quality products above all else.
What more can be done to strengthen and promote organic and biodynamic wines among consumers?
We believe that the best way to continue promoting these concepts is for all of us who practice this type of agriculture to make products of the highest quality. It is the only way to validate the issue for consumers because there is no doubt that an organic product is much more meaningful than a conventional one. Regarding certifications, today there are plenty of certification bodies and there are even different ones for each market. From our perspective, we believe this can create confusion among consumers, who see different labels or organisations. A global certification would certainly help. That said, certification is undoubtedly very important because it turns what we do into reality.
You recently launched Chile’s first organic sparkling wine. What does it mean to have been the first in the country to achieve this?
As a pioneering winery of organic farming, it is part of our DNA to always look for innovation in the products we develop. Today, markets and consumers are constantly changing. It’s important to be up to date with emerging trends. Based on the high demand for sparkling wines, as well as the increasing importance of organic products, uniting these two characteristics seemed an obvious choice. The project has been very successful.
What would you say to other producers that were thinking of going green?
Better sooner than later; we see this change as inevitable. There are costs involved, but if the change is made properly, the results are good, not only in a business sense, but also for the environment and the people. Companies have to start looking for the total costs and benefits of running a business, and becoming environmentally friendly and socially responsible is part of it. It is also important to consider certifications, because as painful as they can be, they give to credibility to the work done.
What’s next for Emiliana?
We have multiple sustainable initiatives planned, but the most important to Emiliana is to measure the impact of organic production in order to promote sustainable agriculture. We know that the way we produce is regenerative for the environment – we are increasing life in soils and biodiversity at our estates by not releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. However, we don´t currently have the numbers to promote this type of agriculture. We need the facts measured so that we can get more people involved, and also work with the government. We have a big responsibility as the main organic producer of Chile and we are taking that seriously, because we believe it is the right way to make wine.